Newnan Front Desk Team

Newnan Front Desk Team

Newnan Advising Center, Front Desk Team
Cathy Cline, Gaylene Opal-Deitering, Lynn Shock, and Jessica White

Author: Cathleen Conway-Perrin
Photographer: Hans Anderson

It's probably safe to say that Cathy Cline, Gaylene Opal-Deitering, Lynn Shock, and Jessica White serve more students than any other staff person in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.  Together they are the Front Desk Team of the Newnan LSA Advising Center, which serves all 17,000 undergraduates in the College, plus a number of students from other schools and colleges who are interested in joint degrees, cross-campus transfers, or LSA minors.  Their duties go far beyond what a typical front desk staffer might do in other units.  Answering phones and checking in students is only a part of what they do.  Gaylene’s job title is Advising Services Assistant, and the other three are Information Specialists—a title that reflects their extensive knowledge of LSA policies and requirements, University resources, course offerings, and contacts.  All four of them use this knowledge to answer student questions, make referrals to other offices when needed, and help connect students with the appropriate advisor to meet their needs.  They do an amazing amount of skillful triage to get at the root of a student's questions or problems, and to determine exactly what it is that they need. This can be tricky when sometimes the students themselves aren’t entirely sure what questions they should be asking.

When prompted to share what they like best about their work, all four staff members mentioned each other, in addition to the pleasure they clearly get from helping students and other staff.  "My coworkers make the work enjoyable," said Cathy.  "We can lean on each other."  Her teammate Lynn agreed, and added, "The willingness of our colleagues to help us means a lot."  Working on the front lines of an office that sees so much student traffic can be extremely stressful at times.   One nominator wrote that during the Fall 2011-Winter 2012 academic year, the front desk team “fielded 25,859 phone calls, made 25,694 appointments with advisors, and checked in 31,058 students.  Responding to that constant stream of phone calls and student visitors with an energetic welcome and a cheery voice merits a prize in and of itself.”  The same nominator was quick to point out, however, that even those astonishing numbers do not tell the full story.

Each team member makes valuable contributions to other aspects of the Advising Center mission as well.  Jessica, for example, handles Dean’s Certifications and disciplinary checks, manages the Late Drop process, and serves on the SAA (Student Academic Affairs) Orientation Committee.  Lynn is the lead for data collection, compiling statistics about student contacts with Advising for various purposes and reports.  She also manages advisor assignments for students transferring out of the Residential College and Honors Program, as well as serving on the SAA New Student Committee.  Cathy took on a leadership role in creating a Front Desk reference and procedures manual in Google Docs, serves on the SAA G+ (Graduating Students) Committee, and stepped in as a substitute APA (Academic Peer Advisor) when APAs were absent during Summer Orientation.  Gaylene is the organizing force behind all major Newnan Center events, including the campus-wide May Advising Conference, the Concentration Fair, and numerous educational workshops.  She keeps many of the department web sites up to date, serves on the SAA Professional Development Committee, handles the logistics and coordination whenever there is a search to fill an open advisor position, and coordinates meetings with other departments across campus.

It's not surprising that this group can successfully handle all of these challenges, considering the collective experience they bring to the job.  Three of the four have worked at the Newnan Center for more than a decade.  Their previous jobs included other positions at UM as well as in the corporate sector and banking industry.  A nominator wrote about their current roles, “What is truly remarkable about their work, given the volume and intensity, is the harmony they have developed as colleagues.  Sitting side-by-side, they support one another and teach one another and, collectively, are indispensable to the smooth functioning of the Newnan LSA Academic Advising Center.”

The Front Desk Team handles pressure with such grace, patience, and efficiency that many advisors have been known to observe, “I could not do that job.”  One of the advisors, who also happens to be a minister, is fond of saying, “Thank God for the Front Desk!”  Although we have a wide variety of belief systems among our students and staff, and some might choose a different way to express it, it’s clear that everyone can relate to that sentiment.

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