Undergrad staffers excel in service to students
The door to MechSE’s Undergraduate Programs Office rarely stays closed for long. Students pop in and out continuously, all semester long.
“It is amazing how much foot traffic this office always is experiencing on a day-to-day basis,” said Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler, who just concluded her first academic year as Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs. “And it escalates around registration period at the start of the semester, and then again at the end of the semester. Both students and parents.”
Office support specialist Pam Vanetta is often the first person incoming students meet. She has worked in the Undergraduate Programs Office for nearly five years, after working for many years in support services for the department.
Right by Pam’s side, part-time office support specialist Tammy Smith came from the Support Services Office around the same time Pam did.
“Both Pam and Tammy, because of their history in the department, really know a lot about the courses and the faculty,” Hsiao-Wecksler said. “Pam is our frontline person, redirecting people as they come in and handling a lot of the office’s paperwork. Tammy’s main specialty is with courses, identifying classrooms that are open, and making sure all of the classes are on the books for the semester.”
With the biggest-ever freshman class coming for Fall 2016, along with an increased amount of transfer students, the office’s traffic will not slow down any time soon. These increases also mean there will be more students needing academic advisors.
That is where the office’s other three staff members come in; undergraduate programs coordinator Missy Biehl, director of undergraduate programs Dr. Emad Jassim, and curriculum development coordinator Dr. Mariana Silva advise a large portion of MechSE’s undergraduate students.
“Missy takes care of the biggest brunt of the advising, because Mariana and Emad have additional responsibilities, including being instructors,” Hsiao-Wecksler said. “Missy probably now advises more students than anyone. And you can tell that Missy really cares about the students and is very actively involved with them.”
With additional appointments of lecturer and adjunct assistant professor, Mariana works heavily with MechSE’s SIIP efforts and has been instrumental in overhauling TAM 251, Introductory Solid Mechanics. Emad also has many additional responsibilities, including securing companies to participate in the ME 470 Senior Design course and helping MechSE’s student societies with their funding requests.
In addition, Mariana and Emad are both very involved in MechSE’s ABET accreditation.
“Emad and Mariana bring the perspective of having been engineering students to their work,” Hsiao-Wecksler said. “Mariana has put together her own lists of technical electives with descriptions for students to provide them additional information, and she really thinks through a lot of aspects of the curriculum.
“And Emad is the cornerstone of the office. He keeps it running at a very high level and makes the Associate Head’s job much easier.”
Now that all five staff members have been in their positions for at least two years, the benefits of experience are being realized.
“It’s been really valuable to have such continuity among the staff, especially during the transitional periods between Associate Heads,” Hsiao-Wecksler said. “They are really the face of the Undergraduate Office, and that frees me up to work on more administrative issues and fewer operational issues.”
The proof of the office’s success is in the numbers, as enrollments, ACT scores, and nearly every other benchmark are at historical highs. Beyond that, MechSE students value the professional service and welcoming attitude everyone in the office conveys.
“This staff is great,” Hsiao-Wecksler said. “Because of the students who come in here just to say hi and socialize, it shows the impact of this office and how much the staff here care about the students, and how much the students acknowledge it. We’re really fortunate to have this staff in the department and I think the students know how fortunate we are to have them.”