I took my cousin’s son, who is a high school senior, on a tour of my alma mater, U.C. Irvine. It was interesting to see how much the campus has changed since I was a student there.
There is a joke that UCI stands for “Under Construction Indefinitely,” which isn’t too far off since they complete, on average, one architecturally impressive new building each year. The campus was huge to begin with, but it continues to grow and remain on the forefront of research in so many different fields. At one point, we were standing between three different buildings all named after Nobel Prize Laureates who were scientists from UCI. The student-led tour of campus was informative, and we were loaded down with information and materials before we left. I stopped by the campus bookstore to buy a new UCI Alumni keychain.
Afterwards, we made a stop at the nearby Cal State Fullerton campus. Though the campus is smaller, it is still attractive. However, when it came to departmental organization and materials related to recruitment for prospective students, it was a drastic difference from UCI. Though UCI’s admissions are so competitive that they do not need to aggressively recruit in the same way, they were much better prepared with information all throughout campus. We were able to ask questions and be directed to the appropriate buildings and staff offices. We were able to pick up information for prospective students in a variety of locations.
Cal State Fullerton, on the other hand, had perfected the “campus shuffle.” We went into the Student Union building and approached the large Information Desk. When we asked where we could pick up application information or other materials for prospective students, we were told to go to the library. The person sitting behind the library information desk told us to see a librarian, who could not comprehend what we were asking for, no matter how many different ways I rephrased my question. I finally asked to be directed specifically to the Admissions Office. The Admissions Office claimed that they did not have any materials for prospective students. One employee suggested that we try the bookstore, while another tried to direct us to Campus Outreach Programs. After walking nearly a mile from building to building in the blistering hot sun, I became increasingly frustrated with the ordeal. We left without receiving any useful information.
I have run several of these departments at various colleges and universities, and I have served as a consultant for campuses throughout the country. I made it my mission to try to eliminate this type of student shuffle. If services can not be organized into a one-stop location, then surely staff members can pick up a phone and make sure that they are directing someone to the appropriate office before sending that person out the door.
At the University of Miami, I asked my staff to try to do everything in their power to assist students with their needs within our own office, encouraging them to pick up the phone and call someone in another department to find out the answer to the student’s questions, whether those questions fell under our departmental function or not. If, as a last resort, they had to send someone out the door to get what they needed, I asked them to write down on a piece of paper their own name and phone number, along with the name and building location of the person they were sending them to, after first calling to make sure that person was in and available and could indeed assist the student as needed. This level of accountability not only helped provide better service to students, but it also resulted in staff members who were increasingly more productive networking with other departments throughout the campus. As a result, I would venture to guess that my staff were some of the most knowledgeable on campus when it came to understanding the roles and functions of various departments throughout the university and how they related to the overall student experience. They were a gem of a team, who became whole-heartedly committed to providing a positive experience for students.
Providing a positive experience for students? It’s a university. Students are only there because none of the lecturers can think of a good way of getting rid of us.
I’m surprised places still physically bounce people around though. Surely watching them get hideously lost in the website while trying to download exactly what they need is far more fun.