Taking care of the family
Jones, Leftwich and Anderson help the School run smoothly
Photo by Emily Netzel
A corner office and a picture window aren't the only signs of an important employee. The number of clients lined up at the door also indicates an essential staff member. Such employees perform key functions for an organization that aren't always matched by the size of their desks.
According to that standard, staff members Suzette Leftwich, Sharon Jones and Cindy Anderson are vital elements in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. These three women function as a support system for both faculty and students.
Sharon Jones has worked for the University for more than eight years. She began her career working with students in the College of Arts and Sciences where she stayed for nine years.
"I left because I realized that I didn't have any room for growth there," she said.
Jones then worked in University housing for six months before she received a call from the School telling her she had been recommended for a position as student records manager.
"I wasn't dressed for an interview or anything, but I went on over anyway and they offered me a job."
Eighteen years later, Jones remains in the student records office. As the School's registrar, she creates the semester class schedule, monitors student records and clears students for graduation.
Jones said she also helps students with academic and personal problems.
"They call me Mother Jones," she said. "Sometimes it can be the first time I see a student, and they will sit in my office and end up pouring their heart out to me."
Working with students is what Jones loves about her job.
"I have students that will stop and stick their head in my office just to check on me and then walk out," she said. "They feel comfortable with me, and that's the kind of impression I want to leave with people."
Jones believes her personality is well matched to her work at the School.
"It's a great public relations job, and I'm a real people person," she said. "People have called me and offered me other jobs, and I wouldn't take them because I love what I do."
Taking time to spend with students sets the School's staff apart from other departments, Jones said.
>"We're the only school that spends so much time with the students and doesn't just rush them out of the office."
In her time with the School, Jones said the major change is the increasing number of students enrolled in the School. She attributes the move from Howell Hall to Carroll Hall as the main factor behind the increase.
Aside from working with students, Jones said she also enjoys the atmosphere of the office.
"I look at the people I work with like family," she said.
Like Jones, Suzette Leftwich enjoys a strong relationship with other staff members in her position as assistant records manager.
"This is one of those positions that isn't just a job - it has a real sense of family attached to it," Leftwich said. "This family isn't just with other staff, but with students and faculty as well."
Leftwich said the relationship between students, faculty and staff contributes to the success of the School.
"It's important that the feeling of family be there and that we understand that we are there to support each other," she said.
Leftwich graduated from Wake Forest with bachelor's degrees in biology and communications. She later worked for her alma mater in the admissions office and the office of minority affairs. She moved to Chapel Hill to be closer to her hometown of Siler City.
Before she began working with the School, Leftwich attended a summer program held in conjunction with the medical school. She may continue her education in medical school, though she has no definite plans.
In her two years with the School, Leftwich has worked in the student records office with transfer students and compiled class rosters and grade rolls from the faculty. She also works under Associate Dean Tom Bowers with the minor program.
"Basically, my duties are if it comes in, do it!" she said, smiling. "There's a lot of paperwork that goes with this position."
One of Leftwich's primary responsibilities is recording and posting grades for the School's spelling and grammar exam. The School requires all undergraduates to make a 70 or above on the exam before graduating.
"I really enjoy seeing students progress through the program," she said. "It's memorable when I have a senior to pass the spelling and grammar test the last time it's offered before they graduate."
The School's increasing enrollment has brought an increase in work for Leftwich. She said difference could particularly be seen in the number of spelling and grammar tests given. Yet even with the increasing number of students, Leftwich said she makes a point to take time with each person.
"Students are surprised that we know their names because there are so many of them," she said. "When they graduate, we really feel like we're losing a part of ourselves, especially with students who we've helped over the years."
Two floors above Jones and Leftwich, Cindy Anderson works in an interior office as the graduate program assistant. The "Ashes of Problem Students" jar on her desk and the Scooby-Doo cartoons on the windows are the first signs of the sense of humor that helps her manage the mountains of paperwork she processes for the graduate program.
"I always wanted to work with journalists and creative writers," she said. "I thought they'd be fun people."
A native of Pittsburgh, Anderson came to North Carolina in 1996 because of her husband's job. She worked as an administrative assistant at an accounting firm before changing to a personnel job with UNC-CH's medical school for two years. Now she feels at home in the School.
"I like the work," said Anderson, "but I really, really like the students and faculty a lot. The people here have been so neat."
Anderson has been with the School since August 1998, assisting the director of graduate studies, working with the Park and Freedom Forum Fellows, handling registration and admissions, and helping graduate students successfully complete their programs. She is responsible for keeping track of all the paperwork that documents students' paths toward graduation.
"Admissions time gets really crazy," she said with a laugh. "Sometimes I'll get 12 e-mails or phone calls from the same person in one week. People get so nervous about their applications. But I do what I can to help."
To escape the piles on her desk, Anderson enjoys walking to McAlister's Deli for a large sweet tea and a cheese spud. Not only does she get a great lunch that way, she also gets some much-needed stretch time for her back. Anderson underwent back surgery last March after spending the fall semester "bent over like a little old lady."
Disco music and platform shoes can make her smile, but what really brightens her day is going home to her "babies" - Nikita, a Siberian husky, and ferrets named Jasmine, Uka and Braveheart.
From the first floor to the third, one element unites these all-important staffers: the sense of family that binds the School together. And it's neither the size of the desk nor the title of the office - it's the contribution to the "family" that matters.
Jenny St. Clair is a senior in the public relations sequence. Cyndi Soter is a first-year master's student in the professional track.