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October 26, 2006

OAFA perks cover the shear necessities

Of the University’s more than 6,800 staff members, there’d be some stiff competition in a contest to find who’s busiest. But definitely in the running would be the six dozen employees in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA).

And if there were a competition for coming up with creative methods for balancing personal needs with work, OAFA does it with style.

To meet the needs of its time-strapped employees, the department’s social committee has found a hairdresser who visits the offices several times a month so staffers can schedule quick haircuts that might otherwise be neglected in the harried office environment.

OAFA takes care of new, returning and graduate students — “All 27,513 of them,” said OAFA associate director Barry Duerr. And, it recruits prospective Panthers to keep the pipeline full.

In the office, from September 2005 through August 2006, OAFA staffers fielded more than 70,000 phone calls (27,103 admissions-related and 47,759 financial aid-related) and handled more than 29,000 e-mails.

Out of the office, OAFA recruiters represent Pitt locally at college fairs or can be on the road for weeks at a time, making the rounds of high schools, Duerr said. “Our hours are crazy,” he said, adding that admissions staff don’t work a 9 to 5 schedule.

Working closely with the Pathfinders student ambassadors, OAFA also arranges tours and information events for prospective students that bring an average of 150 and sometimes as many as 1,700 people at a time to the Pittsburgh campus. Last year, OAFA offered 25 on-campus programs and welcomed more than 11,000 guests.

Events include summer programs, which run every Friday and Saturday from July through mid-August. Summer is the busiest, but fall and spring programs are on the list as well. In addition to their other duties, Duerr and OAFA senior associate director Debbie Rupert attend weekend retreats with the Pathfinders in spring and fall. “Just about every weekend, there’s something going on on Saturday,” Rupert said.

“The only Saturdays when we don’t have anything going on are when the University is closed or on holidays or move-in day,” Duerr said.

The department, as its name indicates, integrates both admissions and financial aid functions, making it a rarity and perhaps the only entity of its kind in higher education, Rupert said.

Financial Aid is busy February through October, while Admissions is slower May through September. “You put the two functions together and there is absolutely no downtime,” she said.

That makes for a lot of six-day workweeks, and some creative challenges when it comes to balancing work and personal life.

In addition to ensuring there is ample coffee brewing on all four floors of OAFA’s Alumni Hall offices, other small touches help the group get by. “With so much to do, we try to make sure morale is up,” Rupert said. “We joke that we spend more time with the people here than we do at home. So, we have to do the social things.”

OAFA’s active social committee schedules a variety of events and diversions ranging from the charitable, such as blood drives and the United Way fundraiser — to the purely fun, such as parties and covered dish dinners, or the Crazy Grilling Days when Duerr roasts hotdogs and hamburgers for his co-workers on the loading dock behind Alumni Hall.

The social committee’s most recent innovation resulted from a cry for help from those who needed a little aid maintaining a professional appearance in the midst of their hectic work hours. “So many people were saying, ‘I have no time to get my hair cut,’” Rupert said, that she arranged for a beautician to come in several times a month to give quick 20-minute haircuts that OAFA employees can fit into their lunchtime schedule at their own expense.

Among the regulars is administrative services manager Cathy Brewer, who recalls thinking, “I would love that!” when the idea was launched. Although her official work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said she arrives early and sometimes stays late. “Everyone does that in here. You do what you have to do to get the job done,” she said.

Her strategy is to schedule crucial appointments such as doctor visits in the pre-work early morning hours so she can get in and out quickly, but haircuts often are a spur-of-the-moment necessity.

“I wake up in the morning sometimes and look in the mirror and think, ‘I need a haircut,’” she said, joking that her hair grows overnight. She said she enjoys the convenience of not having to leave Alumni Hall to get a cut.

“Now, if we could get someone to take our cars to get oil changes,” she said, lamenting the difficulty in scheduling quick car maintenance.

Another regular in the chair is admissions counselor and 2006 Pitt graduate A. Brooks Renoll. A bus commuter from Nevillewood, Renoll often leaves home at 7:30 a.m. and works en route. When he returns home at night, he doesn’t want to devote his evening to getting a haircut. “I want to get home and get on with stuff,” he said.

Because his job puts him in close contact with students and parents, a shirt and tie is in order, as is a neat, professional appearance. “We’re their first impression of Pitt and we try to make it the best we can,” he said. “It’s definitely nice to get it taken care of at work,” he said.

“Everyone loves it,” he said of his cropped haircut, noting that few men get compliments on their hairdos. “I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said.

Renoll joked that if OAFA would add showers and dry-cleaning services — he, for one, is voting for the return of pickup and delivery service to the office that had been tried, but discontinued because workers found it too expensive — he’d never have to go home.

Rupert said she’s had a few super-long days when she’s checked into a nearby hotel rather than drive exhausted to her Churchill home. But there are no plans to add employee living quarters to OAFA’s Alumni Hall offices.

Short of that, she’s willing to listen to requests. Some co-workers have expressed a desire for on-site manicures, something she’s investigating. And car washes, perhaps as a Pathfinders fundraiser, might meet some commuter employees’ needs.

“Whatever they tell me, I go find,” she said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 5

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