MICHAEL BORENSTEIN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS
The Department of Economics is recruiting for three faculty positions, and its coordinator Amy Holbrook has barely been able to leave her office since the start of J-term due to the amount of work she has. Holbrook is helping to bring in nine candidates in three weeks and has to organize all their travel logistics and schedules on campus, a process that she described as “fast and furious.”
“I haven’t left my office for the past two weeks, even to get lunch,” Holbrook said. “My faculty have been bringing me food and drinks.”
Scrolling down her packed email inbox, Holbrook explained that recruiting new faculty marks the busiest time of her year and is probably one of the most important parts of her job. She has been working as academic coordinator for the department since 1997, and her job responsibilities range from working on course catalogues to helping students declare their majors.
While there are more than 100 senior Economics majors graduating every year, the academic departments and programs vary greatly in size — and so do the job responsibilities of each coordinator.
“I don’t think that you could just say, ‘This is your job description, now only do those things,’ because that’s not really what this job is,” said Michaela Davico, coordinator for the Dance department and History of Art and Architecture. “You always have to be a little bit flexible to do what comes your way.”
The flexibility is part of what drew Megan Curran, coordinator for the architectural studies and studio art programs, to the job in the first place in 2015. She said that the flexible hours have been beneficial for her family and work life.
“I have a very good relationship with my faculty, where I can have conversations with them about what they are allowed to ask of me and what they are not,” Curran said, adding that a lack of such communication for other coordinators, who have been at times asked to perform jobs outside their responsibilities, such as physical tasks, and that there are some coordinators who might not feel comfortable doing the same.
“I TEACH THEM HOW TO DO THEIR JOBS”
Holbrook said that her faculty members are extremely supportive. “I consider them family at this point,” she said. “But I don’t do their jobs for them, and I want that made very clear. I teach them how to do their jobs so I can do mine.”
This past fall has been especially intense for Curran. Besides the faculty recruitment and the normal academic workflow of the entire year that makes fall the busiest, she said that the ongoing workforce planning process became another source of stress.
Throughout the past semester, the group of more than 20 academic coordinators have been having multiple meetings with Dean of Curriculum Susan Gurland.
“[Gurland] has been providing us with information that she’s been given, and she’s been very open and honest with the conversations that we’ve been having regarding the workforce planning,” Curran said, explaining that the meetings initially “had this very intense environment” because a lot was unknown.
The academic coordinators were notified of the workforce planning situation last July, and expect steps will be taken in March or April. Judy Olinick, coordinator for the Japanese, German and Russian departments, said that it has been a difficult wait.
“It’s very hard to tell what’s going to happen,” Olinick said. “It’s really disturbing to people, to the staff, to have to go through this whole year and go through Christmas and New Year and not be sure they are going to have their jobs in July.”
According to Olinick, it is a consensus among coordinators that the structure of their jobs should essentially stay unchanged, with each department and program being identified with one specific coordinator.
“The departments are unique in how they function,” Holbrook said. “And you really need to have a coordinator for each individual department, because they know specific details that are important to the efficiency of running that department.”
“OH HONEY, I CAN’T”
Davico, who started working for Dance and History of Art and Architecture in 2014, said it has taken her almost all of the past four years to master the learning curve of the position, because there are responsibilities that only need to be carried out once or twice each year. She has also had student workers who help with social media and other tasks.
Interaction between academic coordinators and students varies, depending on factors like the size of the department or program. As the coordinator for the largest department on campus, Holbrook hires student office associates, who usually stay on the job throughout their college careers. Political Science major Grace Vedock ’20 has been working for Holbrook since her first year, helping with data entry, filing and event planning.
Vedock has developed a close relationship with Holbrook, much like many students in and out of the department have.
“It’s really common for students walking by Warner, and just come by Amy’s office and sit down. The candy jar really draws people in,” Vedock said. “It makes sense with Economics majors, but then there’s just a bunch of Amy-fans that just know her for some reason or another.”
Holbrook used to organize Thanksgiving dinners for major students who stay on campus during the break, which gradually increased in size and ended up needing college van rentals. Students would gather in her house to enjoy a big dinner, music and games.
“I think it’s because I’m pretty much an open book — I’m honest about myself and my own life, and I think students feel comfortable around that,” Holbrook said. “I sort of humanize things, so then they open up and they share things with me. I think in the day-to-day Middlebury experience, they’re not seeing a lot of that.”
Last semester, Holbrook took an introductory French course, where she also made many friends. One of the many first-years and sophomores in the class was planning to declare a major in Economics, and asked Holbrook if she could be his advisor.
“It was so sweet. I’m like, ‘Oh honey, I can’t, but let’s walk and I’ll tell you why,’” Holbrook recalled. “After talking with him, I recommended a faculty member who he would feel comfortable with as his advisor.”
The whiteboard calendar on one of Holbrook’s office walls is decorated with magnets, photos, postcards and artifacts brought back from all over the world by students and faculty, who continue to be Holbrook’s favorite part about her job.
“I don’t think that people at Middlebury, staff especially, get recognized for how integral they are in the running of Middlebury College,” she said. “Everyone is intertwined here. Everyone is connected.”
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