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  September 25, 2000

Graduate School's New Facilities
Now Open to Students

Graduate education at UConn has been taken to a new level - literally. The graduate education unit has moved from the first to the second floor of the Whetten Graduate Center, into newly renovated quarters.

The new facility is graduate student-centered, says James Henkel, associate vice provost for research and graduate education. "We have a facility where students can meet in a timely manner with a person who can help them with any problem they have," he says.

Students are greeted at a large front desk that gently curves to offer plenty of work space for staff and waiting space for students. This is the place where graduate students can go when they have questions about registration, admission, financial aid or other issues. Nearby is a computer room outfitted with telephones and computers, should students want to look something up on the web or register using touch tone telephones. "We don't have to send them off to look for a phone or a computer," says Henkel. "It's one-stop shopping."

In the old facility, there was no such point of contact for students. "If they came in the front entrance they got to me first," says Carol Skutnik, secretary to the director of graduate admissions. She then had to figure out what the students needed and direct them to the appropriate person, while also trying to do her own work. Now, with the new front desk staffing system, she can devote more time to serving students.

The front desk, with five small modern lamps hanging above, is staffed by people familiar with all aspects of graduate education. "The concept is that we have a staff of generalists who are trained to answer 90 percent of all the students' questions," Henkel says. "We've educated our staff across all of the service functions that we perform for graduate students. If a question can't be answered at the main desk, specialists will be called upon."

Rande Clarke, team leader at the front desk, says the students' needs are their focus. She also adds, "It's nice to be helped in a nice environment."

Nearby, at one of several stylish round tables, graduate student Marc Banks chats with Ene Fisher from graduate records. Banks says the new facility is a big improvement on the old one. "Before, it was a continuous series of desks, where you had to look around to the point of contact," he says. "This is much nicer. It makes a good first impression."

Sunlight dances through the leaves outside the many glass windows. A small area with comfortable chairs and a coffee table complete with magazines offers graduate students a spot to wait for appointments . There are also several conference rooms, a large meeting room for the entire building, offices and four "breakout" rooms for graduate students who are using a classroom that was part of the old facility.

Much attention in the design of the space was also given to employee needs and comfort. Staff members who handle graduate admissions and records have new state-of-the-art cubicles based on designs used by cutting-edge companies, Henkel says. Walking by sleek new file cabinets that line the admissions corridor, barely a sound can be heard from the adjacent cubicles. That's because a sound-masking system prevents you from overhearing conversations, explains Henkel. He also notes that the ceiling is somewhat higher in the cubicle area than in the corridor. We wanted to give the feeling of more space, he says. Each cubicle, he adds, though doorless, has a glass window: Again, the idea was to create a feeling of openness.

Meanwhile, although it's fairly quiet during this lunch hour at the main desk, Rande Clark helps two students: one with a question about financial aid and another with a change of address.

Plans are in the works to renovate the first floor of the Whetten Center, too. That area will house the Office of Sponsored Programs (now in the old Fleet Bank building on Dog Lane), the Vice Provost's Office and the Research


Sherry Fisher