Student Services Move to New Level
in Renovated Wilbur Cross Building
The steady flow of students in and out of the newly refurbished Wilbur Cross Building and their cheerful dispositions make the point emphatically - taking care of the business associated with attending UConn has never been easier.
The resources of the UConn 2000 program have enabled contractors to redesign the interior of the Wilbur Cross Building, one of the oldest and most prominent buildings on the University's main campus. The changes allow students to create or change course selections, receive information on financial aid and scholarships, secure a deferment, obtain their student identification, secure housing assignments and dining cards, or pay bills - all in one location. The Center for Students with Disabilities and the Dean of Students' offices also are located in the building.
"This is a great example of how a major physical renovation under UConn 2000 gave us the opportunity to rethink the way services are provided to students, and has helped us become more efficient and effective in the delivery of those services," says Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs.
"It allows us to create a more welcoming environment that cultivates a greater sense of belonging and a more cohesive community among students and staff," she adds.
Only a few universities offer similarly grouped services, says Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management, and almost none cross-train employees in a variety of specialties in order to improve the delivery of services to students. A lounge area to the right of the main entrance features 15 iMac computers, offering students and their parents on-line access to many of the answers they need. And workers staffing a large reception desk in the building's foyer - dubbed the Student Services Center - perform triage, screening students as they enter and taking care of as many of their needs as possible before directing them to a specific department.
"The entire project was designed to ease access to information and to make interaction between students, staff, and parents, in any combination, as seamless as possible," Evanovich says.
Sophomores Jason Graf and Philip Odackal, beaming as they left the building Monday, say it's working.
"We each took care of about four things, and we were only in there about 15 minutes," says Graf who, among other things, had his course schedule printed out at the Student Services Center and his student identification card validated. Odackal over-enrolled in one course, changed another to pass/fail, and validated his ID card, agreeing that conducting his business was easy.
"It was much easier to find our way around than before, going downstairs, then upstairs, then over to Budds Building. I really like it," Odackal said.
Making it easier to find the right offices is a major part of the plan. Visitors enter a building that seems to have no walls. The foyer is wide open, with the reception desk set back from the entrance and sunlight pouring in from a skylight three floors up. The offices framing the wide hallway are enclosed in glass, giving guests a clear view of the staff within, and allowing the staff to see - and offer help to - anyone who needs it.
With the goal of quicker service, staff from all departments are being cross-trained so they can answer basic questions and help students complete a variety of tasks, regardless of what aspect of the process is at issue. Conference rooms, break-out rooms, and casual seating throughout the building have been designed to encourage cooperation and connections among employees from different departments.
Mina Boone, who formerly worked in the registrar's office and is now one of two coordinators of the Student Services Center, received a head start learning how other units work. She served in the admissions and financial aid offices at Old Dominion University before arriving at UConn. Although she cited a few small glitches, Boone says the first weekend worked even better than expected.
"I think more than a quarter of the questions and concerns students have had were handled right here" at the Student Services Center, she says, saving time for the students and allowing departmental staff to concentrate on more in-depth matters. Once more employees have been cross-trained, and the new PeopleSoft computer system is installed, allowing students to access more of their personal information, Evanovich and Triponey expect the number to jump to more than half.
"If we can be responsive to the needs of students while preventing lines from building up, we'll be doing the students a great service," adds Scott Wherley, also a coordinator of the center, who previously spent two years in the athletics marketing department.
Next year, after the second phase of the project is completed, the departments of orientation services and counseling services will also move into Wilbur Cross. The two original reading rooms, with 50-foot high ceilings, will be restored to their original luster and purpose, one fitted with furnishings designed for special University events and the other filled with comfortable furniture and dozens of data jacks so students can relax, interact, work on their computers, or send e-mails. Rather than the maze that formerly characterized the building's hallways, one main walkway will connect the two ends of the building. Off that walkway will be offices, break-out rooms, and an area for art exhibits.
Additionally, the offices of the associate provost for enrollment management and the vice chancellor for student affairs will be moved into an administrative suite on the third floor, making them more accessible to students and to staff who serve students.
"I love watching people as they walk in," says Boone. "Their faces light up and they look up toward the skylight. You hear and see them say 'Wow' all the time."
It's even better hearing students say "wow" as they leave the building, their business completed in one stop and in a fraction of the time it formerly took.