By Jesse Drake
The first encounter many people have at the University is a friendly voice at the other end of the phone. Sometimes it’s a prospective student, vendor, Ute sports fan or theater enthusiast with a directory or campus question – other times, it’s a parent worried about a hard-to-reach student.
“Callers may need dialing instructions, department hours, phone numbers, building information, directions, even event and venue information,” said Campus Telephone Operator Team Lead Robin Horton. “We try to help our callers with our broad knowledge of campus, our empathetic ways, and going the extra mile trying to fulfill our callers' needs.”
Effectively the “front door” to the U, in addition to answering a seemingly endless rotation of questions, Horton’s team fields calls from relay operators for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as the occasional international language call (two of Horton’s staff are fluent in Spanish and one speaks German).
Leading that effort is Horton, a nominee for the 2016-17 Kevin Taylor Service Award whose nomination letter affectionately describes her as “kind, intelligent, compassionate, dependable, proficient and generous,” in addition to “the quintessential UIT employee, who should be cloned.”
“Robin does an excellent job of setting an example for her team,” said Scott Lloyd, manager of Campus Help Desk & Operators, a unit within UIT’s Service Management department.
The team is comprised of two full-time operators – Horton and Janet Ramirez, and part-time students Jasmine Haywood, William Aldrich, and Nathaniel Fox.
Call volumes are difficult to forecast, but semester starts are always a busy time. Calls for operator assistance over 11 months from March 2016 to February 2017 averaged 7,649 per month, predictably spiking in August (10,601) when incoming freshman start the school year.
Horton also supervises front desk receptionists Ariel Baughman and Emma Post, who previously managed the front desk at 585 Komas Building but moved to 102 Tower, the new downtown location for a number of University departments. They’re charged with clerical work, mail sorting (for about 900 employees), coordinating interviews, validating parking, directing visitors to meetings, running errands for administrators, updating the building’s master directory, inputting work orders, creating long distance authorization cards, and being knowledgeable about the building and policies for guests and staff alike.
“We’re certainly the ‘middle man’ for a lot of things,” Baughman said.
Horton couldn’t be happier with her hard-working crew.
“I have a wonderful team that I enjoy working with day in and day out,” she said. “We support each other, we are flexible, and we know that we can lean on each other for information or help.”