The UA Department of Biological Sciences comprises over 200 faculty, staff and graduate students spread over six different buildings on campus and the Dauphin Island sea lab. Add in the roughly 1500 undergraduate biology majors, and one can only imagine how much administration is required to maintain the various research, teaching, service, outreach and degree seeking activities. The small group of dedicated Biological Sciences office staff, who deal with much of this admin, are the unsung heroes without whom we would cease to function.
As you enter the Biological Sciences office, the first person you are likely to encounter is the “gatekeeper,” Ms. Angela Flurry, who sits at the front desk, pointing visitors and students in the right direction and dealing with most course-placement and pre-requisite override queries (both before and after the deadlines). Ms. Flurry also protects us from marauding bats (see below) and shields the rest of us from some interesting offers and requests (lest we be tempted) including offers to donate significant other’s bodies to the department for posthumous study; home remedies for cancer; requests to bring in wildlife, dead or alive or in various in-between states for identification; and offers to sell us freshly captured snakes. Ms. Flurry joined us three and a half years ago after her three children flew the nest, and is earning a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at UA in her spare time. She has the following advice for current and prospective students: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar; always treat everyone with respect; and recognize that you can learn something from anyone, regardless of whether they got their PhD from a university or from life.
If you are a past, current or prospective graduate student, or faculty member, chances are your life has been touched by Ms. Debbie Eads, the “matriarch” in some way. Ms. Eads worked in the UA College of Education for two years followed by a 32-year stint in the UA graduate school office until her retirement in 2012. For the last seven years post retirement, Ms. Eads has worked part-time in Biological Sciences, dealing primarily with graduate student related administrative tasks. For Ms. Eads, family is everything, and luckily for us, she considers us part of her family. She takes care of everyone, even to the point of feeding her colleagues (A.K.A extended family) freshly baked goods for breakfast and afternoon snacks on a regular basis. One of the greatest joys for Ms. Eads is knowing that she had a small part to play in the students she is involved with meeting their educational goals and graduating. Ms. Eads is also the original Biological Sciences defender against flying intruders, in this case birds. Ms. Eads describes how when a bird flew into the offices, she closed the right sets of doors and chased after it till it flew outside. Our gatekeeper, Ms. Flurry, employed similar tactics when a much more fear-inducing denizen of the night echo located its way into the offices resulting in wide-spread panic. In response to the blood curdling shrieks and screams coming from the budget office (the pitch of which was either related to pending budgetary cuts, or a visitation from some demonic otherworldly creature). Ms. Flurry, like Ms. Eads before her, calmly closed the right set of doors and captured what had by now been identified as a rather cute little bat in a bucket for release outside.
Ms. Amy Banks and Mrs. Kim Stidham in the budget office bravely tackle balancing the department budgets and dealing with accounting-related issues. Mrs. Banks has been in the dept for three years and lists the bat as one of the craziest things she has seen on the job (granted it did fly into the budget office first). Mrs. Banks advice for our graduate students is to focus on achieving balance between graduate studies and the rest of life. Coming from someone who balances her work life with looking after and spending time with her three children, this is good advice backed up by experience. Mrs. Stidham has been with us for one year now. She lives in the Northern Tuscaloosa countryside with her husband, 9-year old son, 2 dogs, 3 cats and 4 chickens. Given how idyllic this sounds, her advice to graduate students of slowing down and enjoying this phase of life is likely also based on experience. Mrs. Stidham says that the craziest thing she has seen on the job are some of the purchasing approval requests she gets. She won’t mention any names, but we wonder if these requests relate to donated bodies, home remedies for cancer or freshly captured snake species?
Finally, we have Mrs. Catherine Schmandt, our administrative specialist. Mrs. Schmandt schedules meetings, reviews documents and assists faculty, staff and students with their various administrative needs. She too lists the bat as the craziest thing she has seen on the job. She adds some missing detail however in that the poor budget office staff happened to be locked in with the bat whilst the rest of the staff were able to watch the unfolding scenario from the other side of a glass door. Apparently, it was hypnotic from their perspective, and someone may have even said that it was there to obtain its “bat” chelors degree. Mrs. Schmandt herself has a bachelor degree in corporate communications minoring in vocal performance and has been part of 20+ theatrical productions and even sung the national anthem before a major-league soccer game. Mrs. Schmandt’s advice to our students is never be afraid to ask a question.
We did not get a chance to interview our other hardworking office staff this time around, but we wanted to give them a shout out for now and let them know we appreciate all their hard work: Sherry Herring, Josh McCracken and Kimberly Tsoukalas, thank you for all you do.