Laura Manrique brought something important with her when she started working for the university 18 months ago: experience.
Manrique, a business/administrative associate for Merchant Card Services, a unit within university administration's treasury operations department, was raised in Chicago and worked there for about 12 years at three different financial institutions.
It was the beginning of the "branded" debit card revolution. She was on the ground floor of developing methods and incorporating procedures from both the bank and customer perspectives.
"My job here involves some of the same things I was doing up there," she said. "When I saw the job description, it seemed like it was written for me. I was able to move right in and apply my skills."
Her department is in charge of supporting debit card payments on behalf of university departments. They work behind the scenes to set up new merchant locations, help solve problems, provide credit card terminals and supplies, and ensure the proper posting of revenue.
The office facilitates debit transactions for 300 university merchants, which include not only direct payments made to the university by students, but also goods and services available to the general public.
If you pay for your medical bill at UIC's hospital with a debit card, Manrique's office helps facilitate that. The same goes for your cup of coffee at the Starbucks in the Illini Union Bookstore.
The university supported more than 2.4 million transactions last year.
Manrique works with several divisions within university administration. She said she has been amazed at the communication and camaraderie between them all.
"I work with some of the best and brightest people I've ever been around," she said. "We are all very supportive of each other, willing to share and have the common goal of serving the university, which is very humbling. It's like a family here."
Manrique manages the relationship between the university and the vendors, which she said requires a lot of communication and sometimes travel.
"One of my favorite things is to go on site and speak with the merchants directly," she said. "You learn a lot more in person than you would on the phone or by email."
She said card security is the biggest issue facing the electronic payment industry; it's an ever-evolving threat that constantly becomes more sophisticated.
Manrique and her husband, Peter, moved to Philo in 2001 after he was offered a job in the area.
She quit her financial services job and stopped working altogether - if you consider raising three children and volunteering not working.
The children, 9- and 13-year-old sons and an 11-year-old daughter, grew healthy and happy, became more independent - and mom started looking to get back into the workforce.
"We still spend a lot of time together and they still keep me very busy," she said of the myriad activities in which the children are involved. "Now it's busy in a really good way."
She said the area has been an ideal place to raise children, and she doesn't miss the long work commutes she and her husband had in Chicagoland.
"Life is so much better and more relaxed here," she said. "It's just a wonderful place to raise a family."
The Manrique family loves to travel. She said the most memorable trip was to Ireland, while other favorite family getaway spots include Mexico, New York and California.
"It's a big world out there, and traveling gives the kids a little bit different perspective than they might otherwise have," she said. "It has taught us that we should appreciate how good we have things."
Her personal hobby is learning.
Over the years she has taken class after class, working the past three years to finish a master's degree in technology through Eastern Illinois University.
And after a small celebration, she plans to move on to a master's degree in public administration at UIS.
"I really enjoy the process of learning," she said. "There's no time to rest. I like the process of continual improvement."