Between work tasks, Heidi Hardenbrook, a nine-year U. of I. employee and office administrator for the School of Art and Design and Krannert Art Museum, likes to get in a little light reading.
But the two large binders near her desk that are filled with university rules and regulations are hardly light. In fact, it looks as though one could pull a muscle just lifting them.
"A good part of my job is making sure everyone is following the rules," she said. "I like it because I'm interacting with different people and I really like researching and learning about the policies and procedures that drive the practices. It's very important to the process."
Hardenbrook's main task is to oversee the staff and faculty appointment process, which involves everything from obtaining approvals from the Provost's office to setting up travel arrangements for applicants -
and of course, making sure university fair hiring practices are being followed throughout the process. The job, which she started in August, also includes hiring and processing student workers and graduate assistantships, payroll and "putting out fires as they flare up."
"It's always something new, which keeps things exciting," she said. "But there's so many things I've yet to even tap into."
Hardenbrook has been a veritable workplace sponge since she was hired at the U. of I. in 2004 as an entry-level office support associate in University Human Resource Administration, where she completed basic office tasks and assisted in setting up meetings.
"I liked what I was doing there - it's where I got my feet wet," she said.
Part of her job involved working with the director of Staff and Organizational Development, an experience that motivated her to pursue her professional development and gave her the foundation she needed to succeed at the university.
Within a couple of years, now armed with a newly developed set of skills and greater knowledge of the campus, Hardenbrook was looking to move into a position with greater responsibility.
She found that challenge in the Graduate College's fellowship office, along with a promotion to office support specialist.
"It was unique and hectic," she said. "Every day you learned something new. I got a crash course in all things Banner and was exposed to many things I hadn't dealt with before."
She spent three years there and said she was able to navigate the new responsibilities only with the help of several mentors and highly qualified co-workers.
"It was a huge eye-opener on the complexities of fellowships, contracts, student accounts, payroll systems and the policies behind them," she said. "I started to see where things were related and understand where to go to get the information I needed."
That led to a human resources job at the Illini Union, where her position was upgraded again, this time to office manager.
It meant making sure the office flow went smoothly and, most important to the nearly 75 full-time employees and more than 200 student workers, that paychecks went out on time.
"Paychecks are always the most pressing thing," she said, "but you also have to be able to quickly provide resources to all of your employees."
In just a year there, Hardenbrook had immersed herself into the academic search process and established herself as a resource for the union. She was promoted again, this time to office administrator.
"I learned so much about the university in that job - from the importance of union contracts to recruitment guidelines," she said.
After three years at the union, she was approached by representatives of the School of Art and Design to help establish its Human Resources Office.
"The job sounded promising, with more growth, autonomy and professional development," she said, "and I was looking for something more (from my job)."
Her position today is more "singular" than the ones before it, she said, and she has embraced the intricacies of the multiple policies and procedures she researches.
"Being new to an academic unit, it has brought an additional HR aspect I hadn't been exposed to before," she said.
Before the U. of I. she worked full time at a "fulfillment center" for a local publishing company and had several part-time jobs, including bartending and caring for horses on the weekends.
"I really enjoyed each job," she said, "because I have fun interacting with people and like to stay busy."
But the U. of I. gave her a different perspective of the working world. When she was hired in 2004, she saw it as an opportunity to establish a career path.
"This place is a life-changer," she said. "My grandparents worked here, my mother works here - it's really an amazing place."
Hardenbrook currently is working on earning her bachelor's degree in an online program through Eastern Illinois University. That and family commitments keep her busy when she's not at work.
She has a daughter who is 2 and her fiance has a teenage son and daughter who are both heavily involved in sports and other activities. The family resides in Tolono, Ill.
"We're busy but we try to do as much family stuff together as possible," she said.
Hardenbrook's personal hobbies are gardening, getting together with friends and family, and going to garage sales "to search for that one bargain that will make me smile.
"It's been a long winter and I can't wait to get back outside to garden and go to some sales," she said. "It seems like it's been forever."