During Michele Winfrey’s 25-year career with the School of Social Work, she has helped hundreds of students with the paperwork labyrinths they must navigate for admission and graduation. Getting to know the students by name is “one of the pleasures of the job,” said Winfrey, whose affinity for solving puzzles in her spare time also helps her retain details, such as students’ I.D. numbers. But there’s no mystery as to why Winfrey has spent her entire UI career with the school: “It’s the camaraderie and mutual respect,” she said.
Tell me about your job.
I started off as the receptionist and worked my way up to admissions and records officer by doing things to enhance the record keeping. I’ve been the admissions and records officer for at least 10 years.
Basically, I handle the paperwork for all the students who apply for our master’s degree and doctoral programs. I make sure they’ve met the requirements. We generally admit from 100 to 120 students to the on-campus master’s program each year and have two off-campus locations (locations vary depending on the demand) with up to 25 students per site. Our instructors go out and teach in the community so that people who are already working in the field can get their master’s degrees while still continuing to work. After a year, these students come to campus for a semester of course work before their two-semester internship.
With the PhD program there are five to 10 students admitted, but we generally get 30-50 applications each year.
I am the go-between between our students and Admissions and Financial Aid or other units.
I created a couple of databases to help keep track of students and get rid of the paper files. I have helped with the creation and maintenance of a couple of databases the school uses to keep track of students, including students in class, in field placement and graduates.
We’re a small office: one secretary, the assistant dean and generally a graduate student or two. Ours is one of the few Social Work programs where students complete their course work first, then are out in the community as interns for the last year. Ninety-five percent of our students have jobs within four months of graduation.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The interaction and friendships I have made with the students. Some of the current faculty members I met when they were students here. It’s been interesting to see them get their degrees and then come back and start working for us. Most of the professors that were here when I started have retired. I think I’ve worked for every dean at the school except the first two.
Our major priority is the students and making sure their questions and concerns are answered and that they’re pointed in the right direction.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
The biggest challenge is trying to get the international students here, especially with the new immigration laws. We make our decisions in February so that we can get all the paperwork done and get them here by August. We have a policy that they can defer admission for a year if they need to because the paperwork is not secured in a timely manner.
We try to achieve a balance of people who are newly graduated and people who have been out working in the field for a while but can’t advance unless they have a master’s degree.
This time of year, it’s pretty quiet, but in a couple weeks it will be more hectic as we’ll be getting ready for the new students and fall registration. Once we get the students registered and settled, it runs really smooth.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I do a lot of crosswords, cryptograms and mind teasers. I also volunteer for a non-profit organization. But most of all I enjoy following Illini sports and Chicago sports teams. I’m a Chicago native and a true die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.