Know your leaders: Tackling staff accessibility

Georgia State's Student Financial Services faculty and staff webpage is password protected, raising the issue of transparency within the university. Photo Illustration by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

In January, The Signal tackled staff accessibility within university departments and their inclusion of staff contact information on their websites, prompting website changes from two university departments.

Student concerns echoed the lack of PantherDining’s staff directories first. There were no bulletin boards outlining who the employees of each dining hall were, prompting one student to go on a scavenger hunt to get in touch with a manager.

There was no website containing emails or contact information for the leaders of the department either.

PantherDining vowed to make its faculty and staff more readily available – and clearly known – to the student body, kickstarting two promotional initiatives after collecting student feedback.

“Right now we’re in the process of rolling out our “Meet the Manager” initiative (initially known as Touch the Table), and the initiative is two-fold,” said Nicole Galonczyk, Public Relations specialist for PantherDining.

The first part of the initiative, Galonczyk said, consists of collecting headshots and biographies of the staff and displaying them to students in all dining halls.

“We believe having our management team easily recognizable will help students in knowing who to speak to if they have comments or feedback,” Galonczyk said.

The second part of the initiative, set to launch in March, will include dining hall meet-and-greets for students to ask questions and meet each dining hall manager.

“This event (held at each dining hall) will give students the opportunity to get to know our managers,” Galonczyk said.

And that, she said, will hopefully help students feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts.

“It’s our job to ensure students have the best possible experience while they’re at Georgia State and food is such an important piece of that equation. We believe connecting our dining hall managers with students will let students feel more comfortable approaching our managers with questions or feedback.”

But a lack of staff directories is not solely a PantherDining issue, and departments across the university have begun to tackle the issue head-on.

FINANCIAL AID

Three weeks ago, Student Government Association leaders brought up the trouble students have been having when trying to get in touch with the financial aid director – because there wasn’t one. That was wrong, however. In fact, the department just recently hired their new director, but students still had no way of knowing.

Newly appointed director of financial aid Aristea Williams stepped into the position in January 2018. While the position was vacant in the fall semester, Williams said there was someone acting as interim-director before that, prior to his contract expiration in August.

Yet there was still no way of telling, as the department also lacks a staff directory page, which Williams found startling.

“It is somewhat surprising that there isn’t something that says who works here, or at least say who we are,” she said.

There is a Faculty & Staff Contact Page within the financial aid website, but it is password-protected. That website, Williams said, is for internal staff use, and that’s probably the reason why it’s inaccessible to students. But that’s the only staff contact list to exist.

Williams noted that she was hesitant to include phone numbers on that directory for staff employees, as that could overflow some inboxes with student emails.

“Honestly, I believe students should know that people are here, I just worry that if you get the person that you think you should contact, that person would be bombarded and no work would get done, [they would] just get bombarded with emails,” she said.

Williams said when she was brought into the team as a consultant last April, her goal was to “right the ship” of financial aid, and a priority was bettering communication with the student body.

“I don’t think our communication was very effective previously, so we can’t say ‘Oh, students didn’t turn this in.’ Well, did they know that they had to? Did they know what was coming up?” she said, adding that they’re now working on getting the word out through social media campaigns.

But it’s more than online communication for Williams, who said representing financial aid should be a 24-hour job.

“We have our staff and they go across campus, even when going to lunch, they wear their name tags. So if someone has a question, they can answer it. And I say, ‘You are always the face of financial aid,’” she said.

STUDENT HEALTH SERVICES

Georgia State’s Student Health Services also got to work after The Signal published an article which highlighted the lack of staff information on their website.

Psychological and Health Services Senior Director Jennifer Lee-Barber said shortly after her meeting with a student newspaper reporter, she assigned a member of her team to add a staff directory to the websites of the testing center, counseling services, student victim assistance, Georgia State health clinics and student health promotion.

On adding photos and names of staff members to the website, Lee-Barber said, “It seems like a good addition.”

“What’s up there now doesn’t show you who and where the staff are, and it doesn’t have their email next to their name. We thought that adding the emails to the page would be the most helpful.”

Pantherdining’s Nicole Galonczyk said staff accessibility is a concept all about serving students first.

“Being away from home for the first time is a huge transition and students may not always know who to turn to if they have a question, or a comment, or just need someone to lend a listening ear,” she said. “We always want students to feel heard, as they’re our main priority.

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