Cecilia Lopez

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

A University program designed to help the 10,000 students employed on campus develop professional and life skills hosted its first of 16 interactive workshops to educate and offer professional growth opportunities.

The semester-long series is hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program, referred to as SEED, a program launched in fall 2012 by the University’s Human Resource Services department. 

Cecilia Lopez, Hogg Memorial Auditorium manager and member of SEED’s employee committee, presented a lecture on customer service with an emphasis on the FISH! Philosophy, a client-centered work model established in the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

FISH! focuses on employees engaging customers and enjoying work in a high-energy environment, using four tenets: “be there,” “play,” “make their day” and “choose your attitude.” 

“They exuded this positive attitude towards something that I wouldn’t think I would do if I worked at a fish market,” said Adrienne Teter, a radio-television-film junior who works at Hogg Auditorium. “They make remedial tasks seem really fun and exciting.”

Though customer service desks often deal with many of the same questions, Lopez said employees must treat each customer as if he or she were the first to ask.

“We get a lot of calls — exact same calls — hundreds of people call in a day,” said Zach Lozano, a computer science junior who works at the Information Technology Services help desk. “It’s a matter of treating each customer as if they were your first call.”

After speaking on the FISH! Philosophy, Lopez divided workshop attendees into two groups that were given two separate scenarios unrelated to the philosophy to solve.

In one scenario, a customer approached an employee with a question about safety that the employee was unable to answer. The group concluded that employees should tell the customer if they don’t have an answer and should clarify with a supervisor later.

“Give them the disclaimer upfront: ‘I’m not 100 percent sure,’” said Damien Tubbs, an African and African-American studies junior. “If we can’t give them any information at all, we have to tell them they have to come back.”

Modeled after similar programs at other universities, SEED strives to educate and offer professional growth opportunities to on-campus student employees. Students may earn a SEED program certification by attending workshops and writing a final two-page paper about what they learned over the course of the program.

“We started it because we value our student employees and recognize the huge contribution they make to the University,” student employment coordinator Amy Lebowitz Greenspan said. “We also feel that what our student employees learn on the job is an important and valuable part of what they learn at the University.”

Instead of hunting across the many entities on campus in search of meeting space, students will now be able to find reservation information for more than 550 indoor and outdoor spaces using online database “Find A Space.”

Student Government launched the comprehensive database March 5 in an attempt to simplify the process students go through when they reserve a space on campus. SG vice president Ashley Baker said SG received feedback from many students on difficulties finding and reserving a space last year and began working with the Office of the Dean of Students on the database last summer.

The database allows students to search for a room for their needs by specifying capacity and location preferences and informs students if a room has commonly requested items like movable chairs, a stage and a projector. It also gives students contact information for the entity in charge of the space and any amenities included.

“In my sorority when we have an event we go back and forth on what room to use,” Baker said. “We don’t want to have too big of a room where it seems we don’t have enough people, but we don’t have to have a small room and have people be cramped.”

Baker said the database did not cost any money to build, only labor to obtain information and take pictures. She said four volunteers from SG and two employees from the Office of the Dean of Students worked on the project.

Currently, there are several different entities on campus for students to reserve a space from, including Student Activities, University Unions, Recreational Sports, Texas Performing Arts and other departments within the various colleges on campus.

Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant Dean of Students, said Student Activities has received feedback from students articulating their difficulty knowing which rooms will accommodate their needs based on the resources in each room.

Mercatoris said “Find A Space” is a good example of how students and the UT administration can work together to improve the lives of students.

“I believe students will request the right type of room for the needs the first time they are making the request rather than finding out later that the room they reserved does not meet their needs,” Mercatoris said.

Educational administration graduate student Cecilia Lopez said she was involved in the Student Volunteer Board and the Leadership and Ethics Institute as an undergraduate and at first had difficulty finding an ideal space. She said she needed to research to find out what entity is in control of the space she wanted to reserve.

“Finding a space on campus is huge,” Lopez said. “That is where the big events happen and a lot of the learning takes place. Space is key, whether indoor or outdoor, because that’s where campus life happens.”

Baker said “Find A Space” allows students to see what SG does for them in a tangible way.

While the database does not allow students to reserve most rooms online, Baker said she hopes the “Find A Space” project will live on after her term to eventually have all room reservations made online. SG passed a resolution in support of a centralized online room reservation system Feb. 14.

Jeremy Gatson, Liberal Arts Council program coordinator, said although he has not explored “Find A Space,” he believes there needs to be an online room reservation system like the one in place at the University Unions. He said he liked the idea of “Find A Space,” but believes having contact information on the database will add stress on the staff that works to manage room reservations.

“If you send them an email on top of them having their own way of reserving rooms, it’s more work for them,” Gatson said. “It’s a good thing for people to utilize that, but it’s more stress on the staff side.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: SG aims to help students 'Find a Space' with launch

Student Government’s internal structure could receive some major changes with a recommendation from the SG Reform Task Force.

The task force voted to approve an outline of its recommendations Tuesday night. Major changes include a condensation of the agency structure, reduction of the number of SG agencies from and the addition of several positions to the legislative body, including a parliamentarian to oversee meeting order, a clerk to take meeting minutes and run logistics and a chair, who would replace the vice president in the role of running the meetings.

“We’re making more opportunities for students to get involved in agencies,” said task force chairwoman Cecilia Lopez. “It will change the structure and create more avenues for students to be involved, because we are recommending that agencies have members and not just directors.”

The recommendations also include suggestions about how to most effectively interact with Senate of College Councils, Graduate Student Assembly, Faculty and Staff councils, registered student organizations and the student body at large.

“Not all student organizations aspire to have a relationship with SG, but we should get interested parties into the same room to talk about what resources SG has and how these organizations can collaborate with SG,” said task force member Mykel Estes.

In a task force meeting last week, Senate members asked the group to consider removing the Academic Affairs Committee from SG because Senate is the student governance organization charged with legislating on academics. However, Lopez said because academics is a part of student life, it would be inappropriate to remove the committee.

“We feel [the Academic Affairs Committee] does fulfill a very useful purpose,” said James Lloyd, a law student and the chairman of the Internal Affairs Subcommittee. “The issues that Academic Affairs will address will not conflict with Senate because they will be issues that are academic but affiliated with student life.”

There is still much that the task force must consider, including defining the judicial branch, determining how the chair of the assembly would function in relation to the executive board, discussing whether to add a freshman representative in the assembly and identifying how to restructure the SG website, which is more than six months out of date.

“We have to approve our main goals and ideas before we can move forward with details,” Lopez said.

The task force must still flesh out its recommendations and write the language that will become part of the SG constitution, bylaws and best practices, pending assembly approval. The group will present the final recommended documents to the assembly before Thanksgiving.

Student Government passed a set of broad reforms to its internal structure and external operations in its first meeting of the semester Tuesday.

An SG Internal Reform Task Force began work over the summer to create a series of changes to SG’s constitution and bylaws, including the rejuvenation of the judicial branch, added positions to the assembly and increased efficiency in the agency system, the primary structure for outreach and student programming. “

"Hopefully, this will start an ongoing process of reform and create more ways for students to interact with SG and make SG more accountable,”" said the task force’s chair, Cecilia Lopez, a higher education administration graduate student. “"I didn’t think we were going to be able to accomplish as much as we did in the time that we had."”

"The task force’s recommendations helped fulfill campaign promises that SG President Scott Parks made during the February 2010 campaign season," Student Government President Scott Parks said. "“Something that we campaigned on a lot was our agency structure, and this provides a much more efficient and sustainable organizational structure for our agencies,” he said. “We'’ll be able to program better for students and get better turnout at programs students are interested in attending."”

"The new agency organization will allow for more extensive recruitment of students who are not already involved with SG," Lopez said. "“When students ask how to get involved, [SG members] will have more to say than just to come to a meeting,"” she said.

The reform also creates several positions within the assembly, including the creation of a clerk position to take minutes and manage meetings’ logistics and an assembly chair who will run the meetings, a role the vice president currently fulfills. The new constitution also includes the creation of two first-year seats, which freshmen, first-year transfer students and first-year graduate students would be eligible to run for each fall.

Because SG approved the reform, it has to go before a campus-wide vote. SG will hold a special election to approve the reform on Feb. 9 and 10 so that students can elect the 2010-11 executive and assembly members under the new SG constitution during the March general election.

During the meeting, SG also appointed a new University-wide representative to fill the seat that business senior Alex Greenberg vacated at the end of the fall semester. Government junior Yaman Desai will take the seat. Desai is involved with University Democrats and was part of the Internal Reform Task Force.