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'Teamwork at its finest'

Thursday, January 22, 2009Volunteers from across ETSU campus assist students with financial aid questions during busy times

JOHNSON CITY – For 23 years, Fred Warren has been with East Tennessee State University coaching the men’s golf team to top-10 finishes in the NCAA Tournament. Sherry Barnett was an adjunct professor in the ETSU College of Nursing for three semesters before accepting a full-time instructor’s position last fall in the college’s Department of Adult Nursing.

But for the golf coach, nursing instructor, and more than 50 other ETSU faculty and staff members, the first three weeks of this new year have been spent on the “front lines” of a different workstation. They are among a team of employees who answered a campus-wide email request from the Office of Financial Aid, which sought volunteers to assist in taking phone calls Jan. 5-23. These were deemed the peak, high-volume days for the spring 2009 semester.

Margaret Miller, ETSU director of Financial Aid, said the response to the “call for volunteers” was extremely positive and encouraging, and it included deans and administrative and clerical staff from across the campus. Training sessions were held in December.

“They’ve been a true blessing, and it has made such a difference,” said Miller, who added that during the 2006-2007 academic year approximately 87 percent of ETSU students earned some type of financial assistance, with 55 percent receiving federal aid.

“The volunteers have been taking calls from the main telephone line and answering some of the more frequently asked questions,” Miller explained. “If there is something that extends beyond their general training, they can transfer the call to a staff member or ask for assistance from the financial aid graduate assistant who stays in the call center with them. As a result, this has dramatically reduced the length of time that callers remain on hold.”

“I had heard about the long lines, and, since I knew I would have a little down time before the golfers arrived, I felt it was my obligation to help in some way,” Warren said. “The training session was well done, and for me this has been an eye-opening experience to the myriad information involved with financial aid. I walked away with the utmost respect and appreciation for the employees in that office who deal with these complex issues on a daily basis.”

When ETSU re-opened on Jan. 5 following the holiday break, Warren was one of the volunteers working in the phone room, and he admits to feeling a bit of trepidation when he heard that first ring.

“After the first couple of phone calls it was relatively easy to handle their questions,” said Warren, who received approximately 40-50 calls during each of his three-hour shifts. “There are a lot of issues that can affect a student’s financial aid that are not directly related to the office, so there are times you have to ‘untie the knot’ and work through a few questions in order to transfer the call to the appropriate office.

“Looking back, I feel the experience benefited me as much as I was able to help the students.”

Warren and Barnett, who also volunteered for that first shift, agreed that GoldLink is an invaluable resource.

“Often, the information was right there, and all we did was help the students navigate through GoldLink to the right 

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