Administrative assistantship and the meaning of education

Lightmary Flores

Whittier   College’s administrative assistants are often found behind the scenes making sure that everything runs smoothly for faculty, but what people don’t know is that every academic administrator has different tasks to complement their unique skills.

For the past eight years and counting, Department of English and History Administrative Assistant Angela Olivas has overseen and worked with 21 different professors, which does not include faculty from other departments.“I make sure that their students always have something to read, even if that means scanning and uploading works online,” Olivas said.  “If it’s not a hard copy, that’s okay. We have plenty of digital copies to go around.”

Olivas had the opportunity to attend Whittier College and complete her Psychology degree. “Although it was difficult to juggle work, school, and kids, I was able to finish, and I must be honest when I say that I appreciated what I learned so much more the second time around,” said Olivas. “I have first-hand experience on everything the students encounter, so it gives me tools to help if students have questions or just need additional resources and support.”

Administrative Assistant of   Modern Languages and Art and Art History Debra Eckloff has been a member of the Whittier family for 13 years. She resolves time conflicts in the schedule of classes, scans files into specific forms for Moodle, and goes down to the mail room to make sure supplies have arrived at the College and are ready for student use before each project. Eckloff always turns to her students and to all 15 Professors in her departments for inspiration.

Although Eckloff did not attain a formal degree, she has completed about 60 undergraduate units at Rio Hondo and Mount San Antonio College and has even taken three classes at Whittier College. She will take her fourth this Spring. “I am very much a student in many areas of my life, and it appears I always will be, even after turning 58,” said Eckloff. “There are still many things I want to know and learn. Currently, I am trying to perfect a buttermilk biscuit recipe, to my own detriment.” 

Eckloff has also appeared in Comedy Central skits and Hollywood short films since 2009. She applies her acting skills to her life as an administrative assistant (some pictured right). “If support means helping a student by sitting down for a run-through of their upcoming presentation, then that’s the job right then,” said Eckloff. “It could also mean clarifying policies and directing students to services they need.”

“With students, it comes down to encouragement. I respect them and believe in them.” Eckloff said. “When it comes to supporting faculty, that means providing them with what they need to work smoothly and efficiently. That can be as simple as copier toner and as complex as assisting with tasks related to assessment.”

Olivas discussed some of the challenges of being an administrative assistant. “We as admins often have to predict what needs to be done before anyone ever says anything,” Olivas said. “Being proactive is always better than reactive …Professors will thank you when they begin to lose their minds by the end of the semester. So it’s important to keep a positive attitude and pleasant demeanor, even when things aren’t perfect.”

Even when students leave campus, faculty is still hard at work, sometimes on things that do not come with the job description. According to Olivas, one of the hardest parts of being an assistant takes place at the end of the semester when students fill out course evaluations for each professor. “I just completed packaging up over 950 scantrons,” said Olivas. 

“We are here after you leave at the end of the semester, combing through those student evaluations to fill in the bubbles because you don’t,” Eckloff added with a hearty laugh.

Although the nature of being an administrative assistant comes with some extra weight, Eckloff’s favorite perk is not only the dynamic nature, but the familial support that students and faculty give each other. “I love to hear all of the languages mashing up in the Language Lab,” Eckloff said. “I cannot explain how much joy it gives me to coexist in a multilingual and multicultural environment every day. I love it so; it seems I will never duplicate it in any other aspect of my life. The students in the Language Lab are very dear to me; and I endeavor to meet their needs for a welcoming environment that is sensitive and responsive.”

Olivas echoed Eckloff’s appreciation for student-faculty relationships in a different manner. Olivas loves applying her professional customer service skills to her job on top of working cooperatively with students and faculty. “I love when I’m busy and there are faculty and students around,” said Olivas. “I do not like it when the campus is quiet … In order for me to do the best job possible for my departments I have familiarized myself with people and departments that can help me when I have to help others.”

Olivas and Eckloff want to remind students there is more to life than just an office. Eckloff collects vintage clothing, cooks, and takes nature walks with her dog in her spare time. “I have turned mulling over what did not get done into an art form,” Eckloff said, laughing. 

Olivia enjoys event organization and set up, along with being her daughter’s biggest cheerleader at sporting events. “I love to think outside of the box when it comes to visual displays, floral arrangements, and party themes,” Olivas said. “I volunteer with my daughter’s elementary school foundation and the Interfaith Food Center here in Whittier and Whittier Area Community Church with their annual community clothing event.”

Olivas hopes to convey that every opportunity can turn into a learning experience. “I think when people ask about “education,” they are often thinking about books and schooling and there is so much more to educating yourself in the world than that,” Olivas said. “Real world experience counts a tremendous amount in combination with ‘seat time’ and should not be discounted as education.”