By Morgan Malatesta
Toni Schrantz, department coordinator for philosophy and religious studies, never planned to work at Macalester for very long. Sixteen years later, she attributes her longevity to the nature of the position; she loves that it fits her sociable personality and allows her to engage with students and professors on a daily basis. Laura Kigin, department coordinator for Geography since 1993, agrees: “I never imagined that I would like to be at one place for this long, but I do. I feel very fortunate to wake up each morning and look forward to going to work.”
Unlike his colleagues, Jeremy Meckler ’10 only started work as the department coordinator for media and cultural studies (MCST) this past January. Before returning to Macalester, Meckler (an MCST major himself) worked in professional film production, specifically the production of avant-garde and experimental work, in positions at The Walker Art Center and The Jerome Foundation, a St. Paul nonprofit that awards grants to support emerging artists and their work.
Despite differences in tenure, all three coordinators find that their positions are about balance. Schrantz splits her time between the Philosophy and Religious Studies departments, so she must manage two of everything: two budgets, two department meetings, two end-of-year picnics, etc. Although the dynamics in each department are different, Schrantz comments that these differences make her job interesting: “I work with 12 plus of the best professors on campus. The people keep me here. They fit my personality.”
Similarly, Kigin has two part-time positions that she combines into a full-time job. During the academic year, she manages the geography department for about 30 hours a week and works as a program assistant for the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education (MAGE), coordinated by Professor David Lanegran and housed at Macalester, for about 9 hours a week. In the summer, she does some work for the geography department, but focuses most of her efforts on MAGE.
Starting in the fall, Meckler also plans to split his time. He will begin a PhD program at the University of Minnesota and continue working part-time as MCST department coordinator. Meckler says, “I’m going to a program that’s like a PhD version of the media and cultural studies department, so it’ll be a win-win. My involvement at an administrative level at Macalester will help me in academia, and my involvement in the academy will help me connect with professors and students as a department coordinator.”
However, finding balance between various work and academic obligations does not distract Schrantz, Kigin and Meckler from connecting with students. Schrantz prides herself on making others feel comfortable in the philosophy and religious studies departments, and loves to plan events for students. She also enjoys when alumni come back to visit. Recently, one of her favorite department events was the retirement party for Rabbi Barry Cytron, Macalester’s Jewish chaplain. At this event, she not only recognized and celebrated Rabbi Cytron for all of this work with the college, but also connected with current students and alumni.
Kigin concurs. She said in an email that, in addition to the geography faculty and staff and her Macalester colleagues, “The students are some of the most interesting people I have had the pleasure to get to know and collaborate with over the past 20-plus years.” Kigin also maintains strong connections with alumni and even visited Constanze Ruprecht ’96 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, several years ago.
Meckler intends to foster similar connections within the MCST department. Because no one was in the coordinator role before he accepted his position, Meckler has a lot of freedom to experiment and hopes to plan events with more regularity. Recently, the department sponsored a campus-wide event featuring Mark Tribe, a multimedia artist and founder of Rhizome, an organization that fosters emerging art which utilizes technology. On April 27, the department will host a Mystery Science Theater 3000 style movie screening where professors give live comments as a movie unfolds. Meckler is also trying to organize a film festival at the end of the semester. He says, “I’m sending out feelers in every direction because I’m new and seeing what sticks.” As one of the only department coordinators from his generation, Meckler also believes that he can bring a unique perspective: “I am someone who has graduated [from] college within the last 10 years, so I can help connect students to different informational interviews or internships in the area and act as a bridge in that way.”
Altogether, Schrantz, Kigin and Meckler look forward to growth in their respective departments through events and student involvement. But events are only part of a coordinator’s job. Schrantz emphasizes that a coordinator’s focus is to help faculty and students: “I don’t think the position of department coordinator is to be an events planner. It’s to keep professor’s lives running and to give students an enjoyable and happy experience.”