Department coordinators: the heart of academic life


Jan Beebe and Hank Hietala ’17 relax in the English office on pajama day. Photo courtesy of Jane Beebe.

]1 Jan Beebe and Hank Hietala ’17 relax in the English office on pajama day. Photo courtesy of Jane Beebe.
Herta Pitman is on her way back from a meeting about an art installation when she realizes that the pizzas she ordered for an event have not been delivered. Without missing a beat, she jumps on the phone with Pizza Hut to resolve the issue. Confident that food is on the way, she settles down in one of the armchairs in her office. “There’s never a typical day here,” she says.

Pitman, department coordinator for both the History and Classics departments, is one of the many department coordinators at Macalester. The department coordinators, a largely women cohort (there is only one man who is a department coordinator), have multifaceted positions; they send emails, oversee student workers, attend department meetings, plan events, regulate department budgets and (importantly) organize food delivery. According to Jane Kollasch, department coordinator for Economics, a large part of the position also involves problem solving and answering questions.

But department coordinators are more than their job description. “You rarely just sit and do administrative work,” says Suzanne Burr, department coordinator for Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (MSCS). Along with the above tasks, each coordinator works as the public face of their department(s) and forms a unique relationship with their position. For example, Burr loves to plan capstone presentations and the senior banquet. In addition, she enjoys acting as a liaison between MSCS, other academic departments and the Twin Cities by helping to coordinate speakers on campus and connecting students to job and tutoring positions in the area.

Jan Beebe, coordinator for the English department, likes to plan events that build community. “I want to make sure that everyone feels welcome,” she said. This year, she helped to organize a new event: Pop Talks. Pop Talks aims to facilitate discussions between professors and students on popular culture (previous topics include memes, selfies and the musical Hamilton). The talks are meant to relate to many students across campus, bring non-majors into the department and make professors more accessible to their students. According to Beebe, “Professors can talk about popular topics! There are a lot of things about Humanities and English that apply to all students.”

Along with planning events, Pitman and Kollasch, who have worked with the college for 17 and 23 years respectively, try to take advantage of all that Macalester has to offer. Drawn to writing and the study of recent history, Pitman has taken multiple history courses with the history department and is currently enrolled in “Oceans in World History.” Kollasch volunteers; in the past, she has helped with Reunion, Orientation and Macathon. For the last 15 years, she has also done scorekeeping for Macalester’s men’s and women’s basketball games.

Above all, Burr, Beebe, Pitman and Kollasch emphasize that the best part of their job is engaging with students. Burr commented, “I’m a relationship person, so working with students brings a great balance into my job.” Further, Beebe said that students, especially her student workers, are the crux of the English department. “I’m here to support them,” she said. She tries to maintain this support even after graduation through emails, networking events and English department t-shirts. This year, Beebe sent over 50 t-shirts to young alums across the globe. Similarly, Kollasch said that she is proud to work at Macalester because she can help students navigate their four years of college, as well as maintain connections with them after graduation. “The students also keep me young. I learn something new every day!” she said. Pitman added that she sees her connections with students as a way to expand her own life experience; she can learn about different places and people right in her office: “The position feeds all parts of me. The world comes to me through the door.”

In a second installment of this piece, department coordinators that manage smaller departments or work in part-time positions will be featured.