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(November 16, 2000, Gazette)

Behind the scenes at the
Information Centre for Students

Grenfell College’s Student Information CentrePhoto by Jennifer Browne

The Information Centre for Students was in daily operation during the MUNFA strike.

By Susen Johnson

During the MUNFA strike, over 4,000 students, parents, and faculty placed calls to the quickly-organized Information Centre for Students, looking for information, a chance to rant, and a listening ear.

"The ICS is a temporary emergency information system," explained ICS co-ordinator Sarah Anthony. "Whenever there is a crisis on campus — in this case, a strike — we get the latest information from the working committees and place operators on phones in order to respond to student inquiries as quickly as possible and with the most accurate information we can."

"A lot of times they were frustrated and the fact that we were there to listen to their concerns was important," said Jennifer Browne, the co-ordinator of the Career Planning Centre who worked in the ICS in addition to her regular work. "People seemed impressed with the fact that they got a human voice to listen to them. I think a lot of them expected a machine."

Siobhan Pardy, a fourth year psychology student and fellow ICS worker, adds, "Being or having been students ourselves, we were able to validate their feelings and confirm or correct information they heard on the news."

Under the direction of Rob Shea, acting director of Student Development, the Information Centre for Students was accessible physically, on the fourth floor of the new student centre, but received most of its inquiries by phone which were set up within an hour of the strike call. SWGC had a similar system, coordinated by Mary Sparkes.

The staff, themselves MUN alumni or current students in advanced years of study, worked shifts that ran from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. On weekends, demand necessitated a typical workday in the range of 14 hours a day.

"The longer it went on, the harder it became for those of us with family responsibilities and so on," explained Lisa Russell, arts internship co-ordinator. "But we were glad to be there. It was important to do for the students, and it certainly gave us a chance to get to know each other better."

As Mr. Shea explained, "This system is part of a contingency plan that is always in place, regardless of the nature of the crisis. When it's over, we'll put the phone lines back up into the ceiling, push the tables against the wall, and hope we don't have to use it again for awhile."

Primarily, the ICS staff answered calls from students worried that they'd lose their term or wondering when they'd get back to class or have an exam. But there were also less common, but still important, calls, such as the one from the student wondering when she should get the ferry from Fogo.

"The further away they were, the more notice of return to class they needed to have," Ms. Russell observed.

Ms. Browne added another. "We asked callers for their student numbers, and through that we found that the majority of calls were from students in first year. Being unfamiliar with the system, maybe they thought that everybody else knew the rules and they were the only ones who didn't, which of course they weren't."

There were also the fun calls from callers who clearly thought they were accessing an open line show instead of a student service.

"We had some interesting characters call in," Ms. Anthony said, "and some regulars, too."

Although the ICS is currently winding down operations, Mr. Shea said it will be ready to go again whenever need warrants.

ICS staff are: Cal Adey, Sarah Anthony, Kelly Aspell, Jennifer Browne, Tom Brophy, Grace Butler, Charlie Cheeseman, Linda Gregory, Gail Hickey, Marilyn Moores, Siobhan Pardy, Lisa Russell, and Kathie Saunders.

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