Official voice of Western speaks out

Olga Cronin

Shelia Dunn’s desk is an island in the center of Wetherby Administration Building.

People walk by her each day, sometimes stopping to ask for directions, other times to say hello. But most often they don’t even notice her.

She talks to as many as 500 people a day, yet still happens to feel alone.

“Western. May I help you?” can be heard from the island hundreds of times a day. Through a mouth-piece that peaks out from her short brown hair and cups under her cheek, she answers the phone in a soft but clear voice.

She’s the voice of Western, the one that answers the phone when you dial “0” from an on-campus location. Her attention glides in an orderly fashion from her computer screen to the hundreds of numbers that surround her. This is the job of campus operator.

The job

Flashing a patient smile when she answers a call, Dunn said her busiest time is the start of the semester when students are sorting out things such as advising and financial aid.

“It can get really nerve wracking,” Dunn said of the overwhelming volume of calls. “It’s a lonely job. You’re constantly on the phone, but there’s no personal interaction. It’s slow – not as in boring. It’s not boring at all. It’s just slower than normal.”

But Dunn does appreciate interaction with other staff members working in the offices surrounding her island – especially those from the president’s office.

“Those girls have been a lifesaver to me,” she said.

Adrianne Browning, an office associate for Institutional Placement, finds that working with Dunn is a pleasure.

“She brightens my day,” she said.

Dunn enjoys working with young people and says her job at Western fulfills that part of her life.

“I like young kids,” she said. “They keep me young. I may be 47, but I’m young at heart.”

Cindy Kimbler is an administrative assistant in the neighboring president’s office.

“She’s wonderful,” she said. “She makes our job easier as she cuts down on traffic coming in here, and she’s a lot of fun.”

The memories

One phone call that sticks out in Dunn’s memory was from a man in Florida needing directions to Western.

He wanted to surprise his girlfriend, who was graduating the next day. He planned on proposing to her after she walked the line.

Dunn tried to convince the man he wouldn’t make it on time, but it didn’t work.

“He said ‘My mom hasn’t been able to talk me out of it and neither will you,'” she said.

Dunn said she spent 20 minutes on the phone with him trying to ensure he knew where he was going.

Dunn normally finds callers to be polite, but she has had to grin and bare some calls from impatient people.

“Some people call and hang up,” she said. “I’ve got some prank phone calls and irate people. Especially some parents when they are looking for financial aid.”

The most frequent number asked for is that of the financial aid office. She also finds that many people call her to enquire about where they should park. She just connects them to campus police.

The priorities

Dunn has lived in Bowling Green her whole life. She was working in a local grocery store as a cashier when she met her future husband, also a native of Bowling Green, who packed groceries at the same line.

“He used to catch my hand when I’d pass the food,” she said.

They have two children: Melissa Dunn, a Western alumni, now a registered nurse in Bowling Green, and sophomore Michael Dunn.

Before becoming Western’s campus operator, Dunn worked as an office associate for the city of Bowling Green, under the cemetery section. There she sold graves and helped families with funeral directions.

When she began last October, the change took a little adjusting.

“Three or four times I’d say ‘Good morning, Fairview Cemetery’ – I got over that pretty quick,” Dunn said laughing.

Dunn works full-time as campus operator because the woman she shares the job with is on maternity leave. Her workload is even heavier right now because the printed copies of the new campus directory haven’t been distributed yet.

Having a family and doing volunteer work with her church, Greenwood Church of Christ, keeps Dunn busy. She especially enjoys preparing food for after-church dinners.

“God is first in my life, my husband and my family is second, myself is third and my job is fourth,” she said.

And next time you need number, Dunn will put you at the center of her attention – even if you are the 500th person she’s talked to that day.

Reach Olga Cronin at [email protected]