Article by Sarah Barnes
Photos by Joel Ninmann
As summer approaches, University Housing is far from a quiet place. While many students have moved out of their residence halls and headed home for the summer, University Housing Conference Services is gearing up for their busiest time of the year.
“Between May 25 and the end of August, we will host 120 programs with over 16,000 guests in our residence halls,” says Sharon Seagren, Director of Conference Services for University Housing. “From SOAR to summer camps and continuing education programs, we strive to give the University of Wisconsin experience to each and every guest who stays with us.“
For the last 95 years, University Housing has been buzzing with activity over the summer. Part of what has made Conference Services’ success lies with the students who make it happen.
For these students, they are working to earn more than a paycheck. They are hoping to gain valuable skills that will set them apart from the competition as they start their professional career path.
Ben Ruffolo, Ogg and Smith Hall Desk Supervisor, has seen first hand how important communication is in his work—especially the ability to adjust to needs quickly. “Each residence hall is totally different depending on who lives in it and when. I have to be professional and adapt the way I communicate to every group. Working over the summer gives me a second layer of learning that I don’t always get during the school year.”
Lea Ratzmann, Student Supervisor at Dejope Residence Hall, agrees with Ruffolo. “We communicate with a broad range of people. I can’t talk to a fifth grader the way I would talk to a college student, and it’s the same way with older guests. I’ve learned different ways of communicating.”
For graduating senior Anna Ballweg, she knows that what she’s learning at the hall desk will give her the real world experience to juggle whatever is thrown at her as a social worker. “You always have to be prepared for whatever may happen. It’s important you make that individual feel taken care of and listen to what they say. Making the human connection is so important.”
Creating a solid human connection is something that Emmett Mottl, Head Student Supervisor at Carson’s Market, strives for in his work. “When a group comes in for three meals a day during the summer, you get to know the customers pretty well. A warm welcome can make a huge difference. Building trust is something that’s important to practice.”
Busy summer days in desk services and dining facilities means that supervisors and staff work together more closely. Teamwork is key to handling these challenges. Mottl explains, “When we get 300 or 400 customers coming at one time, you need to be all hands on deck. It’s always a team effort here, but it’s more of a team effort during the summer because everyone has to be on the ground helping to serve the customer. We are all in this together.”
The team atmosphere is felt throughout the Conference Services office as the student staff work to meet the needs of 16,000 guests over the summer. Elle Poikonen, Administrative Assistant for Conference Services elaborates, “Teamwork is really important because there are so many people on campus counting on us. Half our team has expertise in one field and half has knowledge in another. Together we can get things done quickly and share the load. Collaboration is what makes us succeed.”
The tight bond formed between supervisors and students is something that has kept Poikonen working with University Housing. “The supervisors here really care and want to see you grow your resume. They know when to challenge you and when to lend a hand. I know this will help me in the medical or research field in my career.”
Ruffolo also shares the importance of bonding with coworkers and how this strengthens their team. “In the summer, the desk team will go on adventures like paddle boarding and Saturday morning bike rides. It helps us connect and build trust with each other. It helps us put our best foot forward as a team.”
By loving what they do, student staff provide the customer service that makes for a true Badger experience for all guests who visit the campus. And being able to share the love of UW with others is something that student employees really enjoy. Mottl agrees that this is why he stays on campus and works over the summer. “I feel like I’m contributing to the University in a positive way, even when I’m not taking classes. And that’s all about being a true Badger.”