“HEOs are the engine of the University,” says Paul Washington, vice chair of the PSC’s HEO chapter – the union’s largest. Employees in CUNY’s Higher Education Officer series (or HEOs) play many roles throughout the University: registering students, directing research institutes, providing academic advisement and helping students secure financial aid, to name just a few.
Because their responsibilities are so diverse, the critical role that HEOs play at CUNY is often less visible to others. “The first person a student deals with is an HEO,” Washington adds. “But we work in every part of the University’s operations.”
As HEO titles are not defined as a promotional series, CUNY does not provide a clear path for career advancement and HEOs often have difficulty gaining recognition of the fact that they have taken on new and broader responsibilities. The union is seeking to address this situation in the current round of bargaining, to gain better recognition for HEOs’ contributions to education and scholarship at City University.
Clarion recently spoke with five HEOs about the work they do.
Higher Education Assistant Coordinator, Office of Evening & Weekend Services
College of Staten Island
Roughly 1,800 students attend CSI’s evening and weekend classes. These are mostly non-traditional adult students who return to school on a part-time basis to train for a new career or to improve their chances of advancing in their current job. They face many obstacles - work and family obligations as well as self-doubt – and Thomas Brennan is there to help at each step of the way. For these students especially, persistence is key, and Brennan knows that a well-timed piece of information or word of encouragement can make all the difference.
“It’s fun working with them and getting them from beginning to end, however long that takes,” says Brennan. Brennan, a former parochial school teacher, has worked with adult students since 1982. He joined CSI in 1998 and has run the Office of Evening & Weekend Services since 2006. In this position he works closely with both faculty and students. Brennan serves on CSI’s College Council and collaborates with faculty members to ensure that course offerings are balanced so students can complete their degrees in a timely manner.
In his role as adviser, Brennan meets with individual students before registration to review their course selections. He says being a good listener is essential to helping adult students who are uncertain about continuing their studies.
“You want to listen and find out what’s going on in their lives,” Brennan told Clarion. “Everybody needs an ear and encouragement. We take their situation into account and listen as one human being to another.” And if a student has to stop taking classes? “We tell them to give us a ring when they are ready to start again. We’ll be there.”
Higher Education Officer
Director, CUNY Mapping Service Center for Urban Research
Where are the highest concentrations of diabetes in New York City? What parts of the US were most likely to be undercounted in the 2010 Census? How did race and ethnicity change in 15 major U.S. cities from 2000 to 2010?
These are just some of the questions that Steven Romalewski of the Center for Urban Research at the Grad Center is helping to answer through interactive mapping. Beneficiaries include nonprofit organizations and government agencies that are better able to visualize research and gain new perspectives on the challenges they face.
“We’re using maps to better understand policy implications and the world around us – not just to get to the nearest restaurant,” says Romalewski, who is director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research.
Romalewski pioneered computer mapping while working with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) from 1984 to 2006, and first used it to track contaminated sites that were a focus for environmental organizing. He moved over to the Grad Center six years ago, and he says that in the time since he came to CUNY, mapping technology and publicly available databases have greatly improved. Romalewski says it is now much easier to gather large sets of data and analyze them geographically.
Among his current projects is Oasis (oasisnyc.net), a website that describes itself as “the richest source of community maps for NYC – free and all in one place.” With geographical data on transit routes, property ownership, hazardous waste sites, schools, health, zoning, food networks and more, Oasis provides tools with which users can create their own maps, displaying the information they need.
“The sky’s the limit,” Romalewski says. “We can map almost anything.” And that gives planners, residents, scholars and activists new ways to see their world.
Higher Education Assistant
Office of Training & Staff Development
Medgar Evers College
Gina Nurse conducts all faculty and staff computer training at Medgar Evers College. Since 2010 she has trained faculty and staff in how to use software tools ranging from Microsoft Office to Digication to Blackboard – the last an online course-management program that has become increasingly central to instruction at CUNY. Blackboard’s features such as discussion boards and electronic dissemination of course materials are liberating for some but intimidating for others. Nurse works to put everyone at ease. Blackboard’s expanded role at CUNY means its users now go far beyond the “early adopters” who are most comfortable with new technology.
“I like to teach people new things and seeing the difference it makes when they master it,” Nurse says. “I like seeing them get happy as they conquer their fears.”
Too often, a lack of investment in training means that organizations do not see the increase in productivity that they expect from new computer systems. Nurse’s work not only helps faculty and staff be less frustrated and more effective in their jobs; it also helps CUNY gain the full value of its investments in new technology.
Higher Education Officer
Director, Financial Aid Office
Kingsborough Community College
About three-fourths of KCC’s 16,000 students receive financial aid in order to pursue their collegiate dreams, but navigating that system is not easy. Their journey through the financial aid system often begins at the school’s Financial Aid Office, where Wayne Harewood has worked since 1982.
“For me, it’s not a job. It’s something I like to do that I get paid for doing,” says Harewood who has served as Director of KCC’s Financial Aid Office since 1998 and oversees a staff of 33 people.
Harewood’s office helps students as they encounter a variety of programs with differing eligibility requirements, including Pell Grants, work-study, government-backed student loans and the State of New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The summer months of June, July and August, he says, are the busiest time of year.
Harewood told Clarion that much of the Financial Aid Office’s work is now handled online, but the aid office still handles personal visits from students who need additional help. Some things must still be done in person, such as providing tax forms to establish income, or providing proof of citizenship or legal residency in the United States. The latter are requirements for virtually all financial aid, something that would be changed by passage of the New York State DREAM Act.
As a fixture at KCC, Harewood’s impact has been multigenerational. “There are people who remember you and come back with their children to enroll. It happens all the time,” he said. “I sometimes forget a name,” he added, “but I don’t forget a face.”
Assistant to HEO
Admissions Office Center for Worker Education Queens College
The Joseph Murphy Institute’s worker education programs currently assist 1,100 to 1,500 union members who have returned to college to learn new skills and gain credentials that allow them to advance in their careers.
Francine Sanchez understands both the anxieties and the aspirations of these adult students. When she re-enrolled at Queens College in 1997, she was a 37-year-old single mom working as an office assistant at QC: she needed her bachelor’s degree to gain a promotion. Sanchez has now worked as an Assistant to HEO since 2005. Working on admissions to the JMI’s programs from her office at Queens College, she helps other adult students make the same journey that she did.
“The adult student is always overlooked in favor of the younger student,” Sanchez remarks. “Our job is to advocate for the older student and be there for them.”
Many of the City’s largest unions (UFT, DC 37, CWA 1180, IBEW Local 3 and others) have provisions in their contracts that support their members in going to college. Part of Sanchez’s job is to conduct open houses and to visit the worksites of prospective students, encouraging them to enroll. JMI’s central office is in midtown Manhattan; it also operates at Queens College and other CUNY campuses. The program uses a caseload model, and Sanchez says this allows her to stay engaged with students as they pursue their studies.
“I just don’t stop when they are admitted. It’s full service until they are graduated,” she says. “That’s the kind of thing I love about working in admissions. In some small way, I help people to reach their dreams.”