The overwhelming majority of Virginia Tech’s nearly 7,000 graduate students are juggling full- or part- time jobs and families while earning their degrees. Brenda Harris, the Virginia Tech Graduate School registration and information specialist, works hard every day to support these students and assist them throughout their academic careers. Her commitment, enthusiasm, and problem-solving skills make her one of the go-to people for students who need a solution for their academic issues.
“We all work together as a team to achieve a common goal, which is academic progress for all graduate students and a rewarding school experience,” Harris said.
She is one of seven Virginia Tech employees who are being honored for 45 years of service to Virginia Tech. She was recognized during the 2016 Service Recognition Program this spring.
From her office in the Graduate Life Center, Harris’ primary responsibilities are to research and help solve issues that students have regarding their course schedules, grades and financial concerns. She works closely with the registrar’s office, bursar’s office, associate deans for the graduate school, and Karen DePauw, vice president and dean for Graduate Education.
“Brenda serves the entire graduate student community well and is always eager to assist students,” said DePauw. “She does so with a wonderful smile and takes great pride in her work.”
Harris began working at Virginia Tech in 1962, immediately after graduating from Blacksburg High School. She worked as an administrative assistant in various departments, including the Department of Entomology and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, for seven years until 1969 when she took a nine-year hiatus from her career to raise her three children.
She returned to Virginia Tech part-time in 1978 with responsibility for a variety of tasks, including registering architecture and urban studies students for classes under the quarter system, setting up an inventory system for Virginia Tech equipment, and mailing out W-2 forms for the bursar’s office. In 1989, she accepted a full-time position as a registration and information specialist for the Graduate School, a position she still holds today.
Harris said one of the biggest changes she has noticed during her career is the rapid transformation of technology and how it has affected the efficiency in her office.
“In 1978, there were lines and lines of students outside the office who were trying to register for class because it wasn’t an option to do it online at that point,” Harris said.
Students now register online through course request and drop/add, which Harris said makes the process more efficient.
Today, the Graduate School has 6,792 students enrolled in 71 master’s degree programs, 54 doctoral degree programs, and 46 post-master’s certificate programs. Nearly 2,000 of these students are international students, the majority of whom come from China, India, Iran, South Korea, and Egypt.
Although technology has changed the registration process, today her job entails everything from answering basic questions about how to register to assisting students with financial issues and scheduling conflicts.
Harris said she enjoys her job because she gets to interact and work together with different departments, faculty/staff, and students to solve such problems as course scheduling, grade changes, and late drop/adds.
“I love meeting students and working with them to fix any issues that they might be facing during the registration process,” she said. “Even though my contributions are small, I enjoy being part of the team that Dr. DePauw has built here at the Graduate School. It is easy to give 100 percent when you have fair supervision, great co-workers, and an enjoyable work environment.”
Written by Mackenzie Nicely, a senior from Lexington, Virginia, majoring in public relations and political science.