Advising and Facilitation

Author: R.G.
Staff members offer more than support to undergrads

As a point of interest, FRNY 1057 has become a kind of haven for all 400 of Purdue’s chemical engineering undergraduates. Normally an advising office is the scene for angst-ridden students, behind on registering and unsure of how to cope with their program.

Not so for this serene, tucked-away corner of the Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering, which holds the offices of secretary Sandy Hendryx and Undergraduate Office Administrator and Counselor Veronica Schirm. These remarkable women deftly and efficiently work with students on problems, questions, anxieties, and “how should I approach this?” issues, making the office a welcome sight for many on-edge undergrads.

So how exactly do two staff members manage to set the scholarly careers of hundreds of ChE students on the right track? With grace and apparent ease.

An average of 40 students arrive each day to make appointments, schedule classes, and chat with Sandy Hendryx (left) and Veronica Schirm (right) in their spare time.

“Our office takes care of anything an undergrad needs,” says Hendryx. A veteran of Purdue for more than 28 years, Hendryx, who joined ChE in 1998, enjoys interacting with students. As the first point of contact for all sophomores entering the school, she and Schirm, who transferred from Krannert three years ago, work to reassure students that this program is right for them. “Sometimes parents will be concerned about the size of Purdue, but as far as Chemical Engineering is concerned, we do know the students and they do know the faculty. It’s a little bit smaller family,” says Hendryx.

“Because ChE is a very marketable degree,” Schirm adds, “our students can do food process engineering like Agricultural and Biological Engineering students, but they can also do oil refining, chemical production, or go into pharmaceutical manufacturing or research. It gives students a lot of job opportunities when they graduate.” The appeal of such a diverse program has increased enrollment every year for the school, putting pressure on the undergrad office to meet with and schedule hundreds of students during registration.

Does the crunch slow them down? Hardly. “We’re here for the students. I very much feel that my job is to do what’s best for them,” says Schirm, whose workload includes scheduling, mentoring, and advising an average of 24 students a day, as well as working with faculty on curriculum changes and processing the paperwork for new courses. “Students also look to us for any information they need outside of attending classes, like scholarships, industrial roundtables, tutoring, and job opportunities.”

Meanwhile Hendryx, who has known hundreds of students graduating with ChE degrees over the years, attests, “The best part of my job is watching students grow and mature, from sophomores until graduation. The first year I did the year-end banquet was tough. You get attached to them!” May 2008 was the first semester that Schirm saw her former sophomores graduating from Purdue.

Although it’s easy to miss the advising office, with its simple sign on a corner door, it’s impossible to overlook the hard-working staff within.