Six individuals support the school's many daily activities

Author: Joseph Fowler
They are the glue that holds the School of Chemical Engineering together. They are the nails that connect the planks of students and teachers. They are the office support system of the school.

office support systemIf a student needs to speak to a certain professor or administrator, they often need to speak to them first. If a professor needs to arrange travel to a conference, these staff members will see that it happens. Grad students sign out equipment from them and hand in their thesis prep; these six women have a combined 69 years of experience at Purdue University.

Chris Murray, Debbie Luedtke, Katherine Henke, Jenni Layne, Marcella Maynard and Karen Heide have a staggering amount of responsibilities. Each handles multiple deadlines (both long and short) each day. While Murray supervises the clerical staff and is the assistant to the head of the school, the others each assist a group of professors in their day-to-day work. Layne is secretary to seven professors and also assists in the renovations of Forney Hall. Layne coordinates with vendors and other departments, and schedules meetings and works with the university architect’s office.

Heide—who has worked at Purdue for almost 35 years—types books for professors; she’s on her third chemical engineering text. Luedtke works in the school’s main office and is a familiar face to students and staff. “We are the first point of contact that outsiders have with the school,” said Luedtke. Henke works primarily with students and teachers, “We serve as liaisons between the faculty and the students. We’ll schedule trips, hand back homework, help schedule thesis projects, defenses, prelims and practices,” said Henke.

This group brings not just years of experience but also variety. Collectively, they have worked in areas and buildings ranging from aviation technology, the Krannert School of Management, the president’s office, first-year engineering, physics, math, and the dean of engineering’s office. This experience has made them adept at helping students. “We’re the middlemen, if a student can’t get to a professor; they know they can come to us,” said Layne. “Sometimes students just need to talk, we’re here to listen as well,” said Maynard.

Murray said juggling the daily responsibilities can sometimes be a test, while Luedtke said that interruptions can make reaching their daily deadlines a challenge, “On any given day, there are interruptions every 5-10 minutes.” Henke feels that their work is the epitome of multi-tasking. “Taking on student and faculty needs, meetings and calendars, every day is a busy day.” Layne agreed, “There’s never a dull moment in chemical engineering!”

Enjoyment and contentment also come along with responsibility. Layne enjoys the busy days and Henke sees their group as the face of ChE and enjoys the different skills and talents that they each bring to the table. “I like working for people who appreciate the effort I put forth,” said Luedtke.  She also enjoys the diversity of Purdue, where she is constantly encountering new groups and people.

Seeing their office as one piece of a bigger picture, Murray talked about the level of connection between ChE and other departments. “We are a smaller part of a larger picture of Purdue. It’s very unique how we’re connected.” The staff work with different parts of the university on a daily basis but their true focus is of course, on the students. “We have wonderful students,” said Murray. “This year I’ve had a lot of interaction with ChE students in three different classes with over a hundred students each. And you know what? I haven’t encountered a single rude student. They have been so very kind,” said Maynard.