Business, HR staff indispensable to MechSE
There are perhaps two groups of staff that everyone in MechSE—faculty, staff, students—interacts with on a regular basis: the department’s Business Office and Human Resources.
Located in 138 MEB, Emily Lange, Jaimee Wilson, and Debbie Lanter lead the Human Resources side of things. In 142 MEB, Laurie Macadam, Marcia Mathias, Robbie Vermillion, and Donna Walsh tackle all the purchasing and reimbursements for the department. John Wierschem, as the assistant to the head, guides MechSE’s overall budget and planning, while also supervising HR, the Business Office, and the Grants and Contracts office.
Lange, Wilson, and Lanter set up new employee appointments, handle employee payroll, and, more recently, manage the employee aspect of a large number of grants.
“Grant accounts are always being established and ending, so we are constantly reassigning students, faculty, and others to different grants. More and more, what we’ve seen in HR is a lot of compliance revolution and now we’re doing background checks and meeting different insurance requirements, for example, which has added some complexity,” said Wierschem.
Additionally, HR and the Business Office staff both play a role in administering the acquisition of visas for visitors, including foreign students, post-docs, and visiting faculty, who come to Illinois to leverage MechSE’s research efforts.
“We bring in a lot of visitors, so we make sure we aren’t violating any rules as far as the visas and payroll go,” said Wierschem. “This is a pretty big task, because if the visitor doesn’t get their paperwork, and as a result doesn’t show up as quickly, then our faculty member who hired them is frustrated, because now their planned visit is delayed, potentially by as much as several weeks.”
Wierschem said the role of human resources, both in the College of Engineering and in MechSE, has evolved and grown in the last few years, with new staff regularly coming on board to carry out all the functions of the office.
“Emily has done a great job of teaching and guiding our new staff, as the HR function has become more complicated in recent years. We do some things in HR that aren’t typically done in that arena, and she always has a willingness to learn those procedures, which helps her carry the football all the way across the end line, so to speak, with regards to all of our administrative tasks,” said Wierschem.
Macadam and her colleagues in the Business Office have also seen the variety of their work evolve during recent years. As the projects for courses like ME 370/ME 371 and Senior Capstone Design (ME 470) increase in complexity and students need to order specific parts for their projects, the result is a substantial rise in the volume of orders to be placed and reimbursements to be processed.
“The remarkable thing that Laurie, Robbie, Donna, and Marcia do, is that they are able to process most orders in the same day. So we’re getting close to the ‘just in time’ order/delivery environment,” said Wierschem. “We don’t keep research parts and supplies and materials on hand the way some other units like ECE and MRL do. We have students use those facilities, but when they need something by mid-morning the next day, we can get it, and that’s a pretty efficient system. Reimbursements are much the same way. That system is complicated, but we are turning things around and getting our part done typically within a day or two.”
The Business Office staff also help make travel arrangements on behalf of faculty and students, prepare entries for the Machine Shop, bill out charges from the labs, and assist with miscellaneous accounting.
On the periphery of all of this is Wierschem, who has assisted in the transitions of new staff hires and a new department head, and manages the budget—no small task as MechSE proceeds with its capital campaign to transform the Mechanical Engineering Building.
“John’s experience and commitment have been incredibly important to me as I’ve settled into the position. His knowledge about MechSE spans from our business and HR activities to the research programs of the faculty. However, what has impressed me most in my relatively short time working with John is his creative problem-solving. He uses his knowledge to get things done. Sometimes he gets things done that look impossible to do,” said MechSE department head Tony Jacobi.