"Gazette" student assistant
Several stacks of
papers occupy the surface of Betsy Taylor's desk, but it
seems that infinitely more clutter ought to crowd her workspace.
At first glance,
her job seems so simple -- review the requirements for all
candidates applying to graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences,
and send the cap-and-gown-clad adolescent out into the world.
PLAYING A DUET Trained
in music, Massey Award winner Betsy Taylor is student
services manager in the College of Arts & Sciences,
but she makes time to moonlight in what might be
her true calling, as director of music at Trinity
United Methodist Church in Durham.
But when one considers
that more than 70 percent of the University's undergraduates
-- thousands and thousands of students every year -- earn
a degree from the College of Arts & Sciences' many offerings,
it's incredible Taylor performs her job with the dedication
and precision she does.
The real wonder, though, can be found in
her enthusiasm for her work and her compassion for her students,
and that's why so many faculty members, administrators and
staff endorsed her nomination for a C. Knox Massey Distinguished
"Always her attitude is positive, her encouragement
sincere, her dedication unlimited, and her smile and laughter
infectious," said Steve Dobbins, whose office adjoins Taylor's
on the third floor of Steele Building, in his nomination letter. "Still
more remarkable is the fact that she does all this while advising
students all day."
She doesn't just juggle her graduation responsibilities
with her appointments with students, though. She serves as
the director of music at Trinity United Methodist Church in
Durham, a position she's held since 1981.
That's the same Trinity United Methodist
Church of which C. Knox Massey was an active member. Massey,
in fact, left a fund designated for music and youth, and Taylor
has made good use of the fund through the years.
That's the same Trinity United Methodist Church
of which C. Knox Massey was an active member. Massey, in fact,
left a fund designated for music and youth, and Taylor has
made good use of the fund through the years.
Her job, technically, is of the part-time
variety, but that's not always the case.
"It's supposed to be 20 hours per week," she
said. "Other times, it's 80 hours -- or that's where it feels
Taylor works every weekend, including all
day every Sunday, and she holds rehearsals on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Her immense time commitment to both the church
and to the University might intimidate some, but it has a hidden
side benefit for her.
"I've always worked," she
the way I live. If I stay at home, I'll have to do housework.
Conducting a dual
While Taylor was growing up in Beckley, W.Va.,
working as an academic advisor wasn't exactly in her plans.
Her educational background, in fact, consists
more of music than of academia. She graduated from West Virginia
University and has a master's degree in music from Union Theological
"People will often ask me, `Why do you work
two jobs?'" Taylor said. "I do one because I'm trained to do
it, and I really love working with music and the church. But
I love working with students here."
Her focus on music allowed her to avoid many
of the registration hassles that some of her students now face.
"My adviser was the choir director at the
Presbyterian Church," she said. "(He said), `If you sing in
my choir, then I'll take care of you.'"
That hasn't prevented her, though, from becoming
a cherished member of the University's staff of academic advisers.
She moved to North Carolina from East Lansing,
Mich., with her husband, David, Carolina's undergraduate librarian
until his retirement two years ago.
She took her first campus job 28 years ago
at the Health Services Research Center, a job requiring 30
hours per week. When that position became full-time, however,
her son and daughter still were too young for her to take on
the demands of a full-time position. She transferred, then,
to the political science department, where she worked as an
When the position of administrative assistant
for graduate studies came open, though, she took advantage
of the opportunity to advance her own career. Her children,
by then, were old enough that she could work 40 hours per week,
and she jumped wholeheartedly into her new job.
And in 1988, when her current position became
open, she switched from working with graduate students to working
with undergraduate students. The biggest difference, she said,
was the pure change in quantity of students involved.
But in the end, students are students, and
those eager faces have kept her around for all of these years.
"I love working
with students," she said. "They're
just joyful. There are some times they aren't as joyful as
others, but you see everything under the sun."
Diplomas and diplomacy
Aside from reviewing each and every student's
transcript before graduation, a complex and time-consuming
job in itself, Taylor also reviews the automated degree-audit
system for accuracy and inserts corrections manually when necessary.
The program often does not account for requirement
replacements approved by individual departments. When that
happens, the student fails the automated degree audit and Taylor
must fill out one of the many substitution forms that cross
But students don't only fail the audit because
they've substituted requirements or had requirements overlooked
by the computer.
Sometimes, the student just didn't fulfill
all of the graduation requirements.
The most difficult part of the job of a student
services manager in the academic advising program comes when
students come oh-so-close to graduating only to discover a
missing requirement or a few missing hours at the last minute.
"That's very sad," she said. "It
doesn't make life very easy here for any of us."
But Taylor possesses a gift for helping distraught
students through the crisis period, and her colleagues often
send their own advisees to Taylor for emotional support.
"I am moved every time I observe students
who enter Betsy's office crying, feeling helpless, hopeless
and alone, and who leave smiling with a plan of action to reach
their goal," Dobbins wrote.
The most traumatic discoveries usually come
late in the spring semester, as students planning to graduate
have already invited friends and family to the area to celebrate
their impending graduation.
But if they've made as simple a mistake as
failing to add their credit hours correctly and it's too late
to add a class, there's not much the academic advisers can
do. That student usually will have to take a class or two in
summer school and officially graduate in August.
That's not to say, though, that the student
can't participate in the commencement exercises of his or her
In fact, Taylor says she often encourages
"They don't really need to tell everybody
in the world that they're really not a graduate," she said. "A
lot of students will come in, crying, `Oh, Granny and Granddaddy
are coming in from Idaho.'
"I'll say, `Tell
your mom. Tell your dad. You don't need to tell all these
other people. You can just enjoy the day.'"
Said one faculty
member in appreciation of Taylor's efforts: "She is one of
the reasons that an institution as large as this one wears
a human face."
And when students come to Taylor early in
their senior year for help in organizing and understanding
their progress toward graduation, she serves as a valuable
-- and reliable -- resource.
"The University's innumerable layers of overlapping
and sometimes contradictory curricular rules are so complex
that few advisers or deans are willing to offer students a
definitive statement of their remaining requirements in their
final semester," Dobbins wrote. "She spells out terms with
unblemished accuracy, one student at a time."
The comfort and assurance she provides doesn't
just apply to students, though.
Taylor remembers a phone call she received
from the mother of a recent graduate during her first year
"She said, `My
daughter just finished her bachelor of arts in political
science. We are so proud of her, because she's the first
member of our family to graduate from college. But I have
a really, really, really stupid question. What does that
mean, that she has a major in political science?'"
voice at the other end of the phone must have been music
to her ears.
This story is the third in a series featuring 2004 winners
of the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award. The late
C. Knox Massey of Durham created the awards in 1980 to recognize "unusual,
meritorious or superior contributions" by University employees.
The award is supported by the Massey-Weatherspoon Fund created
by three generations of Massey and Weatherspoon families.
Chancellor James Moeser selected the honorees from nominations
submitted by the campus. They each received an award citation
and $6,000 stipend.