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Spaces: Behind the mailboxes

March 26, 2013

By Kate Atkinson

If you don’t know them already, you probably recognize Jim Hass and Karen Reil as the friendly folks behind the mail center desk. They have been working together at the mail center for 15 years (Jim has been there for 20) sorting and distributing the endless stream of textbooks, magazines, letters, and care packages that come in for students.

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“Karen and I do the same things the students do,” says Jim of his 10 student workers. “I tell the students if they work the desk they’ll meet everyone on this campus at least once. The president, the trustees, professors, they all come down here.”

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The mail center is more spacious than it appears from the outside, but textbook deliveries at the beginning of each term are usually pretty chaotic. Jim shows me a photo from the fall semester in which boxes and extra-large envelopes completely cover the sorting table and spill over into the passageway with barely enough space to get through.

The mail box system is also a little more complicated than it appears. Each box is labeled with a name, color-coded by year, and students who are absent have a strip of tape across their boxes informing mail sorters of where to forward their mail.

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Work at the mail center is truly a collaborative effort.  As Jim and I chat, Karen and a couple of student workers sort the mail, answer the phone, and run the front desk. Jim tells me that even when he was out sick a couple of years ago and didn’t have a replacement, students and staff chipped in and the mail center ran smoothly as usual.

Jim’s favorite part of the job is the job itself. He likes that the work is varied, and he likes the people he works with. “I love my students to death,” he says. “We couldn’t do this job without them and they know it.”

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The craziest thing they’ve ever received: A bucket of dead sharks for the biology department. Other favorites include live mice, ships in bottles, a rubber chicken with nothing but an address and postage written on it, and pizza from Chicago.

The mail center cannot send food through on-campus mail (but you can receive food if it’s sent from off campus). They also can’t send packages over 13 oz., but they are happy to advise students with outgoing packages that exceed the limit on how to best ship them.