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For Joellen Shendy, Unlikely Path Led to UMUC Registrar's Office

As a student at Minnesota State University in the late 1980s, Joellen Shendy was passionate about a post-college career that would require active public engagement rather than paper pushing: criminal justice, public administration, forensic science, and law.

"I can't say I grew up and said, 'Oh I want to be a registrar,'" said Shendy, who is associate vice provost and registrar at UMUC.

Shendy's passions didn't change after graduation, but she soon discovered that working as a registrar combined her interests. And a part-time job evaluating transfer credits at National University, where she earned an MBA and an MPA, led to 22 years on the job at National's registrar's office. In 2011, she joined UMUC as worldwide university registrar and assumed her current role in February 2013.

Though she doesn't do a whole lot of it at UMUC, Shendy previously specialized in evaluating and examining foreign documents—and detecting the fraudulent among them. "In my old role, every once in a while they would call me Sheriff Shendy," she said. "I actually got a little sheriff's badge before I left. It was very cute." The work also allowed her to collaborate with colleagues at institutions around the world, she said.

As keepers of institutional records, registrar's offices, which date back at least to the 15th century, are very important. "It is an old office. Traditionally in a university, it has become a repository. If you don't know something, just ask someone in the registrar's office," Shendy said. "We collect knowledge and expertise, policies, procedures, and practices. And unlike other departments, we are often a bridge from one area to the other."

Not only do registrar's offices tend to be overlooked, but Shendy—who co-founded and runs a listserv for Maryland-based registrars and is a board member and president-elect for Chesapeake and Potomac Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (CAPACRAO)—also thinks they ought to be largely invisible.

"My ideal world would be if you ask students 'Did you ever use the registrar's office?' and they would say, 'Oh. No. No problems.' That would be great."

Said Shendy, the best thing that her office can do is assure that everything goes so seamlessly at UMUC that the university anticipates and meets students' needs without their even realizing what is happening.

To ensure such seamlessness occurs, UMUC has taken a close look at some of its processes, particularly transcript requests; it fills about 100,000 of them annually. Previously, transcript requests and payments had to be handled manually, and the entire process could take three to four weeks. By automating the process, UMUC enables students to order transcripts online and has been able to reassign 12 of the 15 staff members who had been handling transcript requests. The process is quicker and easier for the university to track. Instead of weeks, it now takes up to three business days—and more typically only one day—to complete. "We are coming firmly into the 21st century, with a lot of good technology driving things," Shendy said.

UMUC also added the option of secure electronic transcripts, which are not susceptible to impediments that sometimes plague the mail and are being accepted by greater numbers of employers and universities.

"It's a huge win for students. You can be in a bunker in Afghanistan, and if you have Internet, you order it and it takes a minute and a half," she said. "Within 15 to 20 minutes, [the transcript] is already at the destination."

Another recent improvement has simplified the way that the university mails diplomas to recent graduates. In the past, it took more than six weeks to send out diplomas, and an estimated 10 percent of them were likely to be damaged in the mail. UMUC, working with a new distributor, has sped up that timetable to two to three weeks, and very few diplomas have been damaged since they've been packaged in "very classy" blue tubes adorned with UMUC's seal in gold, Shendy explained.

She added that two other efforts are underway that highlight the university's forward-thinking approach. Instead of requiring students to apply for graduation, UMUC is exploring ways to automatically notify students when they get close to completing graduation requirements. "That's what some of the best businesses in the world do," Shendy said of being highly proactive.

In addition, UMUC is looking broadly at class scheduling and is using various rubrics to determine which classes to schedule to meet students' needs. This, Shendy said, can help the university decide which classes ought to be offered and how frequently, and also will reduce the number of courses that need to be canceled. "When you're in a class, the last thing you want is to have the rug pulled out from under you," she said. A new project is underway to seek out technological tools to help UMUC accomplish these goals.

The goal of all these efforts is to create a unified student experience that is consistent across the university. "You shouldn't feel differently if you take a class in Europe or you take a class online or you take a class in a regional space somewhere," Shendy said.