Winter 2013 | Article by Nicole Escarra
When Emelina Sanchez joined the Tulane University Department of Chemistry in 1989, she never imagined that her experience weathering natural disaster and political upheaval in her native country of Nicaragua would enable her to face similar challenges in New Orleans.
“I really believe that my past experiences, living through a major earthquake in 1972 and civil war in 1979, gave me the emotional strength necessary to respond to the demands of Katrina,” Sanchez said.
One of the first staff members to return to campus following the hurricane, Sanchez recalls working from any location where she could find internet access, from Gibson Hall to hotel lobbies, trying to get in touch with faculty and students who had dispersed throughout the country. By early November, Sanchez was back in Percival Stern Hall, Chemistry’s departmental office, and responding to calls from students and parents alike.
“I was so happy to let them know that we were back on campus and making preparations for spring semester 2006.”
Even in the absence of extreme weather conditions, Sanchez finds that the Department of Chemistry constantly keeps her on her toes. The department is home to 17 faculty members, 59 graduate students, and 6 post-doctoral scholars, and serves nearly 1,000 undergraduates. As Department Administrator, Sanchez assists Brent Koplitz, Chemistry Chairman, in the day-to-day management of the department. Sanchez supervises seven staff members and closely coordinates with the Offices of the Dean, Registrar, Research, and International Students & Scholars, as well as with the Academic Advising Center and Workforce Management Organization.
“This is really a dynamic and diverse department,” Sanchez said. “And my position requires me to wear many hats.”
Koplitz, who has worked with Sanchez for nearly 25 years, could not agree more.
“Emelina is the only one who has a handle on everything going on here in the Chemistry department,” Koplitz said.
Sanchez oversees departmental accounts and budgetary activities and carefully manages human resource software. She works closely with faculty and students alike, ensuring the timely completion of everything from faculty grant proposals to international student visa paperwork.
Sanchez, whose father was both a politician and diplomat, believes that her international experience has helped her in this position. Nearly 50 percent of the graduate students in the Department of Chemistry are international and, for most, studying abroad is a significant cultural change. Sanchez can identify with these students and does everything in her power to ensure that their transition is a smooth one.
“The students are really the heart and soul of this university,” Sanchez said. “And the satisfaction of solving the day-to-day issues of students, and the department, is really the best part of the job for me. It’s what we are here for.”
Sanchez’s generous spirit was officially recognized in 2008, when she was awarded a Staff Excellence Award for humanitarianism. After more than two decades at Tulane, Sanchez emphasizes how much she continues to enjoy working at the university and living in New Orleans.
“I love the culture of New Orleans,” said Sanchez. “And Tulane plays such an important role in this city.”
Sanchez obviously plays an equally important role in Tulane’s Department of Chemistry.
“Emelina knows that she runs the department,” Koplitz said. “The department simply would not function without her.”
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