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Mulvihill Wins Staff Award

Mulvihill Wins Staff Award

November 1, 1998

Judith Zwolak

On a Valentine's Day three years ago, a scrawny, flea-ridden yellow Labrador stray limped into the English department office on the first floor of Norman Mayer Hall. A sixth sense must have sent the shivering, hungry pup straight into the arms of Janice Mulvihill, executive secretary of the department and a soft touch when it comes to stray dogs and confused, homesick freshmen. Mulvihill, who is the winner of the 1998 Faculty of the Liberal Arts and Sciences' Outstanding Staff Award, adopted Lexi the Labrador and nurtured the starving waif into a robust pooch. She seems to apply the same care to the varied facets of her job, whether it's counseling a first-year student on class requirements or helping a faculty member receive funding for a trip to a conference. "I like feeling like I've helped people," Mulvihill says, "especially the freshmen who might be a little homesick. Sometimes I feel like we've established a bond." As executive secretary of the department for the past five years, Mulvihill's duties run the gamut from managing the budget to helping schedule classes to maintaining the department calendar. She also attends and records the minutes of English department meetings. Mulvihill's organizational skills and "effortless efficiency" were just two of the reasons English department professor and chair Geoffrey Harpham nominated her for the position. "Jan is very bright and takes on a lot of responsibility," Harpham says. "If she were ever to leave, I would have to become much more competent than I am now." In his letter nominating her for the award, Harpham lauds Mulvihill's abilities. "What I admire most of all is her sense of responsibility, which makes me feel that, no matter how distracted I may become, the actual running of the department is in good hands" Harpham writes. "She is always good-natured, always discreet--a quality not to be underestimated--and always efficient." Her good-natured disposition allows Mulvihill to see the humor in some challenging situations, such as when members of the public call the department for help with editing, grammar or even more esoteric topics. "Once I got a call from someone who wanted to know the relationship between President John F. Kennedy and John Kennedy Toole [author of A Confederacy of Dunces]," she says. "He wanted to talk to a faculty member but I insisted that there was no connection and told him to go to the bookstore and look at the book jacket of A Confederacy of Dunces." The caller huffily agreed to follow her advice and called back when he realized she was correct. "You're pretty smart for a secretary," was his appreciative but condescending comment. "I kept my cool, but sometimes I wish I had a whistle I could blow in their ears," Mulvihill says. A more rewarding part of her job is helping undergraduate students negotiate the department's requirements and deal with the pressures of college life. A former teacher of court reporting at a junior college in Pittsburgh, Mulvihill seems to possess a natural skill for dealing with college-age students on the brink of adulthood. "I enjoy helping students solve problems," she says. "I watch them mature over the years and really get to know them. "I have a son in college," she adds. "When a student comes in my office and needs help, I don't hesitate to help them because I like to think that someone is doing the same for my son." Mulvihill plans to use the $500 that accompanies the award either to visit her two sons in the Northeast or to travel up the Mississippi River on a riverboat cruise with her husband. "I'm going to treat myself," she says.

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