By: Patsy Weiler
It is easy to imagine Sarah Hendrix as a modern-day superhero named Velcro. The name fits because she has a talent for connecting students in the MTSU College of Graduate Studies to the resources and information they need to be successful.
The Fayetteville, Tennessee, native with the big smile has worked at the university for seven years previously in Undergraduate Admissions and Liberal Arts advising. She had just started her position as strategic communications manager in the graduate college in January 2020. COVID-19 hit two months later.
“During the pandemic, I think it has been so easy for people to feel isolated and out of the loop on what is going on, so I have found it even more important to make sure our students are getting what they needed,” Hendrix said.
With a new normal unfolding across the campus and a surge in the number of individuals enrolling to earn an advanced degree at MTSU, Hendrix realized she needed to borrow a tool from Superman and communicate with students at the speed of lightning.
“I have learned the value of being a consistent communicator as many of our students have had much on their plates. Whether it be through social media, email or phone call, our office tries to anticipate the needs or concerns of students and give them what they need ahead of time to eliminate stress and frustration,” said Hendrix, who away from the office often can be found exploring the Saturday farmer’s market in downtown Murfreesboro, enjoying local restaurants and coffee shops or strolling the Greenway.
“People want to find answers to their questions quickly and utilizing technology helps us to better accomplish the goal of getting timely and helpful information in the hands of students. Doing that virtually has never been more important,” she added.
Hendrix has a deep empathy for the hard-working students she interacts with daily. She initially moved to Murfreesboro to work as a graduate assistant while pursuing a master’s degree in Administration and Supervision, Higher Education, earned in December 2013.
“My degree was preparing me to work at a university and since I started getting connected at MTSU, I was interested in working here in a full-time role after graduation,” she said. “Working on a college campus is such a unique privilege and I do not take that for granted.”
From her days as a student Blue Raider, Hendrix is aware sometimes having a smiling face that can be a directional touchstone is helpful.
“MTSU has no shortage of resources, but oftentimes students need a person to help them navigate the options,” she said. “I’m glad to be able to serve as a point of contact for new students exploring graduate school for the first time or for current students trekking along to the finish line.”
Aware that many of their students were juggling multiple responsibilities, Hendrix wondered how they were faring while taking courses remotely.
“We knew that with so many students studying and working from home that pets often provided important emotional support. We emailed students, asking for pictures and names of their pets and how they supported their owners during the semester,” she said. “The response was so overwhelmingly positive that we decided to launch a webpage to share a bright piece of news in the middle of the pandemic.”
Soon, the site featuring the lovable faces belonging to feathered and furry study buddies like Clementine the cat, Peaches the sun conure bird and Clifford the golden retriever had received multiple hits, captured the heart of the campus and eye of area news outlets.
Hendrix and co-workers have not leaped over tall buildings for their students — yet — but inside an office culture that she said “makes it easy for me to want to come to work, there are a lot of amazing people in the graduate studies college that will come early or stay late to help.”
– Patsy Weiler (Patsy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)