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McGill Reporter
September 25, 2003 - Volume 36 Number 02
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In focus

Sylvia Franke: Registrar on the records

There are about 6,000 new students on campus this fall, and for the first time at McGill this year, in addition to applying over the web, these students were able to track the progress of their applications from beginning to end via the internet. They could find out if they had submitted all the needed documents, check to see if a decision had been made, confirm that they were coming to McGill and register — all without setting a foot on campus. Last June, Sylvia Franke became registrar and executive director of the Admissions, Recruitment and Registrar's Office (ARR). She manages a unit of 90 people who try to make the process run a little more smoothly for students.

Sylvia Franke
Owen Egan

Franke says the unit is there for the "full life cycle of the student," from recruiting students to handling applications, admission and registration, right through to records management during the time they are at McGill.

There was an unprecedented number of applications this year due to Ontario's double cohort and McGill's strong recruitment, says Franke. Although many new students were accepted, McGill also dealt with many disappointed applicants and their parents. "They're very unhappy and one needs to reassure them that the process was fair." The ARR office accepts students exclusively on academic merit, she says, and faculties that have additional requirements, such as Medicine or Music, conduct their own interviews or auditions.

Franke came to Montreal with degrees in Law and Computer Science from the University of Toronto, after having lived and worked in Ottawa for five years. She was hired at McGill in 1996 for a five-month contract with Development and Alumni Relations. Before moving to the Registrar's Office, she was project manager of the Student Information System of the Banner Project. "I think it was a good apprenticeship and basically it taught me about 15 percent of what I need to know," she laughs.

She had also spent eight years as a Departmental Administration Officer at the University of Toronto. "I find that experience is just as important as my more recent experience. It gave me an appreciation for the complexity of how a university works, and for the interesting relationship between the academic community and the administrative staff."

The difficulties in the implementation of the Financial Information Systems module of the Banner Project led to many being skeptical that the Student Information Systems would go well. Math professor and Banner Project director, Roger Rigelhof, was impressed with Franke's abilities. "She is a very skillful project manager, great at motivating people, intelligent and a fast thinker." He adds that the project was a real challenge.

One result of Franke's work on Banner is Minerva, the web interface used by students. "I was very happy to be involved in the implementation of student records because it improved service to two really significant communities: the students and the professors. I think that is my proudest achievement, but it's not mine alone. There are 450 Student Records staff on campus who help make it happen."

Franke plans to continue work on student and application services, as well as registration and application statistics, and she wants to devise a way to track the office's ongoing communication with high school and CEGEP career counsellors.

Her career has not been without its unexpected twists. She once spent a few months braving city streets as a bicycle courier. She laughs about it now. "I went on a three-month bicycle trip years ago in Europe and it ended with climbing the Alps by bicycle. Even though I'm not anybody you would normally think of as athletic, when I returned to Canada I was pretty fit so I worked for Sunwheel Bicycle Couriers in Toronto delivering packages for a few months. I was a very cautious courier. I didn't stay at it very long."

Between her professional life and being a mother to three children, Franke does not have much time now for climbing the Alps, but likes to unwind closer to home. "The city of Montreal really excites me. It's my chosen city and so I like to walk around my neighbourhood. I really enjoy the Montreal scene, the bagel shops and the cafés. I'm really intrigued by Quebec culture. I usually have a Quebec novel on the go."

"On the surface, my degree compared to where I ended up seems funny. But what is anthropology but the study of culture? And food is such a massive part of culture and understanding and ritual — in the abstract sense."

Gail Simmons, Recent humanistic studies and anthropology graduate talking to the National Post about her new job as special events coordinator for Daniel Boulud, one of New York City's top chefs.

No man is an island

The process of getting a doctorate is a long and arduous one. Often it feels as if you were completely alone in the world. Tell it to Bob Kull, (BSc'93). The 54-year-old PhD candidate in Philosophy at UBC spent one year marooned on a remote island off the coast of Chile, with no one to keep him company except a cat named, er… "Cat."

Caption follows
Bob Kull and Cat on the island
Bob Kull

After being dropped off on his island 150 km from the nearest settlement by the Chilean Navy (in the middle of a storm), Kull set up a tiny hut in which he would spend the next 365 days. The cat — which had epilepsy — was given to him by the Chilean parks service for the purpose of testing the safety of shellfish. Most of his time was spent collecting firewood and food, while academic pursuits consisted of journal writing, meditation and observing the locals: eagles, seabirds and dolphins.

"Several months into it I started suffering from 'groovy guru syndrome.' When I wasn't getting the answers I came for it created anxiety. Not until I let go of the expectations did I start to be linked into just being there," he said.

"Being successful in business does not guarantee success in politics."

Desmond Morton, History professor to the Globe and Mail's Report on Business on Paul Martin's political future.

Keep on truckin'

Caption follows
Hi-tech innovation inside the SGI monster truck
Owen Egan

This 18-wheeler is the latest in portable computing — though you probably wouldn't want to put it on your desk. The big rig is hauling some big gigs — gigabytes that is. The SGI Mobile Innovation Centre has been touring North America with $3 million of high-tech toys for researchers. On September 18, the truck set up shop at the Roddick Gates to show off its wares. Inside, the 14000-GB computers dazzled onlookers with video displays of virtual man — who can be viewed layer by millimeter-thick-layer throughout his body — and a tour of a virtual model of the Temple of Jerusalem. SGI spokesman Marcel Bourque said their supercomputer could allow researchers to view the same high-resolution images rendered in real time at different sites within the university or across the country.

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