University Information makes NIU connections

By Melissa Blake

Tucked away in Swen Parson Hall is one of NIU’s landmarks – University Information.

The office, otherwise known as 753-1000, is a magic number, connecting students and the community to the entire university with just one phone call.

The directory is all on the computer, said Steve Thiel, manager of UI. When someone calls looking for a phone number, the operators type in a name and the phone number pops up.

The services now offered are more sophisticated than those offered during the 1960s, Thiel said.

“Back then, [it was] more of a directory assistance,” he said.

Now, UI is opting for a guest-services approach and trying to be a “concierge to the community,” said Thiel, who has worked in the office for more than 20 years.

The Internet has been a major tool for the growth of the department.

“It’s been a revolution,” Thiel said.

Instead of transferring calls, people can now call for information on events, local businesses and even zip codes.

“[We’re] trying to satisfy people’s demand for information,” Thiel said.

To help satisfy this demand, the department is in the process of installing an internal Internet site. With the site, operators will have links to NIU’s calendar, community information and search engines.

Although the numbers vary widely, the office can receive between 800 and 2,000 calls per day. That number usually increases during peak season, which is typically the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. Although the office is open until midnight, Thiel said there are fewer calls late at night.

“The traffic [is] substantially slower,” he said.

At night, the office receives more calls concerning activities, library hours or directions, Thiel said.

Many of the other calls are for the financial aid office or the bursar, said Kiwanna Phillips, an early childhood education graduate student and operator.

Thiel sees “supporting [the] community and trying to promote good relations and connections between people and departments” as one of the key values of University Information.

The 15-person staff tries to “keep people involved and aware of what’s at NIU and [in the] community,” Thiel said.

Patty Bernhardt, UI’s senior information specialist, enjoys talking to people.

“[It’s] very satisfying to be able to help people and give them the right information,” she said.

In the future, UI would like to provide walk-in assistance, Thiel said.