CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Providing a “personal touch” and easing Islander students’ anxiety was the core mission of more than 50 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi staff who volunteered to work the Islander Help Call Center. The Islander Help Call Center was created by the University Incident Command Team as a solution to an overwhelming need from Islander students who wanted more information after Hurricane Harvey struck the Coastal Bend and caused historic flooding in the Houston area.
“We are a student-centered institution – we believe in serving the underserved student,” explained Dr. Amy Aldridge Sanford, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and call center organizer. “Many of our students don’t have a lot of resources on a good day, so for them to go through this natural disaster and end up with nothing is very hard. I have no doubt that our community will rally around them and take care of them.”
The call center opened at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31, just one day after University employees were able to return to campus and several days after Harvey delayed the start of the fall semester. More than 50 phone calls and emails were received in the first three hours that the call center was operational. By the end of the day, nearly 200 student concerns were addressed by well-trained staff or “Harvey’s Heroes,” as Ann DeGaish, Associate Vice President
According to Michael Rendon, Interim Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at A&M-Corpus Christi, students who called were connected to staff that could directly address their needs. Staff from the Student Services Center, which is directed by Margaret Dechant, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, were on-hand to assist students with their enrollment questions and provide assistance regarding class registration. University Counseling Services, the registrar’s office, housing staff and even Dr. Kelly Quintanilla, President and CEO of A&M-Corpus Christi worked a shift in the call center.
“We have talked to a lot of students from Rockport and Port Aransas who have lost everything, and it’s sad to hear the stories, but we are determined to help solve their problems,” shared DeGaish. “The Islander staff answering the phones have been amazing. It’s been wonderful to see the response,
Much of the staff working in the call center spent the day answering questions about campus housing, enrollment, childcare options, food pantry information, the status of gas in the city and even questions about which hotels allow pets. These questions were all answered with the goal of, “understanding the students’ perspective and finding a solution that is tailored to their specific needs” Rendon explained.
With all of these calls comes a mountain of valuable data.
“We want our students to feel like they matter and get their questions answered but we are not just answering questions, we are critically thinking, problem-solving and then sharing that information with departments across campus for future use,” said Ed Evans, Associate Vice President for Information Technology & Chief Information Officer at A&M-Corpus Christi. “We want to turn this data into useful information so other departments can also reach out to people in need, get them to stay engaged and let them know that the University will work with them.”
“I realized how blessed we are to have these types of people on our campus. They care so much about our students and I am proud to be an Islander right now,” said DeGaish.
The Islander Help Call Center will remain open Friday, Sept. 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 4, from noon to 5 p.m. Islanders who have been affected by Harvey, have questions, or need additional resources are encouraged to visit http://tamucc.edu/islanderhelp for a list of frequently asked questions and to submit their own questions through our “Contact Us” form. The Island University also has a Student Emergency Fund that helps support unexpected financial needs students may have. Donations can be made online at giving.tamucc.edu. Under “Select an option” please choose “Student Emergency Fund” or “Izzy’s Food Pantry.”
“Some of the stories we are hearing are absolutely heartbreaking,” said Sanford. “You can hear the desperation in our students’ voices. For so many of them, they need to get back here, to their Islander family, to get their lives back to normal. We have a room full of resources and staff waiting to help them overcome the obstacles they are facing right now.”