By David J. Craig
A half dozen musicians scurry about the CFA school of music’s main office on a hot afternoon, carrying instrument cases and staring down quizzically at the paperwork they are shuffling. A couple of others fidget in chairs, hurriedly filling out forms. All seem to have questions that need answers presto from the school’s administrative assistant, Janice Filippi.
Yet Filippi, as is her manner, is a beacon of calm, patiently addressing the string of queries while showing no sign of even breaking a sweat. Her characteristic unflappability under such circumstances is all the more remarkable, say her coworkers, because every day she is in charge of an extraordinary number of tasks, ranging from coordinating the school’s reaccreditation efforts to helping students with problems such as securing a rehearsal space.
“I’ve moved pianos so students had room to do a dress rehearsal,” says Filippi, who has worked at BU for 16 years, 11 in her current position. For her tireless efforts assisting faculty, students, and other staff members at the school of music, Filippi recently received a John S. Perkins Distinguished Service Award. Since 1981, the awards have been given annually to nonfaculty members of the BU community who perform outstanding service to the University.
Also receiving the award this year were David Bowen, assistant director of proposal development in the Office of Sponsored Programs, and Guoan Hu, computer resources manager in the CAS physics department. The awards, administered by the Faculty Council, have been funded since 1984 by an endowment from the late John S. Perkins, who served BU for more than 50 years as a faculty member, administrator, trustee, and treasurer. The $500 prize and plaque were presented at a ceremony at The Castle earlier this month.
Over the course of a typical day, there apparently are few aspects of the school of music’s administration that Filippi is not involved in: she handles correspondence for the school’s director, CFA Music Professor André de Quadros, helps prioritize his administrative work, assists faculty with payroll, tenure, and promotion paperwork, and fields questions from faculty and students on matters that run the gamut from photocopying needs to enrollment issues to examination schedules. If a professor is concerned about a student’s frequent absences, Filippi has been known to sit down with the student to find out what personal issues he or she may be facing.
“I have never seen such dedication, integrity, and selflessness as is evident in her work,” wrote de Quadros in his letter nominating Filippi for a Perkins Award. He went on to describe her as “the pivotal figure in the administration” of the school and to commend her “sensitivity and utmost confidentiality” in dealing with delicate administrative matters.
“Artists are not always the easiest people to deal with,” observed Richard Cornell, a CFA associate professor of composition and chairman of the school’s composition and theory department, in a letter supporting Filippi’s nomination. “Janice’s approach, however, is not to ‘deal’ with them nor to ‘handle’ them, but to care for them and assist them. When people are upset, she responds with complete equanimity. Hers is a voice of reason within the daily difficulties of this complex operation.”
Filippi, who lives with her husband of 37 years in Malden, is herself a vocalist in a church choir, and says she considers it an honor to work with artists. “The people who teach in our school are some of the finest artists in the world, and they all deserve respect,” she says, adding that the smooth operation of her office depends on the dedication and teamwork of her many fellow staff members. “When I see the faculty perform their artistry, that gives me a new and wonderful view of who they are as people, and it puts into perspective all the work we do at the school.”
Guoan Hu doesn’t relax at the end of the day unless he knows that his colleagues in the CAS physics department still are working.
“The first thing I do when I get home is log on to our server, to make sure that there hasn’t been a power outage or any other problem,” says Hu. As manager of the department’s computer resources, he provides technical support to hundreds of faculty and staff members, researchers, and students. Because the people who depend on him work long hours, Hu must ensure that the department’s computer systems are operational around the clock.
It’s a responsibility he takes very seriously. He monitors the server evenings and weekends and checks his e-mail regularly so he can address immediately problems colleagues have with their computers. “The only time I’m not watching our computers is when I’m on vacation,” says Hu, a native of a rural town outside of Shanghai, China. He has lived in the United States since 1994, and has held his position for more than six years.
Sidney Redner, a CAS physics professor and the department’s acting chairman, says Hu is especially valuable not only for his constant availability, but also for his depth of knowledge and interpersonal skills. “Guoan has an extremely high level of expertise and knows how to deal with complex technical questions about all types of hardware and software issues,” Redner wrote in the letter nominating Hu for a Perkins Award. “It is extremely rare to encounter a computer services specialist with the range of knowledge that Guoan possesses.”
Hu also “deals with crisis situations in a graceful and good-humored manner,” wrote Redner. “As can be imagined, sometimes computer users will call on his assistance in a crisis mode, due to mishaps ranging from erroneous deletion of crucial files, hardware failure, or virus attacks. From my own experience in such circumstances, I have greatly appreciated his reassuring and competent approach” to solving problems.
In addition, Hu develops databases and helps researchers determine what hardware and software are best suited to them. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Zhejiang University in China and Johns Hopkins University, respectively, which help him address researchers’ needs. Still, the scope of his responsibilities poses challenges, he says, as he must stay up-to-date on a dizzying array of new technologies.
“My job isn’t like a lot of computer service positions because I don’t focus on a particular operating system or a specific type of software,” says Hu, with his shy smile and easy laugh. “The professors all have different needs. But I love learning about computers and solving problems for people.”
Even the most accomplished researchers get stressed when it’s time to apply for funding. But faculty at the College of Engineering say that they’re able to relax a bit when David Bowen, an assistant director in the Office of Sponsored Programs, guides them through the process.
Bowen has been assigned for the past 10 years to help ENG faculty prepare their research grant proposals, making sure all the necessary paperwork, budget figures, and technical information are included. He’s earned a reputation for getting successful applications out the door “no matter what the time of day, no matter how large the crisis, no matter how subtle the issues at hand,” according to John White, an ENG associate professor of biomedical engineering and the department’s associate chair of graduate studies.
“It’s not uncommon for professors to call me up and say: ‘I found this program that I want to apply to, and I have the science pretty well taken care of, but what else do we need to do, and can we do it in a couple of days?’” says Bowen. “Whenever possible, my answer is: ‘Yes, we’ll get it done, and this is how we’ll do it.’”
The toughest part of his job, he says, is learning the application procedures for new or unfamiliar funding sources quickly. But researchers say that Bowen has a remarkable knowledge of the paperwork required by most funding agencies, and that he is particularly savvy at navigating complex computer-based applications. In addition, he has developed helpful standards for proposal preparation and new procedures for helping professors plan their research budgets and find out about funding opportunities.
“Dave has been a true team member,” wrote Michael Ruane, an ENG associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a letter nominating Bowen for a Perkins Award. “He is well-known and respected throughout ENG, and is considered a true resource when you have any problems about getting a proposal out the door or onto the Internet. Many of us have called Dave, expecting to have a significant piece of work ahead on a budget, forms, or competitive requirements, only to hear ‘Oh, I’ve already worked that through. You just need to review it.’ This kind of support leverages the creative resources of faculty and leads to more and better grant proposals.”
And if the gratitude of his colleagues isn’t evidence enough of Bowen’s success, one need only look at the numbers: in the past decade, the amount of externally sponsored research funding coming into ENG has risen from $8 million to $26 million annually.
“The department has brought in great people the last few years, and I’d like to think that I’ve made their jobs a little easier,” he says. “It’s rewarding and a lot of fun to one morning be working on a proposal involving a cure for cancer, and a few hours later a project about the atmosphere on Jupiter. The work covers a huge range of topics, and always is pushing the edge of knowledge.”
13 May 2004