Perhaps it’s time for the strangely named ITEM team of U3APP to come from the shadows and reveal themselves. When you hear ‘ITEM team’ do you picture a group of individuals who together believe that they have some special qualities that make them an ‘item’? Sadly, perhaps, that’s not the case. Are they all tech-savvy retirees? Or is it possible that they found themselves being seduced by smooth-talkers into volunteering for U3APP?
No matter what their individual stories, your ITEM team bonded around the necessity and challenge of managing enrolments in every course. As time has passed, you may have noticed that we more commonly refer to ourselves as the Enrolment team, with the IT team focusing on, you guessed it, the IT side of the operation.
So who are we, what do we do and why did we join?
The Enrolment team is made up of five members: Karen English (our leader), Lyn Place, Branko Colavizza, Errol Malta and Julie Smith. The membership of U3APP has grown enormously and thus the number of courses grows and the amount of work required to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Karen and Lyn first joined the Enrolment team when everything was done manually with pen and paper, a process that would be impossible now. Karen recognised that to successfully manage the enrolment team, she needed to understand the computer system which at that stage only held the member details, so she joined the IT team as well. This has ensured a strong bridge between the two teams and, of course, as time has gone on the IT team has automated the membership fees, course enrolments and finally the class rolls.
In her own words, Karen explains why she fits this team:
‘To be on the team you need to be rather a nerd: read and action your emails every day, love paying attention to detail and like interacting with people. This description seems to fit me.’
Interesting that Julie describes her motivation thus:
‘I got dragged into this by another team member who had worked with me before and realises I am a bit OCD. I am a mathematician, who ended up in marketing and am now amongst other things teaching yoga (4 classes a week at U3A).’
Is there a pattern? Branko:
‘I had time on my hands and was interested in attending a course a few years back. That encouraged me to offer some of my time as an office volunteer which then grew into being part of the ITEM team.’
Errol: ‘I work part time as a consultant in clinical research for new drugs… and as needed volunteering at Port Philip Special School.’ (This could lead to some significant conversations around the development of a covid vaccine.)
Lyn: ‘I originally joined U3A to enrol in some courses and realised I wanted to give back in some way, so joined the Enrolment team. Contrary to Karen’s assertion, I am not in any way a nerd, in fact I’d be the slowest kid in the class, but persevere.’
It appears that there is no pattern to our choices to be on this team, but the constant is enthusiasm to keep on giving, as you find with all volunteers. And there is also the opportunity to get to know members and to form new friendships. Speaking personally, in these times of isolation, of solitary walks with faces masked, the familiar eyes of U3A members and the short conversations, at the appropriate social distance, lift my spirits enormously.
So what do we do? The Enrolment team manages all movements in and out of classes. We monitor every automated and manual email that lets us know that someone has joined or left a class and then we update the class lists and e-roll. If the cancellation creates a vacancy in a class with a waitlist then we take the next person from the waitlist and add them to the class. We liaise directly with members if they need help enrolling or removing themselves from a class. We monitor the rolls for attendance and follow up non-attendance in an attempt to keep all classes full and give as many members as possible the chance to enjoy a particular class. To this end, we each have responsibility for one day of the week.
Using the expertise and passions of Branko and Hugh Sarjeant (who has since left the team but still helps Branko) we birthed a program that we lovingly call the ‘Monster’ which is run once a week and alerts us to any rolls that have not been marked, any long absences by members, whether members are doing more of the restricted classes than is allowed and any inconsistencies in the data on the rolls, the website and the waitlist. Any errors that are picked up are addressed by the team. Friday evenings are no longer the same since Monster entered our lives as the report lands in our inboxes just as I, for one, am settling down to dinner and a glass of wine and usually some serious binge-watching. On the up-side, however, gone are the hours of trawling through each eroll and manually checking the data. At the time of Monster’s introduction, each team member processed between 1000-2000 emails annually and handled countless telephone calls. Monster is much smarter and most communications are now generated through the program!
While all this IT enrolment activity may sound as if team members don’t have a life, of course, it’s not accurate. Family, travel and hobbies feature in all our lives.
Karen and her husband Kevin love to travel. Kevin suffered a stroke ten years ago and when he recovered enough they decided to travel while they could and have had a great holiday every year and on a couple of occasions two holidays in a year. ‘I love learning the history/geography of all the places that we have visited as being a Maths/Science student, I did not learn much world history/geography. Springing from this interest, is my interest in editing and cataloguing (nerd nature again) my photos using Photoshop. This keeps me very busy in between trips. If I get time, I will also make a photobook of the trip.
‘I have been tracing my family tree for sometime and have collected the family tree information from many of my elderly relatives and recorded it all on Ancestory.com. I recently did the Ancestry DNA test and through that several unknown relatives in England have contacted me and I have been able to further enhance my tree.
‘Then of course I love spending time with my 3 children and 6 grandchildren all of whom live in Melbourne, so I am very lucky.’
For Julie, coronavirus has necessitated her camping in Brisbane, actually caring for her 95 year old mother who lives at home. ‘She is very happy, 24/7 care, three healthy meals a day, and I live on zoom. My yoga by zoom has developed, some of my classes now include people’s pets, and full attendance record goes to Mickey the cat; he is attending three classes a week (1X U3A and 2 I hold privately), and he is getting very good, however I worry about his downward dog pose.’
Julie, too, loves travel: ‘Apart from yoga I love to trek, get into the country with friends, book an air bnb with them and chill out over a good dinner and a glass of red. I have a particular passion for France and usually head to Europe each year. Maybe 2021?’
Errol is still working part time as a consultant in clinical research for new drugs. After working as a Senior Lecturer in universities and then for a large biotechnology company in USA and here in Australia with many small companies, he is enjoying what may be a quieter life in Port Melbourne. Perhaps like most of us, the attractions of the beach walk make exercise much easier, as he’s been managing to get out most days. Especially now since lockdowns commenced he’s been enjoying getting outdoors, either walking or cycling.
Travel features highly again including to the Galapagos Islands three times, Marquesia Islands, Chile (Atacama Desert) , Ashmore Reef, Ningaloo and the Kimberleys coast. Other interests are astronomy and cosmology, music (rock and classical), nonfiction reading, history, meditation, and as needed volunteering at Port Philip Special School. Errol is also a proud grandfather for the 8th time.
Always the quiet member of the team, when he’s not in covid isolation or volunteering at U3A Branko spends much of his time doing home maintenance at his daughter’s residence to save them some money. This ability came from using logic on how and why things work, and he’s also trying to pass this onto his five year old grandson. This is a role that Branko plays in the Enrolment team, searching for solutions and then gently coaching and encouraging the rest of us to develop our skills.
Lyn began her working life as a secondary English teacher and quickly moved into consultancy and management roles, always in education. Travel came reasonably late (too busy working) and immediately became a passion (Italy, France especially) and like so many of us, she is wondering when/if/where post covid. Keeping fit and active is important to Lyn, either zooming with U3A’s courses, or pounding the footpaths and the beach walk (hello, Errol). Quiet times are spent reading, listening to music (jazz, blues, rock, classical), watching way too much tv and streaming services. ‘I’m also running two book groups for U3A and love the connection, interaction and the way in which everyone has embraced zoom sessions, despite some glitches. It demonstrates the resilience and the capacity of our members.’
So this motley group of people are responsible for all your enrolment queries, requests, and the occasional plea to be included in a full course. We wrangle the waitlists to make sure that courses are full and that as quickly as someone leaves, the next person who’s been patiently waiting is moved as a replacement. Occasionally, we might be overheard (if there was anyone in ear-shot in covid isolation times) muttering and questioning how and why we find ourselves in this role, most often around enrolment times, but we are extremely proud to be a part of such a successful organisation. It sure feels good to know that we have been playing our part to help keep you actively involved and connected especially in these challenging times.