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Gerry Watnick

 

As a young woman, Gerry Watnick found herself surrounded by books at her local library. Now, she’s responsible for the oversight of the campus bookstore, along with food services, laundry, transportation and financial services for the students of Farmingdale State College. While in the throes of Rush, she recently found five minutes to talk with us about the important role auxiliary services can play on a modern college campus, the importance of communication and what she’d do if she ever won the lottery.

What was your first job?

It’s probably very relevant to this conversation because my very first job was when I was sixteen. I worked in my town’s public library, mostly in the reference section, and was there all through high school and my first year in college.

How do you describe your current role?

Technically, I work for Auxiliary Service Corporation, a private corporation contracted by New York State to provide certain campus services — the bookstore being just one of them, but it also covers meal plan, laundry and financial services. I can remember my high school quote was that I wanted to go into either teaching or accounting so, with this role, I think I’ve fulfilled both goals that I set for myself back when I was eighteen years old!

How would you describe Farmingdale State College?

There’s a real energy here — you can see it the infrastructure of the college, with so many either new or refurbished buildings, but most especially in the students themselves. We specialize in STEM Programs, although we’ve really grown in curriculum offering our first Masters’ program this fall. Of the 9,600 students enrolled here, 87 percent selected Farmingdale as their first or second choice, and 89 percent found employment in their field of study within 6 months of graduation. It’s just absolutely amazing how far we’ve come.

What are you working on right now?

Right at the moment, Rush (the interview took place in early September); but I’m also excited about a new food service project that we’re working on this year. By bringing national brands onto campus, there’s an opportunity to provide better value and wider menu choices for our students. We always want to make sure we’re serving the campus community and offering programs and services of value.

Where do you think the biggest opportunity exists for auxiliary services?

Students have so many choices now, so we need to be continually thinking about programs that are up to date and relevant to them. Some of the programs we’ve implemented at the bookstore are good examples of that: registration integration, (what we call Textbook Express) FacultyEnlight, LMS integration, Igniting the New Student Connection. Those programs really engage the students, help drive down costs and create better access.

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge facing education today?

Well, people see a challenge and I see a puzzle that needs a solution — an opportunity. Most of our students here are working, for example, so we need to figure out where their needs are. If they’re coming to campus after work for example, can they find somewhere convenient to eat before class? If they need books or supplies, will the bookstore still be open? You also want those students to be able to more fully engage in the whole college experience, so what options are you going to need to include them in a homecoming event, or for those students to be able to participate in a club or athletic team?

What do you think makes for the ideal campus partnership?

I think it comes down to the same thing, whether you’re creating a better dining experience or offering alternative transportation options, it’s about keeping the lines of communication open. If you stay in touch, keep relevant and are constantly interacting with the campus community, you’re going to be able to increase the footprint of that service in an efficient and cost-effective way.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?

My passion is animals. I currently volunteer for a shelter-based rescue in my community and I have five rescue cats at home! I also serve on a fund-raising committee for animals with special needs, so if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be volunteering or helping socialize animals. If I ever win the lottery, I’m starting my own animal sanctuary. I even have a name for it — Pets Without Parents.

Favorite part of the store?

At the moment, it’s the textbook section. I’ll walk through at Rush to see that the textbook orders are in and online orders are mailed. Otherwise, I love to see the new school spirit merchandise that comes in. I have so many Farmingdale State t-shirts, sweatshirts and pants!

What’s a characteristic you find most prevalent in Barnes & Noble College people?

I applaud the team here. I frequently speak to our regional manager — and our bookstore manager is a real role model that sets the bar high in terms of customer service and helping our students. As a partner, they’re also so visible, participating in our campus events and constantly communicating with us about where the needs are. That’s a partnership I really value.

Favorite book or book you’re currently reading?

I really like Twentieth Century history, and since they’ve recently located the U.S.S. Indianapolis, (the Navy vessel sunk in the Philippine Sea in July 1945, resulting in significant loss of life at sea), the book I’m really looking forward to re-reading is In Harm’s Way. It really is an historic, tragic and heroic true story.

Most valuable thing you’ve learned?

I think that comes back to communicating. If you communicate, keep an open dialogue and are willing to listen to other people, I’ve learned there’s very little you can’t do.

Best day at Farmingdale State College-SUNY (so far!)?

I’ve been here for 25 and half years, so when I received my 25-year service pin, that was a special day. But there are so many days, being involved in our memorial scholarship foundation, and even walking around the campus and seeing in some small way where I’ve played a role in bringing a program or service to the campus — that’s a pretty good feeling, too.

 

 




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