Administrative secretary in Residence Life and Housing, Gwen Dolph loves the office's sense of teamwork and shared mission. Her "best gift ever" -- 11 grandchildren and one on the way -- and a very personal cause also keep her engaged.

What is an administrative secretary?

I do a lot of administrative support for Dr. Rick Kolenda (assistant vice president for Residence Life and Housing). I assist him with some of the more in-depth administrative tasks -- conduct letters, scheduling. I supervise the support staff. We currently have five support staff members. I'm in CSEA; my state title is Secretary II. 

What kinds of things may arise that you deal with?

I have a lot to do with break housing -- students who might have to stay on campus during break -- along with summer storage for our international students who are flying home for the summer. Early arrivals -- students who have to arrive on campus from break earlier than scheduled. Students also come to us with access issues. I support our assistant director -- I check out their access cards, make sure they're set properly and troubleshoot items like that.

What's your favorite part of the job?

I love the students. They're so interesting, and it's nice to make a connection with them, even, "How's your day going?" or "Are you going home for the summer?" I really like to make a connection with the international students. They're immersed in our culture, which may be very different from their homeland, and I like to find out a little bit about them -- especially how to pronounce their name. To me, that's so important. It's interesting to get a little glimpse of their culture and make them feel as comfortable as possible when they're so far away from home. I helped a student from Brazil a couple of years ago with some break housing, and we got it resolved. When he went back home, he gave me a keychain from Brazil. I have it hanging on my bulletin board. To know that I made a little bit of a difference, brightened somebody's day, that makes it all worthwhile. 

When did you start at SUNY Oswego? 

I started in the Registrar's Office at SUNY Oswego 13 years ago. I was there a year, then I got a promotional position in the Counseling Services Center. I enjoyed that work, because, again, you connect with the students, help them through a rough time. I was there for five years. I then went to the Metro Center because I had gotten married and moved to Weedsport, so I thought it would be an easier commute. Turns out it was just a different commute -- not much difference mileage wise. I also liked what I did there. It's more of a business-type environment -- you're working with nontraditional students who are taking graduate classes. You work a lot with community organizations and professional development. I was there three years. There was then the chance for a promotion to come here four years ago to Residence Life and Housing. This has been a very good move for me.

What can you tell us about your co-workers?

I work with some awesome people. I certainly couldn't do it all myself -- they make me look good. I think I work for one of the best departments on campus. We all work as a team. We have two front desk personnel, Ellie Hayes and Michelle Hartshorne. They are so much more than receptionists. They are the front lines, so they answer the phones and deal with walk-ins, parents and students -- they try to triage the situations -- but they also do a lot of administrative support for the associates. Also on the support staff is Mary Craw, who does the room selection process and anything that has to do with occupancy -- she's the one that, in collaboration with the associate director, makes the magic happen to get all the students their assignments and room changes. Alexandra Sorbello is our artist/designer -- she handles all of our Facebook, photos, social media, publications and digital signage. I think we go out of our way to find ways to help our students. Rick has been a great supervisor -- he's been a mentor. He deals with so many things that I have insight to that others may not know about, and he keeps us on an even keel. In addition, I work with three associate directors, Marie Germain, Renee Landers-Jennings and Sara Rebeor, and an assistant director, Jacob Gardner -- they are amazing! We have been short-staffed several times in recent years, but we all help each other out. I love the camaraderie here -- we're like a family.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Oswego and raised in the town of Mexico. I went to the Mexico school district and graduated from high school there. I wound up working at the school district for 19 years. I worked in the kitchen and ended up being the kitchen manager. Unfortunately, I had an accident and tore my shoulder cuff and couldn't do the lifting required by the job. That's when I took the state Civil Service test and ended up here.

What can you tell us about your family? 

My husband was also a state worker; he worked for the DOT (Department of Transportation). He 's retired now. We still live in Weedsport. I was fortunate enough to have four wonderful children. I like to say I also have two "bonus" children who have become very near and dear to my heart -- two wonderful stepsons came with the package when we got married eight years ago. Between us, my husband and I will have 12 grandchildren -- the 12th is expected in September! They are just the best gift ever. They range in age from almost 17 to newborn in September. 

What do you like to do off campus?

In my spare time, I love to read -- I'm an avid reader. I love to spend time with family and outdoors, puttering around outdoors trying to grow flowers. I don't have a green thumb, but I try. (Laughs.) I like laid-back cookouts. We have a family camp on Owasco Lake, where we spend a lot of fun times in the summer. We have a boat. I do try to make the grandkids' sporting events and dance recitals when I can. Our little granddaughter, almost 3, is now starting dance and soccer. I ate lunch on Grandparents' Day with my grandson who's in kindergarten. My oldest granddaughter is involved in the C-NS softball team. Another granddaughter is in lacrosse at West Genesee, and my grandson has been on the track team there. My twin granddaughters who live in South Carolina are also involved in dance.

What can you tell us that many people don't know about you?

One thing I usually don't make public is my battle with breast cancer -- I am a two-time survivor. I enjoy helping with Passionately Pink for the Cure on campus. I participate in the annual Making Strides walk in Syracuse for breast cancer awareness sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I was selected to help cut the ribbon at one of the walks. That was when I had reached my fifth year of survivorship. That meant a lot to me. I've seen so many people close to me battle cancer. I think overcoming it … I don't know how to put it … all of the support I received from my family in keeping a positive attitude was just one of the best things ever. I would love to see a world where cancer is obliterated. It makes me angry and makes me want to find a way to end it. I hope my daughters and my granddaughters never have to experience any of that.