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University of Wisconsin - Madison College of Engineering
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Debra K. Schiess
Academic Affairs

To describe Debbie Schiess, colleagues often use adjectives like terrific, welcoming, cheerful, efficient, tenacious, dedicated, tireless, resourceful, precise, determined and knowledgeable.

Schiess is the administrative assistant in the college Academic Affairs Office and the assistant to the College of Engineering associate dean for academic affairs. She also supports other academic affairs deans, serves as a resource for faculty, staff and students, and manages budgets, personnel tasks and student records.

In her view, faculty, staff and students are her customers and Schiess ensures that she and other academic affairs staff meet their needs. Not only is she the first stop for hundreds of engineering students with academic questions or problems, Schiess daily answers a barrage of mundane, arcane and odd questions from faculty and staff. Throughout this flood of interruptions, she cheerfully and efficiently completes her other duties. "Her head stays down, fingers fly, and huge piles of work get done," says one colleague.

The greater the challenge, the more Schiess warms to the task. When confronted with particularly complicated problems, such as entering exceptions to students' degree audit reporting system (DARS) records that cut across requirements and courses in impossibly twisted ways, she digs for information until she is sure she has found the correct answer. She has contributed immensely to the programming needed to ensure that NCAA athletes' eligibility is clear from their engineering DARS report. And each year, she checks more than 700 reports and clears students for graduation.

In addition, Schiess applies her broad historical knowledge of the College of Engineering in suggestions for improving how academic affairs operates. In one case, as a result of her input, the college Academic Policy, Curriculum and Regulation Committee (APCRC) restructured its meetings to enable members to focus on both course proposals and broader curricular issues.

“Every day, she helps dozens of students navigate the complexities of this campus and its rules, no matter how many times she has answered the same question,” says a colleague. “Every day, she helps all of the academic affairs staff to keep on top of deadlines for instructional course changes and associated paperwork through her professional and cheerful style. And every day she helps the college by making this a better, more efficient and more pleasant place to come to work.”