“When I was in high school, my father told me I should be an efficiency expert.”
Kathy Box chuckles when she recalls her summertime job working in her father’s New York office, where he was the district superintendent of schools.
She took his advice. As the Greenlee School’s budget officer, office manager and administrative specialist, Box could be considered the efficiency expert at Hamilton Hall, where she has spent many a day deep in a spreadsheet, crunching numbers, outlining processes and verifying compliance.
When she retires on Friday, March 31, the Greenlee School will honor her final tally of 19.5 years at Iowa State University. But faculty and staff know the total sum of her impact is much more than any number of spreadsheets, forms or procedures may convey.
“In the 11 years that I’ve been a faculty member of the Greenlee School I have seen Kathy as a crucial part of the administrative team that makes everything work smoothly for students and faculty alike,” said Dennis Chamberlin, associate professor. “As faculty we don’t generally have an understanding of the financial and administrative process and Kathy has always been willing to go out of her way to help faculty achieve what they need in order to meet goals with students and research endeavors.”
Box has worked with two directors and witnessed the unit’s transition from a department to a school. Colleagues will certainly miss her institutional knowledge.
“Kathy Box had an incredible but often unsung influence in our rise as a top-tier program,” said Michael Bugeja, director. “She has helped me and others in the main office become more efficient and effective. We will miss her, but always remember her many contributions.”
Box started as a secretary II at Greenlee in 1997, managing budgets and helping students and faculty at the front desk. As the school grew through the years, so did her role in it. Through promotions to administrative specialist I, II and finally, III, she expanded her oversight to human resources, payroll, accounting, purchasing and compliance, in addition to serving as point person for a number of Hamilton Hall construction and maintenance projects.
While working full time, Box earned a degree in business administration through American InterContinental University’s online program and took advantage of a number of trainings offered by Iowa State.
“Those were transitions that made sense to me. As the needs have grown, I’ve always been interested in how things work and how we can do better,” Box said.
Box’s many-hats role has required her to collaborate with people from all areas of the university, including the Iowa State Foundation, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Facilities Planning and Management and Accounting, and colleagues are quick to point out her dedication.
“It’s a lot of everything,” said Kim Curell, Greenlee School account clerk. “I don’t want to say a little bit because she puts her whole self into it.”
While colleagues will miss Box for the many ways she has supported them, they’ll also miss how she did it.
“Work style? Her work style might be described as ‘Don’t mess with my Greenlee family!’" said Chamberlin. “Over the years I’ve seen her defend our initiatives and those of our students as if they were her family. She has helped faculty and students find funding on a number of occasions as well as provide moral support to hundreds of students over the years.”
Whether it’s being a sounding board for students who find their way into her office (“as long as they’re willing to listen to my opinion,” she adds) or suggesting a way to put unspent funds to work, Box takes pride in the tangible ways she’s made a difference.
And to Box, there’s nothing more tangible than a scholarship. Ask her about her involvement with the committee that awards Greenlee School scholarships, and she becomes animated.
“I love to talk to students about scholarships," Box said. "If I’m meeting with a student group for any reason, if I see students gathered or if I hear a student talking about not having money for this or that, my first question is, “Did you apply for scholarships?”
As the person responsible for verifying Greenlee scholarship recipients meet the criteria put forth by donors, Box views scholarships that only require recipients to be enrolled full-time in the Greenlee School as golden opportunities. They allow students to be creative with their applications and career goals in the fast-pace, changing world of communications.
“If you’ve written a really great application but it doesn’t fit anywhere within these specific criteria, that breaks my heart,” she said. “Professionalism and entrepreneurialism are my two things. I want students to think outside the box.”
Box has hired many students to work at the front desk in Hamilton Hall and celebrated their successes through the years. She recalls the excitement she felt when Maia Zewert (’15, journalism and mass communication, English), a former Greenlee front-desk employee, found her dream job posting for a reporter position at The Lincoln County News in Newcastle, Maine, late one Friday afternoon during a slow shift. Box and another student proofed Zewert’s application materials, and she sent them in that day. Zewert says Box played a large role in her landing the job, which she holds today, because of her unyielding support.
“I remember that during work the day before [the interview] I was beyond nervous, and I said as much to Kathy,” Zewert said. “She has this ability to be reassuring, give tough love and also inspire you … all in one speech and that was exactly what I needed on that day. When I finished the [Skype] interview, I immediately left the apartment to go tell her all about it.
“Kathy is the type of person who can offer a comforting hug and words of reassurance, but she’s also someone you want on your side when things get rough. She is kind, and she is strong and she is the type of person I hope to be.”
Box looks forward to visits from former students and keeps in touch with them in the meantime. “I try to follow former students on social media to see how they’re doing. I’m still out there encouraging them,” Box said.
When Box reflects on how she’s made an impact at Greenlee, she mentions her efforts to save the school money. But it’s the relationships with students, faculty and staff that she’ll miss the most.
“If you don’t support faculty well, you don’t support students well either so you always have to balance that. If you can’t keep good faculty and you can’t support faculty, then it doesn’t benefit the school and the students overall. If [the students aren’t] here than we’re not here,” Box said.
True to form, Box has prepared an extensive spreadsheet for her successor about where her work stands, but she laments that a new university-wide scholarship application process won’t be finalized and enacted at Greenlee until well after she’s settled into retired life in Colorado with her husband, Tom, a musician.
As she packs boxes now that the Ames home she’s passionately remodeled has been sold, she has some advice for those she leaves at the Greenlee School.
“If you get the process right, then everything else follows. It’s a great thing to live by,” she said.
By Maria Charbonneaux
Editor’s note: If you’d like to send your well-wishes to Kathy, email email@example.com.