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Keeping the Enterprise Running Smoothly

faculty member in classroom

Kelly Collins

Staff members work behind the scenes like well-oiled gears in a machine to keep the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences running smoothly. They are often the unsung heroes who maintain labs, write grants, fabricate parts for research, handle finances, manage human resources, schedule meetings, create presentations, organize events and promote the college far and wide-- just to name a few examples.

At the top of the whole enterprise is Kelly Collins, a Clemson University alumnus and working mom who has built a reputation for helping her employees advance their careers.

Collins graduated from Clemson with a Bachelor of Science in financial management in 2003 and immediately went to work for her alma mater as business manager in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. She joined what was then the College of Engineering and Science in January 2007 as an accountant/fiscal analyst II.

While rising through the ranks, Collins has earned a reputation for supporting employees, especially ambitious young women. The Clemson University President’s Commission on Women honored Collins in 2018 with an Outstanding Women Award in the staff category.

Collins sat down with IDEAS magazine in late July to talk about her role and how the staff is responding to the big issues framing the 2020 academic year.

Would you give us an overview of what your office does?

As chief of staff and operations, my role is to manage and oversee all the HR functions in the college and all the operational aspects for the college as well. Everything that keeps the gears in motion and keeps the college moving forward falls under my office. Fortunately, we’ve got great team members. They are carrying the heavy lift, making sure the college runs extremely smoothly on a day-to-day basis.

How well did the staff respond to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 situation?

A vast majority of our staff were transitioned to working remotely in March. From an operational standpoint, I think we had a few hiccups when we made the initial transition. What we’re realizing now is that we can work pretty well from home. It might look a little different. Some of us have children, so we’re balancing those working hours with educating, entertaining, and feeding children. But we’re squeezing it in and making it work. What we’re also finding is that some employees are more productive at home, with fewer disruptions that happen in the workplace.

How crucial is staff to ensuring class and research can continue during quarantine?

They have done an extremely heavy lift. Our student services folks and our registration coordinator folks had to switch the way they did everything on a dime. Orientation — usually a big, in-person event — has flipped completely to virtual. Our advisors have managed that while still engaging with students and providing them with the Clemson experience. It’s been a Herculean effort on their part. Our IT support group, CECAS CORE, has worked with CCIT to make sure classroom technology is where it needs to be and has made sure the faculty have what they need to start instruction in a hybrid mode. Machining and Technical Services and other technical staff also deserve a mention. They are essential employees who have worked to address the needs of essential research. These are just a few examples.

We’re seeing a renewed interest in equity and inclusion in the wake of George Floyd’s death. How do you see equity and inclusion applying to staff?

Equity falls into two buckets. First, it’s making sure that the playing field is equal for all of our staff members. Whatever their career goals are, that playing field should be level, and they should be able to accomplish their career goals. Second, in an academic setting, faculty and administrators have a loud voice, and they are comfortable using that voice, even if that voice differs from somebody else’s, and they are used to engaging in that debate. I think we need to encourage our staff members to not be afraid to share what they feel. If a process is not right or inherently unfair, I want them to have that voice.

How about inclusion?

It’s fostering an environment where everybody feels comfortable. In light of recent events, we’re finding out now that what we thought was inclusive, some of our team members don’t feel that way. We’ve got to do some hard work and some listening to learn what it means to create a more inclusive environment such that all of our team members feel like they are at home and that they are a part of the Clemson family.

What do you like best about your job?

I think it’s interacting with people. There are no two days that are alike. A lot of people say if somebody has a problem, they come to Kelly. Sometimes, that’s stressful and difficult, but at the same time, I take it as an opportunity to help. It allows me to engage with multiple people across the college or campus. Every day is different. Every day we are trying to make things better or help someone where we can, and that’s the fun part of the job.

Kelly CollinsKelly Collins
Chief of Staff and Operations
murdaug@clemson.edu