By Aren Kaser
Dagmar Schmidt's colleagues joke that when circumstances took her away from the office for an extended period of time, it took three people to do her job. Officially, Schmidt is the director of student services in the School of Nursing, but her contributions to the school and University also include being "a bridge to her colleagues on upper campus, working closely with course coordinators on clinical placements, champion of diversity at the University, and dedicated advocate for faculty, staff and most importantly, students.
In a recent example, Schmidt went beyond the call of duty advocating for an application from an Ethiopian student that showed two different birthdates. The admissions committee was ready to disqualify the applicant based on falsification until Schmidt successfully prevented an injustice by showing how the Coptic calendar and Gregorian calendar would show different dates for the same birthday, contributing to a University welcoming of diversity.
For the past 25 years, Schmidt has been making a difference in the personal, professional and collective success of the University on a daily basis. She began working for academic services at the school in 1985 and sees an early accomplishment of hers as being the first school to hold information sessions for prospective students.
Currently, Schmidt co-hosts an annual admissions session at the Ethnic Cultural Center, working with the Office of Minority Affairs to overcome the barriers that underrepresented students may feel as they work to put together strong applications to the highly competitive School of Nursing.
"Dagmar has managed to cross the barrier of Pacific Street to establish respectful, collaborative relationships with staff members across campus," said Dyane Haynes, director of disability resources for students.
Since she arrived, Schmidt has helped the school launch more than five different curricula, mentored hundreds of faculty and staff members, and advised thousands of students.
In another instance of dedication and an example of her innovation, Schmidt places more than 200 students per quarter in clinical sites under an unimaginable combination of considerations, among them geographic distance, non-existent sites, lab schedules, premature births, instructors falling through at the last minute, interpersonal skills, cultural competency and course conflicts. Her success in this task is a testament to her consistent ability to find new, creative solutions to difficult situations.
During the 1990s, Schmidt worked to change the application process to a more holistic review which includes resume submittal, question and answer activities, and proctored essays that have now become a standard for University admissions and have led to an incredibly low attrition rate of less than 5 percent. She often collaborates with the registrar's and admissions offices to problem solve issues that may have been discovered in the School of Nursing but are recognized as issues with Universitywide impacts in the future.
The most significant change Schmidt has seen in the past decade is the increase in electronic communication and less in-person contact. Even though there are not enough hours in the week to spend with students, she makes a point to still meet with them as much as possible, keeping her door open to help guide and counsel students in need.
Recently, when a Muslim student feared that she would be unable to complete her rotation in the operating room due to the site's inability to accommodate her mode of dress, Schmidt advocated for her and interfaced with the agency, devising a solution wherein the student could don scrubs over her clothing and complete the rotation. This example is one of many creative and resourceful win-win solutions that she has facilitated for decades at the University.
"We know that when we go to Dagmar in confidence, her integrity is without question and our private conversations are safe. We trust that she will follow up. We are confident and sometimes surprised—that she will tell us what we need to hear, whether or not we really want to hear it," declared all 192 Bachelor of Science in Nursing Students in their letter of support for Schmidt's application.
Admittedly, being honored with the Distinguished Staff Award has been a humbling experience for Schmidt, who is adamant that her fellow academic services colleagues are what help her make such a difference.
"I hope I can live up to this award. It is such a privilege to work with students and participate in slivers of their lives," she said. "That is what makes this job so great. It is never boring, and I am always learning."