Residential Life’s ‘Front Desk’ Responds to Students’ Needs

A new 'Front Desk' call center helps students 24-hours a day.

<p>Nikhalia Morgan, a fifth semester political science major, answers calls at the Front Desk in Whitney Hall. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer</p>
Nikhalia Morgan, a fifth semester political science major, answers calls at the Front Desk in Whitney Hall. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

A modern university is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation where the campus remains active long after most faculty and staff have gone home – and to bed. Just because the last classes of the day ended hours earlier doesn’t mean that many students aren’t up and about until the wee hours of the morning.

“And with 12,000 residential students living on campus,” says Steve Kremer, UConn’s director of residential life, “a lot of things can happen during the night.”

It was with that in mind that Kremer and his staff created the “Front Desk” office, which opened its doors in August – a round-the-clock, full-time, trouble-shooting operation designed to respond to students’ needs regardless of the time of day. The office handles everything from lost keys and lockouts to faulty heaters and broken windows.

Staffed in shifts by student workers and supervisors, the operation is a call center that students can contact for non-emergency assistance or information 24 hours a day. It is located on the ground floor of Whitney Hall and can be reached at (860) 486-9000 or

“It is a central and single access point that students can reach out to if they have concerns,” says Kremer, adding that anyone with an emergency should call the police.

There are a total of 12 student supervisors and just under 60 “runners” – the people who move out in teams of two to help address problems – working different shifts throughout the day and night.

When students have locked themselves out of their dorm rooms, the Front Desk can dispatch runners to let them in (with the proper ID, of course). If someone’s door is broken or their heat won’t turn on, the office can have maintenance come by and address it.

“Students are in many ways more nocturnal than they’ve ever been,” says Kremer. “Nobody turns the Internet off in the middle of the night. So it’s a really significant advance for us to tend to people’s 24-hour needs.”

According to Jay Johnston, the assistant director of residential life who oversees the Front Desk, during the first weekend of this semester alone the Front Desk processed 281 dorm lockouts, 1,598 work orders, and received more than 2,100 phone calls.

Through Nov. 9, the Front Desk handled 3,453 lockouts and nearly 12,500 work requests.

There is also an automated work order system that students can access.

“The Front Desk is able to monitor the work orders throughout the night and make sure that they’re being attended to,” says Johnston.  “There’s an overnight maintenance staff that we can dispatch to problems that are coming up in real time.”

The system sends e-mails to students who are asking for services and solicits feedback.

While Residential Life hired a number of part-time student workers to staff the operation, it was able to get the system up and running and to maintain it without hiring any more full-time staff, instead meeting its professional staffing needs through reorganization.

In addition to lockouts and maintenance issues, students have also been calling for information such as bus schedules, movie start times, and other run-of-the-mill inquiries. This is just fine with Residential Life staff, who like the idea of the Front Desk becoming a simple, virtually all-purpose call center for people living on campus.

“This is something that’s new for all of us,” says Johnston, who will periodically work a night shift to stay connected to the Front Desk and the campus after dark. “It’s actually been the most fun I’ve had in my 22 years at the University.”