Thirty-eight years behind the desk

By Kallie Berens

For 38 years, Suzanne Pharand has worked at Laurentian University under the title of switchboard operator receptionist clerk. From Monday to Friday, Pharand sits in the glass box in the main entrance of Laurentian University, waiting to direct people and to answer their questions, in person and over the phone.

Pharand says her main job is to “answer the switchboard. All calls that come into Laurentian University come through me.” According to Pharand, she answers “anywhere between 500-600 calls a day,” in addition to the people who approach her in person, which she estimates at around 50 a day, with more or less depending on the day.

Pharand enjoys every part of her job, and specifically mentions “dealing with the students” as one of her favourite parts. “I’ve had alumni call and say ‘Oh my God, you’re still here, Suzy?’ And it’s amazing that a lot of them remember me; it’s really touching.”

Pharand has little downtime at her job, and when she is not answering phones she is doing research on the computer in her office.

“I also work for the Communications Department, so every day I see if we have alumni or friends of Laurentian that have done anything newsworthy.”

Admitting that it “sounded a little gruesome,” Pharand also said that she writes up obituaries for people associated with Laurentian who have passed away.

Before having a computer in her office, Pharand would answer the phones and bring in her cross stitching, a hobby of hers.

“About twenty years ago, I would do cross stitch while answering the phones and that’s when they decided that they should be giving me something to do.”

Pharand taught herself how to use a computer and incorporated it in her work duties.

However, March is one of the busiest months for her.

“The busiest time of year is August, before everybody arrives on campus. January when we come back from Christmas is also busy, and March and April are crazy.”

“Around June it dwindles and July is very slow because that’s when practically everyone goes on vacation,” she added.

On the topic of what most people ask when calling Laurentian, Pharand said that most people either want to get in touch with admissions, registrar, transcripts or find out about their tax forms.

Because Pharand has her office in one of the higher traffic places at Laurentian, she sees many different types of scenarios that happen right in front of her. One of the more strange things that happened in front of her took place a few months ago.

“A young guy came in and walked past the mace on display on the opposite wall. He did a double take. He stopped, turned around and walked by it again. Then he saluted it. I thought, ‘OK, what is he doing?’ It’s not a religious or military symbol, so I was confused. That was so funny, I couldn’t help it  – I just started laughing out loud.”