“Karen will know the answer.”
That’s one of the sayings on a word collage that an East Central College graphic design instructor presented to Karen Wieda, ECC registrar, at the last faculty meeting of the school year.
It’s far more than just a kind description, though. The saying is so true, that Wieda’s co-workers have given her a nickname, “the Wieda-Pedia,” after the encyclopedia website, Wikipedia.
Wieda, who is retiring from ECC next week after 44 years, is the college’s last original staff member. She was hired as faculty secretary by founding ECC President Donald D. Shook in 1969.
The staff was quite small in those early days, said Wieda.
There was only the dean of instruction and a secretary; the business manager and an assistant; the president and an assistant; a librarian; book store manager and all of the instructors.
Times have changed. The growth at ECC has been phenomenal, and Wieda kept up with all of it, save one thing — knowing everyone’s name.
“I used to be able to know everyone on campus, their spouses names, kids even, but now there’s no way,” she said. “I had a gentleman in my office today. He said he’d been working here a year, and I didn’t even know him.”
It’s a sure bet that they all, or at least most, know her. As registrar, Wieda has been the hub of most of the activity at ECC for years.
She ticked off her many responsibilities:
Maintain the schedule of classes as submitted by the division chairs, which includes rooms, times/days, instructor, special fees and much more;
Maintaining student records with integrity and all the rights and privileges that go along with that — registration for classes, class drops/adds, canceling classes, attendance reporting, collecting grades, posting grades to student transcripts, overseeing the graduation and degree check process, commencement, athletic eligibility, maintaining course descriptions in course catalog, dual credit registration in the high schools, president and vice president’s list, probation and suspension lists, student verification of enrollment, good student discount verification and FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) police.
ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer described Wieda as “a genuine public servant.”
“Karen embodies all of the best that we are about at East Central College. She works tirelessly for the betterment of our students, carries out her job with great professionalism, and is admired by all who work with her,” Bauer told The Missourian.
“Her knowledge of the institution is unmatched and will be difficult to replace. But what’s even more important is the dedication she brings to work each day. Karen has always been committed to making sure East Central is the best institution it can be for our students. That has been the guiding principle for every hour of her career.
“I’ve never seen her make a decision or recommendation for the purpose of convenience or personal recognition. Her north star is what’s right and fair for the student, and that’s a model principle for all of us,” said Bauer.
“Karen’s contribution to the college may be unparalleled,” he continued. “She has touched every student record, planned every commencement, and played an important role in developing every class schedule. Whether they know or not, every student who has attended has benefited from Karen’s commitment to the college.”
Wieda’s direct supervisor, Ida “Cookie” Hayes, who has worked with her for over 40 years, said after she retires, the staff plan to wear bracelets with “WWWD” on them, meaning, “What Would Wieda Do?”
“Karen has always set high quality standards for the work she does, and everyone on campus depends on her,” said Hayes, current dean of tudents.
“She never misses a deadline or forgets to follow through on a task. She is dedicated, hard-working, and humble. Her quiet demeanor and unselfish attitude has made her a positive role model and enabled the college to grow.”
Jim Selby, who was the ECC dean of student services from 1971-’75 and currently lives in Vancouver, Wash., recalled those early years working with her fondly.
“Besides organizing the student admissions and records functions, she had an incredible grasp of the whole purpose of student services — to help students succeed at ECJC (East Central Junior College),” Selby said. “She clearly understood confidentiality of information, as well as how to deal with difficult students. She was a natural at what she did.
“Her ready smile and professionalism in her work made working with her a positive experience for everyone. She could also produce prodigious amounts of typing: the ball of her IBM Selectric was just a blur as she typed.”
‘Enthusiasm Was Great’
Wieda, who grew up in Lonedell and then made her home there after she was married, can still remember what it was like in Franklin County in the years leading up to East Central College being organized.
She attended Jefferson College and was in one of the first classes to graduate back in the 1960s. She earned a general education degree with emphasis in accounting.
While she went to school there, Wieda was a student worker and after graduation took a full-time position as a library assistant. When an opening came up in the student services department, she applied and was hired as counselor secretary in 1968.
“I was able to see how everything operated,” Wieda recalled. “I thought, ‘I’d love to get in on the job floor at East Central.’ ”
There was a kind of electricity in the air around Franklin County as East Central College was getting started.
“It was exciting because the vote to establish the college was so great, and the enthusiasm to have the college there was great,” she remarked. “You could just feel it.
“The faculty, it was all new to them. They could establish the classes and the syllabuses. It was just all together new. We could set our own policies and — of course, there were rules and regulations from the state that you had to follow — but we could pretty well set up what courses we wanted to offer, what degrees we wanted to offer, as far as academic programs went.”
The college held its first classes in fall 1969, years before it had an official campus. Administrative offices, like Wieda’s, were located in the Union City Auditorium. Classes were held there too, as well as First Baptist Church and AME Church. Basketball games were at Union High School.
Her office had been a cubicle-like space with a window in a corner of the city auditorium.
“A lot of faculty and students would come to that window, so I did a lot of student interaction even before,” said Wieda with a smile.
It was a major step-up when the ECC campus was established with its first building, the administration building, in spring 1972.
“We’d come out on our lunch hours and go through the building to see where our offices were going to be, just daydream,” Wieda recalled.
In the summer of 1972, Wieda was promoted to secretary to the dean of student services and, less than three years later, she was promoted again, this time to registrar.
She has served under every ECC president — Dr. Shook, Charles Novack, Dr. Dale Gibson, Dr. Karen Herzog, Dr. Edward Jackson, Dr. Jon Bauer, and Fred Davis, who twice served as interim president.
From Roster Cards to Online Posting
Thinking back on all of the changes that have taken place at ECC since her first day of work there in 1969, Wieda said the biggest have been in technology.
“When we first started, we had a typewriter. That’s how we posted grades. Each student, each course had to be posted by hand.”
Grades were posted on something called a roster card, said Wieda. And that card was a student’s transcript.
“Students would fill out a little 3- by 5-inch card for the class that they wanted to take and we would file those by courses, so the instructor would have a roster. And that’s how the instructor knew who was in his class.
“Then we had to type up grade cards for each class, for each student, and that’s what the instructor would record grades on. It was a multi-part card. We would tear off one part to send to the student, and we would keep one part in their file.”
Around 1971, ECC was contracting with Zero Manufacturing in Washington, which used a computer system to post grades.
“We had labels that we could post to the students’ transcripts with their courses on it,” said Wieda. “It would put all the student’s courses on a label with their grades. We used that for several years.
“We would code in their ID or Social Security number, and title or course number of the course. Then you could sort those.”
In 1973, ECC began contracting with Jefferson College to use its computer system. IBM punch cards (little cards that could punch in letters and numbers for coding) were used to create class rosters, grade rosters, grade cards and labels with grades for posting to transcript cards.
Around 1981, ECC purchased its own IBM System 34 computer system and a software package from another college in Illinois to run it to enter grades.
“But it didn’t give us all the reports we needed, so they hired a programmer,” said Wieda.
Then in 1989, ECC purchased the current interactive Student Information System known as Colleague.
“This system contains modules for admissions, registration, financial aid, business office, human resources and many others,” said Wieda. “Grades are now stored and retrieved electronically.
“Once we had this system in place we hired some individuals to take the information on the transcript cards and enter that information into the computer system. This allowed us to view all student records from 1969 to the present.”
A complete rewrite of the Colleague system was made in 1999 and since then there have been continuous updates and upgrades to the system.
“It doesn’t look anything like when we first started,” Wieda remarked.
The benefit of technology is usually the improved work flow and access to information, and that has certainly been the case with the evolution at ECC, said Wieda.
“We used to have to print grade rosters, and the instructors would have to write their grades on those rosters. Then we’d have to key them (the grades) in.
“Then we went to a scan sheet, which the instructors, again, would have to list the grades and fill in the bubbles, and we’d have to scan those.
“Now the instructors enter the grades themselves. I don’t even have to send rosters. They just do it,” said Wieda. “The only part I’m involved in is trying to get the grades in.”
That involves mostly emailing and continuing to contact the division chairs to put pressure on those instructors who haven’t yet posted their grades.
Likewise, students are issued a student account which enables them to view their grades and student demographics through their eCentral accounts. Students can now register online and even request a transcript 24-7, since ECC went to online transcript ordering through the National Student Clearinghouse.
“We get an email saying this student is requesting a transcript be sent, we send it out, the clearinghouse notifies the student when it’s been sent or if there is a hold on their record,” said Wieda. “We’ve just gone to that since January, but it’s cut down on a lot of phone calls.”
The kind words offered for Wieda by her colleagues are supported by the numerous awards she’s received over the years — the Missouri Community College Association Technology Innovation Award in 2006 for being the first community college in Missouri to implement an electronic filing system; the Missouri Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers Professional Service Award in October 2011; and the Missouri Community College Association Administrative/Professional Leadership Award in November 2011.
She has served in various roles on numerous ECC committees, and has served on and chaired the Records and Registration Subcommittee of the Missouri Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers for several years, as well as vice president for Membership and Historian.
Time to Retire
Wieda said she decided now was the right time for her retire because everything seemed to fall into place. There was a retirement incentive offered this year, and it had been five or six years since one had been offered previously.
“I didn’t want to wait another five or six for another,” she said, with a laugh. “It just seemed like the right time.”
Her husband, Ellis “John,” has been retired for several years from his career as an operating engineer for Budrovich, so they plan to do some traveling.
Wieda said she’s most looking forward to taking life as it comes, slowing down a bit, “doing the things I want to do, when I want to do them and not having to plan my life around schedule development time, registration time, grade time, etc.”
She didn’t hesitate a bit in saying what she will miss the most — the people.
“I’ve enjoyed working with everyone. It’s been a variety of people, and it’s been fun,” she said. “The biggest thrill is seeing the students walk across the stage at graduation.”
And while Wieda may be gone from the ECC campus, her name will not be. In April the college established the Karen S. Wieda Scholarship Fund through the ECC Foundation. Colleagues, friends and family have already contributed, and so far $7,204 has been donated ($10,000 is needed to make it an endowed scholarship).
“I feel honored and appreciate the opportunity to help many students earn a degree or certificate from East Central College,” said Wieda. “Even though I will not be helping students as an employee of ECC, the Karen S. Wieda Scholarship will be helping students for decades to come.”