When Sara Jo Burks started with Troy University Housing 30 years ago, the university was still using typewriters in its offices.
“Everything was done manually, and everything had to be typed with an old-fashioned typewriter, so I spent quite a lot of time typing things out,” said Burks, the assistant director of housing and residence life.
Today Burks’ typewriter at the desk has been replaced with a personal computer, but the routine of sifting through incident reports, work orders and fines still remains the same.
Burks’ day begins with her browsing through her emails and incident reports which have been filed overnight. She checks work orders for maintenance of the residence halls, making sure the things which need to be fixed have been tended to.
“Sometimes the RAs are bringing back things that they had to confiscate, that are not allowed in the hall rooms, and they may have written a fine for those things,” Burks said. “I go through those fines to decide if they should be fined and what the appropriate amount should be.”
In handling any and all logistics which concern the residence halls, Burks’ day is centered around ensuring that the hundreds of students living in university housing are living comfortably. In meeting with RAs, residents and even the parents of the residents, Burks tries to keep in touch with the situation on the ground with almost a dozen resident buildings on campus.
“Certain times of the month, I meet with the residence directors to talk to them about how things are going on in their residence halls, the concerns they have about students and residents,” Burks said.
In Burks’ experience of 30 years with the residents, she has come to realize that safety, which is the most pertinent issue concerning the well-being of students, ironically is also the same issues students tend to have the most grievances with.
“Students don’t understand the idea that we have to put safety first and that’s why we can’t have 24/7 visitation in the dorms,” Burks said. “Trying to educate the students about their safety and trying to keep them safe is the most important and the most difficult thing for us.”
Although housing is an office which is mostly contacted by students when they have complaints or need something done, Burks acknowledges that this provides her an opportunity to build a unique relationship with the students.
“(Burks) talks about students a lot and cares about them, and she tries to make the housing office be something that works to serve the students and looks out for their best interests,” said Andrew Russell, a senior history major from Montgomery who is a student worker with the housing office. “That being her primary goal helps set a really good attitude in the office where we are always ready to help students out with whatever situations they come to us with.”
Burks’ commitment to serve and empower the student body also trickles down to her involvement in out-of-office activities, such as beauty pageants where she has trained and groomed contestants participating in Miss Troy University, the Teen Trojan pageant and Miss Venus pageant.
“When I won Miss Senior USA, I myself was a first-time participant,” Burks said. “I want to help the students be more confident when they participate in these events (because) I know how it feels to be there.”
In juggling the office work and her involvement outside the office, Burks credits her energetic work ethic and organizational skills to keep her on top of her tasks.