News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Eric English

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. Read more SMU staff spotlights

Few departments at SMU have undergone more change in the past eight years than Facilities. Eric English’s career reflects that change.

English started working at SMU in 1996 as a painter. He was promoted to facilities building inspector in 2003 and then, in 2006, became environmental services manager, overseeing the custodial and sustainability departments. In 2010, a large portion of Facilities was outsourced to Aramark, and he became Aramark’s operational excellence and sustainability manager. Eighteen months later, he left to take a position as the building and grounds manager at Parkland Hospital. After five years away, he returned to SMU’s Facilities Department in April to become director of maintenance and grounds.

It’s a big job, encompassing landscaping, pools and fountains, fleet management, office moves, trash and recycling collection, sports turf, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, locksmiths, building maintenance repairs and more. English oversees more than 50 managers, supervisors and staff members as well as outsourced custodial and landscape personnel.

Four months into his new role, English says he has noticed a positive transformation in Facilities’ business model. “How we did business in the past is certainly different from how we do it today,” he says. “We are much more focused on customers – students, faculty and staff – to make sure they have the best possible educational/work environment.”

One significant change that English and his team have implemented in the past several months is expansion of maintenance coverage. “Whereas before we had two people who worked weekdays only, we now have four people and shifts that handle weekends as well,” he says. “We can now provide coverage seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to midnight every day. We can respond to most emergency requests much faster because staff is now on site instead of having to be called to come to campus. That’s particularly important for calls regarding leaks and flooding, which are actually our most common emergencies.”

English says one of the chief advantages of the new structure is the leadership. “I have great leaders to lean on, along with fellow peers,” he says.

With leadership support, English says he and his team are working to make improvements in a number of areas. “For example, we are focusing on reducing the number of call-backs, making sure the work is done right the first time,” he says. “We are also responding to work orders more quickly, and making sure we have clear communication with our customers so they understand the status of their work requests.”

The biggest challenge, he says, has been changing the mindset and culture of how tasks should be performed. “It is difficult to get people to change, especially when they have been doing things a certain way for a long time. However, I am encouraged with the way we are moving toward being more proactive and more productive.”

As an example, he says, his department is creating a strong preventive maintenance program. “We will be able to extend the life of equipment and reduce repair calls by setting up regularly scheduled maintenance checks on a variety of items,” he says. “It’s like taking your car in for scheduled service – do that and your car will run more efficiently and have fewer problems.”

As his department continues to evolve, English says he is setting a number of goals for himself and his team. “My immediate goals range from building a strong recycling program and improving our floor care program to teaching staff to be good stewards of University funds (which will allow us to reduce costs), streamlining processes and developing training programs for staff. All of these things will take time, but we are focused on making steady progress to keep improving our service.”

And he is happy to be at SMU once again. “I love the SMU community and the people here – it’s what brought me back,” he says. “SMU has a real family atmosphere. It’s why people stay so long, and, like me, want to return!”

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Windy Epperson

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. Read more SMU staff spotlights

In the 11 years that Windy Epperson has been at SMU, she has worn several hats. With a background in accounting and purchasing at Baylor Medical Center, she joined the University in 2006 as a purchasing agent in Procurement, followed by a post as the procurement card (“p-card”) administrator. For the past three years, she has been changing the way the University pays its bills as the accounts payable manager.

“My team and I are responsible for timely and accurate payment of SMU bills, while also making sure the University remains in compliance with all regulatory requirements and that we abide by our own University policies when making those payments,” she says. Since taking on her managerial role, she has helped the department look for ways to process payments more efficiently within Shared Services. “We have also explored opportunities to reduce the time spent in preparing and processing the requests to create time savings for the schools and business units,” she says. “Some of the improvements implemented include the electronic submission of payment requests, eliminating scanning by attaching documentation within PeopleSoft, centralizing the receipt of invoices and using DocuSign to obtain electronic approvals. This has eliminated the need for a paper request for payment of an invoice and enabled us to process payments daily rather than twice per week.”

The efforts she makes with her team have paid off in a dramatic way. “Before the changes were implemented, the service level agreement (SLA) for processing payments was 10 days from receipt of the request in Accounts Payable,” she says. “We have reduced the SLA to 5 days.”

Epperson began her role in Accounts Payable (AP) before OE2C, but feels the campus-wide initiative brought new support from SMU leadership to make changes needed to increase efficiencies and customer satisfaction from both vendors and campus constituents. “The restructuring of the department to allow a dedicated AP specialist per school/area has helped that specialist become more familiar with activities for their assigned client and provide better service,” she says.

Her favorite part of the job is research. “Doing the research to resolve an issue for a vendor or internal customer and working toward a resolution that leaves them satisfied is very gratifying,” she says.

Of course, the transition has not been without challenges. “The process of implementing changes is not always smooth, as people are accustomed to doing things the ‘old’ way,” says Epperson. “We spent time explaining the changes to each department/area and detailing how the changes would result in getting vendors paid in a timely and accurate way while reducing time required to submit information for processing. Most feedback from internal customers about the changes has been positive, as they’ve seen the processing time reduced significantly.

“I really credit my accounts payable team for welcoming change and helping guide others on campus through it. They are smart, engaged and work hard to meet or exceed expectations. They are a big reason why our changes have been successful.”

Epperson’s success in cutting the AP processing time from 10 days to 5 days keeps her motivated to make further improvements. “During this fiscal year we plan to implement the upload of worksheets to create vouchers, which will eliminate the need for processors to key hundreds of payments from a worksheet,” she says. “This will result in timely payments and eliminate the possibility of keying errors. We also are looking at ways to take advantage of any available discounts and/or rebates with early payment or different payment methods.

“Our overall goal is to keep finding ways to make the entire bill paying process faster and easier for our vendors and our campus colleagues!”

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Teena Newman

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. Read more SMU staff spotlights

At any given moment, SMU’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) has some 50 to 70 significant projects underway across campus, each one requiring 40 or more hours to complete, or involving multiple teams. However, until recently, no organized department existed to oversee those projects. That changed in September 2015 as part of the OE2C initiative when a new Project Management Office was created, led by director Teena Newman.

Newman established and now supports a project management framework based on industry best practices. She oversees the development, implementation and continuous improvement of OIT projects to align with SMU’s vision and strategy. She has also hired her first official project manager, and hopes to hire more.

Projects run the gamut from phone replacements to security upgrades, from website migrations to electronic catalog implementation. Previously, managing them fell to the technical staff and other OIT managers, on top of their other duties.

“Do you know 90 percent of what a project manager does? Communication!” says Newman. “Asking our technical staff who are busy creating and supporting solutions – our network engineers, PeopleSoft developers, database administrators, desktop support crew, etc. – to also effectively manage projects, is setting them up for failure. How can we expect them to spend 90 percent of their time in project communication?”

Under the new system, project requests are submitted through a Portfolio Project Management tool and are reviewed by the IT Leadership Team on a weekly basis, prioritized by a scoring system and then scheduled.

The new system offers distinct advantages, says Newman. “Almost all of SMU’s strategic initiatives have an IT component. Having a Project Management Office that reports directly to the CIO provides an unbiased approach to project selection. It creates checks and balances at the right level to enable an environment of accountability and visibility.”

Newman, who earned both B.B.A. (’01) and M.B.A. (’10) degrees from Cox, joined SMU in 2007 as a business analyst in OIT, after six years of working in the energy industry. She says her new role as director of project management brought a new perspective. “I spent my first few months in the role studying the OIT culture, and SMU’s culture,” she says. “Although I had been on staff at SMU for eight years, this leadership position meant new opportunities and challenges. I learned the importance of aligning my pace with that of the current culture. It’s crucial to find a balance between being too disruptive and being too stagnant.

“What guides me in making decisions is to ask myself daily, ‘Do my actions and decisions reflect SMU’s best long-term interest?’ If they do not, I either abandon or modify my approach.”

Newman says the University’s commitment to efficiency in new projects extends beyond her department. “In partnership with HR, OIT provided project management training to all OIT staff who either manage projects or serve as a key resource for projects,” says Newman. “The training has allowed our organization to speak a common language, and helps each person understand the importance of their role in projects. Mary Stall from HR provides an excellent course, Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project Manager. I highly recommend this course to all SMU staff and faculty, as it provides great tools to avoid project failure.”

Newman especially enjoys monitoring the progress OIT is making on campus projects and says, “Seeing us choose the right projects and delivering on expectations is one of my favorite parts of this role! If you would like to see what OIT is working on, you can now access this information on the OIT website.”

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Yvette Castilla

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations.

Yvette Castilla grew up in a small town in South Texas, helping run her family’s mom-and-pop grocery store. From there she progressed through jobs that included escrow clerk, bank teller, financial advisor and financial and administrative support for the administrative counselor at a U.S. Embassy. She loved handling accounting work, which led to her joining SMU in 1992 as a financial officer in Development and External Affairs.

Her role in DEA handled a wide range of duties for the department including human resources, contracts, budget training and managing help desk support. Though she worked primarily with the non-academic side of the University, she learned about a number of the challenges and opportunities on the academic side as well. That, and her experience handling multiple financial issues, helped prepare her for a change in roles in December 2016 under Shared Services: Castilla is now the University’s Director of Academic Support.

Academic Support is a new unit in Budget and Finance formed to support the finance and budget needs of the seven academic areas across campus. Castilla oversees a team of seven financial business managers and four accounting liaisons. Their job is to assist academic areas with budget oversight and maintenance, improve consistency for budgeting salary and benefits, and assist with financial business processes like payroll, accounts payable, purchasing, tax compliance, and gift reporting, among many other duties. The new role has given Castilla a chance to dive deeper into the academic workflow.

“I now have a broader perspective of the academic areas’ approach to hiring, funding, budgeting, grants, student support and engagement and many other aspects that are unique to the academic areas,” she says.

In addition, she believes the Shared Services structure offers specific advantages. “Our processes and systems now have resources, especially people with campus-wide experience, which should allow for change and growth in directions that can streamline and improve support on campus.”

When asked about the favorite part of her new position, Castilla says, “I truly enjoy meeting all the folks in the academic areas, although in many cases they are unsure about my role in Academic Support. I try to reassure them that I’m focused on supporting them and assisting them with their unique challenges.” 

Castilla understands that the changes under Shared Services had a broad impact on many areas, including on those who led and participated in the change.

“When you have change as significant and fast-paced as the one we experienced in the interest of Operational Excellence, everyone is impacted – even those who were in the middle of those changes and supported those changes,” she says. “We all had growing pains.”

Realigning her own duties from Development and External Affairs to Budget and Finance was bittersweet, she says, but she was ready for new challenges. As an example, Castilla recently hired four new employees to support four of the academic areas. And, in working to streamline as many processes as possible, even the small ones, she feels they are taking a major step toward a more efficient community.

Castilla’s goal for the future is to continue to keep an eye on the big picture: “If something is not working efficiently for one team then it’s probably a problem for other teams.  If something is working superbly for one team then it can be replicated for other teams,” she says. “Overall, we want to make it as easy as possible for faculty and staff to maintain accounting and reporting standards while they focus on their main responsibility: students’ education.”

Constant communication and attentive customer service are key for Castilla. She practices both every day and talks to her team about what they mean. They are essential to day-to-day operations. 

“Everyone in Shared Services should view themselves as a support position, no matter what level they are in the organization,” she says. “Communicating regularly and taking care of people are critical to our success.”

Read more SMU staff spotlights

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Rachel Mulry

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations.

Anyone at SMU who’s gotten assistance from the help desk, had a new computer installed, received upgraded classroom equipment or undertaken Canvas or Sitecore training can thank OIT and one group in particular: the Customer Service department, led by Rachel Mulry.

The department’s teams, totaling 39 members, include the help desk; embedded support (the desktop support team that assists with in-person requests that can’t be resolved by the help desk); audio/video event support (for equipment in classrooms, meeting rooms and events); client systems (hardware/software installation and maintenance); and training and communications.

“I have personnel across all three SMU campuses – Dallas, Plano and Taos,” says Mulry. “I also have the privilege of working with an incredible leadership team that is helping guide OIT to become a trusted strategic partner on campus.”

The services provided by Mulry’s teams touch every area of campus. The help desk handles 2,000 to 3,000 technology-related requests and issues every month. Client systems is responsible for hardware and software installation, repair and support for more than 7,000 devices campus-wide. And the training group offers thousands of courses in person, via webinar, or online through

Mulry, who joined SMU’s IT department in 1999, was named director of Customer Service as a result of the OE2C Shared Services changes in 2015. It wasn’t a role she foresaw as an SMU undergraduate 20 years ago, though.

“I actually graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Music degree in music education,” she says. “I had the honor of studying piano under now-Dean Sam Holland – an incredible teacher!  After graduation, I spent two years as a middle school choir director. The summer after my first year of teaching, I worked at SMU as a temp assisting with computer installations.  The following summer, I worked again as a temp preparing campus computers for Y2K and begged to stay!  I started full time at the help desk and have served in many roles with OIT since then.”

By 2015, she was assistant director in Customer Service, responsible for the help desk, desktop support and cellular support teams. “Then, following Shared Services, I assumed responsibility for the entire Customer Service department, which grew in number due to the reorganization of staff,” she says. “Although I still spend time in similar tasks (such as customer service issues, project management, process development, etc.), those tasks have become much more complex.  Leading such a large team and navigating the rapid changes of both the organization and technology is a responsibility I do not take lightly!  I have grown a tremendous amount personally through the experience and look forward to continued growth and development.”

Mulry sees a number of advantages with the unified resources now available under the new Shared Services structure. “I think one of the advantages is a deeper understanding of the differences between each school and their unique needs,” she says. “We can now more clearly understand the challenges they are facing, and we’re better able to coordinate efforts to meet their needs. Eliminating some of the differences in the technology landscape (such as unique accounts and passwords) has reduced confusion while allowing us to deliver services in a more streamlined way. We are able to communicate more effectively and provide a more consistent support experience in many areas, such as computer installations, software implementation, classroom technology, etc.”

Of course, the reorganization also brought challenges. Probably the biggest one, Mulry says, was resistance to change. “Each person has a different attitude and appetite for change. That’s true both internally in IT as well as across campus,” she says. “No matter how good an initiative might be, it takes a lot of time and energy to ensure that you’ve addressed the concerns, clarified the path, communicated the ‘why,’ and obtained the buy-in before you begin. There’s been tremendous pressure to make significant changes in so many areas quickly, and balancing the work while tending to the emotional/personal aspects of change management has been challenging!”

Mulry and her teams have persevered through the changes and are regularly praised in campus surveys for the quality they deliver. “I am so proud of all of my teams. We have come a long way in two years!” she says. “The training team has expanded their services to reach more students by partnering with the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center and career center. The help desk has continued to provide incredible support while taking on more and more responsibilities for service requests. The embedded support team has really pulled together to respond to technology issues while learning many new technologies that were unique to each area. The client systems team has revamped innumerable processes, allowing us to rapidly deploy computers and software while reducing costs.”

One particular point of pride, she adds, is the department’s work to improve classroom technology. “We collaborated with the faculty, the Academic Service directors and leadership to decide what those improvements should be. The technology in classrooms can have such a tremendous impact on teaching and learning. Ensuring that the equipment is functional, that help arrives quickly, and that faculty can quickly learn and easily use the system, requires a tremendous amount of work from multiple teams.

“Our team members are amazing people who care deeply about serving the campus community and do so with such positive energy and passion. I am incredibly blessed.”

Mulry says her leadership role brings satisfaction every day. “I love serving people and helping develop my teams to better support everyone at SMU,” she says. “I am a total geek about processes. I love diving in and revamping processes to make them better – better for the customers and more efficient for my teams. I love that the work I do, although behind the scenes, has a direct, positive impact on student learning and the overall college experience. I love being challenged and technology never fails to deliver another challenge!”

As for the future, Mulry says, “I’m a firm believer in continual improvement. I have a number of goals for the next year targeting the account permissions process, the online help desk portal, proactive classroom support, training, and a few exciting initiatives that I can’t share quite yet! Our commitment to SMU is to continue to develop and enhance the service we provide to campus each and every day.”

Read more SMU staff spotlights