July

For UMMC’s former registrar Barbara Westerfield, left, and current registrar Emily Cole, it seems there’s no end to the diplomas being readied for handout during Commencement season at UMMC – and that’s a good thing!
For UMMC’s former registrar Barbara Westerfield, left, and current registrar Emily Cole, it seems there’s no end to the diplomas being readied for handout during Commencement season at UMMC – and that’s a good thing!
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Registrar redux: Westerfield reminiscently passes gavel

Published on Monday, July 8, 2019

By: Bruce Coleman, bcoleman@umc.edu

Barbara Westerfield can still hear the clacking sound of typewriters as she and her colleagues recorded final grades back in the pre-computer-transcript days of the Student Records and Registrar’s Office at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

She can recall traipsing over to the Z Building to recover transcripts when the Division of Information Systems began storing them, and she can distinctly remember poring over the records of every single graduate by hand – tens of thousands, all told – during the final push toward UMMC’s Commencement each year.

She can recall lining up graduates outside the City Auditorium on sweltering Sunday afternoons – or trying to keep them corralled underneath a portico outside the auditorium when the weather was less than pleasant – before Commencement was ultimately moved to the Mississippi Coliseum on the Friday before Memorial Day.

She remembers it all fondly – and not so fondly, too – as she surveys her decision to retire, effective last March after 31 years at the Medical Center. But what stands out above all else in her memory – what she considers to have been the best part of her career at UMMC – are the people she encountered along the way.

“I always loved what I did. It sort of gets in your blood,” said Westerfield, the third registrar in UMMC’s 64-year history. “I always saw our office as the face of the institution for the applicants. We are here to help students reach their goals. You work with the students to help get them admitted, then we help them when they need a transcript, then they graduate. But it doesn’t end there.

“As health care professionals, whenever they move to another state or enter postgraduate training, as so often happens, it’s this office that is contacted to verify their status. We have a continuous working relationship with the students, residents and fellows. It never ends, and you remember so many of them – doctors, physical therapists, lab workers, nurses, dentists – you know them all.”

Barbara Westerfield, left, wasn't worried at all about handing the registrar reins to Emily Cole.
Barbara Westerfield, left, wasn't worried at all about handing the registrar reins to Emily Cole.

Westerfield’s knowledge of the registrar’s duties was what initially got her foot in the door at UMMC. Following her graduation from Belhaven College, she worked in the Registrar’s Office there for two and a half years. After a short stint as a “stay-at-home mom” with her first son, she decided to return to work and dropped by the Medical Center to fill out an application. When then-registrar Dr. Billy Bishop was informed an experienced candidate was in the Human Resources office, he requested an immediate interview.

Before she left campus that day, Westerfield had been offered a new job.

A few years later, after having gone back to Belhaven as registrar, Westerfield made a decision that would have a profound impact on her family: She returned to the Medical Center, this time as an assistant to Dr. Ben Johnson, a longtime UMMC faculty member and nephrologist.

As fate would have it, one of Westerfield’s sons had been battling a kidney disorder for some time, and she and her husband had “taken him everywhere” to seek treatment. When Johnson discovered the boy’s condition, he asked Westerfield why she hadn’t consulted him sooner.

“I told him, ‘You work with adult patients. I didn’t think you saw children,’” Westerfield said. “He told me, ‘You bring him to see me tomorrow.’

“Dr. Johnson was his doctor until he was 18 and retired, and the entire time he was his doctor – and afterwards – his condition was able to be kept under control.”

Six months after her return to the Medical Center, Westerfield was hired once again by Bishop, this time as associate registrar. For the next 13 years, she absorbed all she could about UMMC and the registrar’s duties.

“I adored Dr. Bishop,” Westerfield said of her mentor, who died June 21. “I just respected him so. He was a great mentor and a great friend. He taught me so much.”

She vividly remembers the day in 2001 Bishop told her he would retire.

“I felt like a tremendous weight had been transferred to my shoulders,” she said. “I didn’t doubt I could do the job, but I knew it was a lot of responsibility. He had always been there, he was such a source of (Medical Center) history and wisdom – I felt like the floor was being yanked from underneath me.

“But I knew I could do this and I was ready to do this. I felt like I had such a standard to live up to.”

As the Medical Center’s registrar, Westerfield oversaw about 40,000 academic records and the processing of approximately 2,800-3,000 admission applications each academic year. Every semester, she shepherded the progression of about 2,200 students and 650 residents and fellows. And she helped guide the office through several successful accreditation cycles.

Eighteen years after taking the reins from Bishop, she decided to pass the baton.

“Even though I love it, it was time to go,” Westerfield said. “It was really hard. It was your life. You spent more time up here (at UMMC) than you did with your family.”

She said what made her decision to retire much easier was the knowledge she would be leaving her responsibilities in the capable hands of her longtime associate registrar, Emily Cole.

After UMMC's 2019 Commencement, Cole carries multicolored graduation robes away from another successful graduation ceremony at the Mississippi Coliseum.
After UMMC's 2019 Commencement, Cole carries multicolored graduation robes away from another successful graduation ceremony at the Mississippi Coliseum.

Cole had grown up in the figurative shadow of the Medical Center. Her mother, Kathy Peace, served in UMMC’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for 33 years as manager of business operations, while her sister, Tammy Lass, had been a nurse in labor and delivery and radiology. Cole spent many summers volunteering at UMMC and had interned with the institution’s Children’s Miracle Network team when she came on board fulltime in 2003 as a student admissions officer.

“You can talk to someone and know that they’re bright, and Emily certainly was,” Westerfield said. “I knew of her mother who worked here, and I knew she had some idea of what UMMC was about.

”Emily stood out because she was so level-headed. She understood you can’t succeed in this job if you are not detail-oriented. I was impressed with her. She was eager to learn.”

Cole’s affinity for the latest electronic tools, such as the SAP system, helped her carve a niche within the department. Within three years, she had become associate registrar. And she worked closely with Westerfield to master all of the nuances of the office.

“When you work with someone eight hours a day, you come to love that person, just being a part of each other’s lives,” Cole said. “She’s had a profound effect on me personally and professionally.

“She instills that work ethic, that dedication. She encourages everyone to be better. She has set me and this office up for success.”

A good thing, considering Cole transitioned into the associate director of student services and records position just weeks before 2019 Commencement. She said the key to successfully navigating such a large challenge so early in her new leadership role was preparation.

“It feels like Commencement was such a blur,” Cole said. “It was sort of like a wrecking ball: You’re headed towards it and just waiting to see what would happen.

“But Barbara had a process for how everything was to be done, a blueprint to follow. It turned out well. There are always things that pop up out of your control, but by the end, it was fine.”

There was plenty for Cole and her staff to do once the ceremony had concluded, however. She said Commencement deservedly gets the spotlight, which makes it easy to overlook the department’s other major focus of the spring: admissions.

“The day isn’t over for us with Commencement,” Cole said. “We have to shift focus right away. We still have to come back to the office and get ready for Tuesday and the start of the upcoming academic year.”

This year, Cole also is pivoting to another meaningful change within her department. To better reflect its significant role at the Medical Center, the office will be renamed the Office of Enrollment Management on July 1.

Cole takes a moment for a group photo with her staff, front row from left, Brittney Anthony, student admissions officer II; Lauren Nichols, student admissions officer II; Felicity Broderick, student admissions officer II; and Elizabeth Collins, student admissions officer II; and back row from left, Hattie Pinson, student records specialist; Christi Hardy, assistant director of student records; Tressie Nichols, student admissions officer II; Melissa Haydel, senior student records specialist; and Sarah Jefferson, student admissions officer II. 
Cole takes a moment for a group photo with her staff, front row from left, Brittney Anthony, student admissions officer II; Lauren Nichols, student admissions officer II; Felicity Broderick, student admissions officer II; and Elizabeth Collins, student admissions officer II; and back row from left, Hattie Pinson, student records specialist; Christi Hardy, assistant director of student records; Tressie Nichols, student admissions officer II; Melissa Haydel, senior student records specialist; and Sarah Jefferson, student admissions officer II. 

“Our profession is transitioning – everything is ‘Big Data,’” she said. “UMMC is embracing that. All of the schools have different accrediting bodies and different needs. There’s so much diversity.

“Our focus is to utilize strategic enrollment management to support the educational mission so the schools and students can reach their goals. Enrollment Management will allow us to be more precise in our recruitment, retention and graduation efforts.”

She said with so much emphasis being placed on interprofessional education and service learning, a major challenge is including those “nontraditional” credentials on students’ transcripts.

“Co-curricular transcripts can show everything a student was involved in, which can be a greater indicator of a student’s educational experience,” she said. “A co-curricular transcript can be so much broader.

“With the data that we have in this office, we’re standing on a wealth of knowledge. I’d like to see a central repository for all learner data, with the goal of having something that reflects the ‘lifespan’ of all learners, from affiliated students, UMMC students to residents and fellows.

“UMMC plays a significant role in the health of Mississippians, and it would be great if there were an easy way to capture who is really walking our halls, who are our students, residents, fellows and affiliated students.”

She admits it may seem like a daunting task, certainly one that can’t be accomplished overnight, but it’s directly related to what she has learned from Westerfield during the last 16 years.

“The lesson I most learned from Barbara is, not only do we have a job to do, it really matters what we do,” Cole said. “It matters that it’s correct. It matters that it’s done timely. That it’s professional. That someone is depending on it. That details matter.

“We’re the central records and admissions office for six schools. Most of what we do is so someone else can do their job.”

During UMMC’s 2019 Commencement, Cole oversaw the conferring of 852 degrees. She only needs a few thousand more to approach Westerfield’s lifetime total.

“I’m confident that Emily will not do things exactly as I did them – and that’s a good thing,” Westerfield said. “It will be done differently, but I have no doubt it will be done correctly.

“In this office, we’re dealing with people’s lives. I feel like things are in good shape, and I’m not worried about this office at all.”