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Marlene Celi and Isabel Jimenez: Where the Application Process Begins
In an average year, the Enrollment Management Processing office receives about 37,000 undergraduate applications. Graduate applications number around 13,000-15,000. Over a million supporting documents must be processed as well. Each application needs to be assembled and sent to the offices and graduate departments making the admissions decision. After the decision is made, applicants must be notified.
For people outside of the Enrollment Management Processing office, the volume sounds overwhelming. But for Director of Undergraduate Enrollment Processing Marlene Celi and Director of Graduate Enrollment Processing Isabel Jimenez, this has been their annual workload for over a decade.
They are passionate about their work, in part because they feel empowered by working with Ryan Williams, vice president of enrollment services.
They both say Williams is a leader who motivates the entire Enrollment Management Processing office to exceed expectations and enables the staff to find innovative ways to make Syracuse University successful.
In turn, Williams attributes the success of Enrollment Management Processing to the leadership of Celi and Jimenez. “They are constantly thinking about, and looking for ways to improve and streamline, the process,” he says.
Williams explains the entire staff—much like other essential functions of the University—work evenings, weekends and holidays to ensure accuracy and timeliness.
Celi and Jimenez credit the tireless efforts of their colleagues. “We think building a strong relationship with our staff, building trust and making them feel important and valued is key,” says Jimenez. “We understand strong leadership is important, but we are only successful due to the hard work and dedication of the entire team.”
Jimenez and Celi have a close working relationship. Though Celi focuses on undergraduates and Jimenez’s priority is the graduate side, they work together.
Originally from the Syracuse area, Celi started in Enrollment Services 13 years ago as a temp. She previously worked at a law firm concentrated on residential real estate.
“Everything I’ve learned here, I’ve learned from being in the trenches,” Celi says. “Isabel and I laugh all the time, because when you’re not from the academia world, matriculation meant nothing to us.”
Jimenez’s path to Syracuse University is similar to Celi’s. “I actually started as a temp,” Jimenez says. “I think I was the 48th temp hired that year.”
Jimenez also grew up in the Syracuse area. Before being hired by Syracuse University, she worked as a manager of a children’s clothing store at a local mall.
“When I got hired here, it was actually a much easier transition for me because I am used to fast pace, high volume, multitasking, deadlines—in a short period of time,” Jimenez explains.
When Celi and Jimenez were hired as temps, the intake process for documents was much different. Back then, their office would be inundated with mail the first week after winter break. During their peak weeks in the academic year, they would receive more than a hundred bins of mail.
“They’re sending us applications, recommendations, transcripts, counselor evaluations, writing samples, test scores, personal statements, résumés,” says Jimenez. “These applications would arrive in batches of 600 pages. And only one person at a time could process the batches.”
“Isabel noticed that on the corner of each document were self-identifying codes,” explains Celi, who says she loves working with Jimenez because Jimenez doesn’t stop investigating something until she either understands it or gets the answers that she’s looking for. “That’s her personality,” Celi says.
“It’s a sickness,” Jimenez quips.
Jimenez’s questioning led to the discovery that the codes on the documents could be used to automate the processing of the documents. Up to then, a task such as documenting grade point averages would require combing through transcripts and entering the information manually for every application. After collaborating with developers, this process became automated.
By automating several data entry processes, the Enrollment Management Processing office reduced the temporary employee operating budget by 80 percent over the last decade. Rather than receiving over a hundred bins of mail the first week back from break, the office now receives a tenth of that.
“Their years of experience are incredibly valuable,” Williams says, adding that Celi and Jimenez understand the decision-making process and have modified it to be more efficient. “Given their time here at SU and in particular in enrollment processing, they have tremendous insight.”
“They far exceed expectations,” says Steven O’Keefe, recently retired assistant dean of undergraduate admissions, speaking of Celi and Jimenez. “This is the result of their years of experience in undergraduate and graduate processing. They anticipate issues that may arise and are able to offset potential problems.”
The entire University has benefited from Celi and Jimenez’s improvements, because the entire University depends on them.
“They have worked tirelessly to improve the process for both the students and the end-users,” says Williams. “They make it possible for timely and accurate decision making.”
“If we don’t bring in the applications and get them processed and get them complete, there is no review. There is no admit. There is no class coming in. It starts here,” says Celi. “And so we talk about our department, what we do in these little four walls, is ground zero for Syracuse University.”
“I call it the nucleus,” says Jimenez.