Annepha Hurlock, Master of the Unexpected

Annepha Hurlock, Rice University Computer Science Department Coordinator.

Annepha Hurlock-Blake, Department Coordinator for Computer Science, has spent her career supporting students and faculty in higher education.

“I like to keep busy,” she said. “The day goes by faster, and I prefer to be working on a variety of projects.”

She also doesn’t mind being interrupted. “I like the surprise each day holds, and not knowing who will walk in the door with a problem for me to solve or a project for me to work on.”

Her role as the first line of contact for the department means she wears a wide variety of hats. She is responsible for maintenance and running reports on two of the most critical pieces of office equipment are the color and black and white copier/printers in the CS mailroom.

The combination of rapidly increasing undergraduate, graduate, and professional masters programs and the popularity of the introductory COMP courses results in faculty members print or copy thousands of pages for exams and assignments.

“Each month, I use a web application to pull reports to assist Lena [Sifuentes] to use in her ongoing review of our department expenses,” said Hurlock-Black. “In addition to keeping a log of paper and coffee, I also keep track of our office supplies.

Annepha Hurlock-Blake, department coordinator.“People frequently come in to get more pens, staples, notebooks etc. There is also a constant flow around the projectors. People are checking them out daily for TA meetings, presentations and practicing for their thesis defenses.”

The busiest time of the year for Hurlock-Black is faculty recruiting season, lasting from February to April. “For every candidate we bring to Rice, I reach out to them, make all their travel arrangements –airline, hotel, local transportation. I work with the faculty host to organize the candidates’. Once their itineraries are set, I make multiple restaurant reservations for the committee and candidates.”

Hurlock-Blake handles similar logistics for other guest speakers. She said in addition to colloquium speakers, faculty member often bring in special interest speakers from peer universities.

“I work with the faculty member who is hosting the speakers, then reach out personally to our guests to arrange their travel and hotel. With guest speakers, I don’t usually need to organize an itinerary, the hosting faculty member will usually take care of it.”

Of course, each of the faculty candidates or guest speakers need designated spaces in Duncan Hall for their presentations and receptions, and Hurlock-Blake’s fingers practically dance through the university’s room reservation system.

Room reservations often mean Hurlock-Blake will need to order food and she has standing orders with several caterers.

“There are weekly meetings like COMP 600, where we need a certain number of pizzas every Monday at lunch,” she said. “It is a graduate-level, presentation-based course that meets throughout the semester.

“Actually, I order pizza almost every day; there are TA meetings daily as well as other group meetings. The faculty members in charge of the meetings just tell me where they meet, what time and how many people are involved, and I take care of it every week for the semester. I have a standing order for those events.”

And it’s no surprise that she’s already reserved their rooms. “Sometimes, there is a conflict,” she said. “Either they will find another time to meet, or they will just ask me to find a different space for them to work at a particular time each week.”

Hurlock-Blake also sets up room reservations and orders food for faculty meetings led by department chair Luay Nakhleh.

“Last semester, Mack [Joyner] began a series of monthly lunches with MCS alumni speakers for the students in our professional master’s program. He gave me a lot of freedom to choose menus on my own. And When the CS GSA has an event, I work closely with their officers.”

She exercises discretion in ordering food, ensuring dietary needs are met for both faculty and student participants in the various meetings and said she has come to rely on Corporate Catering to ensure appropriate options are available.

“They work with different restaurant partners, so if I say we want Italian or Thai, they will give me three options for that theme. I review the three menus and make my selection. Then Corporate Catering does the rest. They pick up and deliver to Rice and manage all the little details.

“This is a good solution for me because I may not know all the restaurants or what’s trending. If someone says they want Thai food, I don’t have to worry about which restaurants are getting good reviews or have changed their chefs. I just give Corporate Catering my theme and budget and they take it from there. It takes away a lot of the stress.”

Hurlock-Blake actually performs well under stress, particularly when it comes to interruptions. “All my jobs have been in a university, either in Houston or in Boston, public and private. Except for the years I spent as the administrative assistant to the chair, my desk has always been right in the middle of the department, with traffic flowing all around me.”

She said she learned to master the unexpected in her previous roles at Suffolk University, Simmons College, the University of Houston, and Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

“I don’t mind at all not knowing what my day is going to hold. I have people in and out of the office constantly – students may walk in and say, ‘hey, we’re having a meeting at noon, is there a room available?’ If it is urgent, I’ll stop what I’m working on and help them if not I’ll get back to them via email.”

She said the constant hum of requests gives her a chance to play detective. “People bring me problems and I solve them. Constant interruptions? Bring them on. I have children and have learned to multi-task really well. My door is always open. If I don’t have the answer, I’m sure I know someone who does.”