As students pour into the less than 200 square foot mailroom eager to pick up their packages, they all but pile up on top of each other mimicking the box-like formation under them.
“It’s like Christmas morning except I don’t get to open any of the presents!” says Jim Markle, Director of the Mailroom. He watches a student pick up a box and shake it, and shouts “No! That’s my job!”
Jim Markle is known by the students as the mailroom guy. But what they don’t know is that Markle also has a career as an environmental photographer, he’s spent time as a college instructor, he’s worked as a House Coordinator for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare festival in the summer and he’s an avid outdoorsman. Since he started working at Sierra Nevada College last winter, he’s posed several solutions to make the mailroom services more efficient.
“I’ve always been service oriented. Maybe it goes back to when I was a college professor. My goal was to help students get through their program and make the best of what they had. It’s a teacher mentality sort of thing, to provide a service that somebody can benefit from. I don’t make a killing doing this, but my wife is here!” Markle said.
Born and raised in West Virginia in the Northern tip of the Shenandoah Valley, Markle received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. Right out of school he spent several years in the military before enrolling at Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois. There he received his Master of Arts in Communication, majoring in journalism.
“I realized that to make it as a designer, it was important to learn how to write for clients, using that knowledge to leverage the design aspect,” Markle explains
He worked for six years as an advertising manager in publishing as well as teaching courses in advertising and graphic design at College of DuPage outside Chicago. That’s when he decided to start his own advertising design business.
Markle and his wife, Betts, moved to Incline Village in 2007 when she became the Library Director at SNC. For a couple of years he taught at Lake Tahoe Community College located in South Lake Tahoe, California. Not completely enthralled, Jim immediately began working as a volunteer with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) where he also worked as a photographer and script writer on the award winning 3D presentation “Lake Tahoe in Depth.” In addition, he also produced a time-lapse video documenting a wetland restoration near Tahoe City, California. He’s been working with TERC for the past seven years, as well as volunteering for organizations such as Project Mana, and The Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
For 22 years, Illinois was home for Markle and his family. With new job offers in Atlanta, the couple moved south and Jim began teaching at Bauder College as a graphic design instructor. He taught classes in advertising, art history, computer graphics, and photography. As a photographer, he also worked on assignments for Conde Nast Publications covering events in and around Atlanta.
It wasn’t until just last year that Markle began working for Sodexo at Sierra Nevada College.
“The reason I ended up in the mailroom…the person working here needed help. I agreed to work ten hours a week, which has since turned into about 30 hours a week. So you could say I stumbled into it,“ Markle said.
Brian Schultes, director of facilities for Sodexo, explains that “The mailroom volume is increasing, so we’re running on a six day operation and going to the post office on Saturdays now…Thanks to Jim, he has really systematized how packages are received, processed, and distributed, and that makes the world of difference. It’s not an easy job, but he does a great job managing to keep students faculty and staff happy..Sometimes he’ll send me an email saying, ‘mailroom disaster!’ And I will come down and help him sort on the busy days and do pickups, because he’s just got so much to do.”
Markle began doing research in the fall term of this year by contacting a handful of small colleges to see how they ran their mailing operations. From there, he drafted some policies and procedures that have not yet been accepted, but are in the works for future changes.
“Now that we are a bookstore and everyone has discovered online shopping, we have four times the mail we had prior to the 2014 fall semester. I get the frustration that comes from the students because there is a limit to the hours of operation. I am here from 9a.m.-3p.m., but I’m also not here since there is more to this job than sitting in the mailroom. Most people are appreciative, and some people, I understand, are frustrated but I’m only one person,” Markle said.
Markle laid out several possible solutions. First, is the option to lease mailboxes that include bins for larger packages. They could be installed in the hallway for students to access with a punch code at any time the building is open.
Second, is a postage machine. This could be a station for stamps, weighing items, packaging items, etc. This would speed up the transactions and the packaging process with charges made to a credit card.
Third, is creating more space. The ideal would be to claim Room 216 next door, which was the original plan. The single set of double doors would be far more convenient for shipping and receiving, and far less disruptive for classes.
Fourth, utilizing students for work-study jobs. Markle has had numerous students ask to work in the mailroom, but he and Brian can’t say yes until the college supports the idea. Utilizing student help to service a new “mailroom window” would be helpful in preventing people from taking packages that do not belong to them.
“I know for a fact that students come in here when its crazy busy and grab stuff to take out, probably for a roommate, but I’ve also had students come to me looking for packages they never received,“ Markle said.
Last but not least, the software. Endorsed by the post office, it’s embarrassingly cheap, being only $99 dollars per month to serve a campus of up to 1,000 students. With a purchase of a $35 dollar scanner, boxes come in, they are scanned by barcode, and the student would automatically be notified by email.
Lizzie Thibodeau, Director of Student Affairs and Housing, explains that, “We get mail here from students that have been gone for ten years. We have to come up with a better solution. A lot of past students haven’t taken care of their accounts, so we get a lot of mail that is return to sender, and sorting through that is difficult.”
There are ways to improve this system. The question is then when will the school, contracted under Sodexo, be willing to implement these new actions?
“I think the first thing that I’m looking at is making the mailroom manager a full time position, and the second thing I’m looking to do is to bring in student help for at least 10 hours a week. I think those two things in and of themselves will give Jim some breathing room,“ Schultes said.
Markle feels that it won’t be until the new budget year until anything is changed, but that he will have his proposal ready. Until then, Jim Markle, you’ve got mail!
JIM MARKLE, an avid photographer, has occupied a vast number of different jobs at and around the
college since moving to Incline Village in 2007.