By Susan White
It was, perhaps, by chance that Beth Sauer joined the staff at UNC’s School of Social Work. The year was 1986, and at the time, she was fairly content with her job as secretary for a heating and air conditioning company in Durham. But her employer was struggling financially, so a colleague suggested that she apply at UNC.
Sauer tested and interviewed well for a position, and her name was placed among a host of others within a secretarial pool. She had been warned that it might take weeks to hear back from any departments interested in hiring her. But the day after her University interview, the School of Social Work called and offered her a job. Twenty-five years later, Sauer, now School registrar, is still serving students, faculty and staff the only way colleagues say she knows how: with a genuine smile and a touch of kindness.
“She’s caring and thoughtful … and is always willing to lend a helping hand,” said Sharon Holmes Thomas, the School’s director of recruitment, admissions and financial aid. “She treats everyone in the School of Social Work like family.”
Her team spirit and ability to successfully accomplish most any task handed to her are the main reasons Sauer has worked with so many different members of the School over the course of her career. Originally hired as a secretary, she spent the first few years as an assistant to nearly a dozen faculty members, often typing papers and articles, developing charts or transcribing research interviews.
In the early 1990s, she took over as School registrar, a position with more responsibility but a role she relished from the start. “I just love working with the students and getting to know them,” Sauer said.
More than likely, she has encountered nearly every graduate who has passed through the School’s doors over the past two and half decades. After all, as registrar, Sauer helps students register for classes, oversees their plans of study, manages their academic files, including grades, and ensures they apply for graduation when the time is near.
“Beth plays a critically important role in our Office of Student Affairs,” said School Dean Jack M. Richman. “She seamlessly manages so much, including a myriad of student needs and concerns.”
As a student, Metta Prieto, MSW ’09, knew that Sauer could help ease her worries whenever she felt a bit overwhelmed.
“…The logistics of putting together all of the pieces of my graduate education sometimes made me feel like I had to be forgetting some deadline,” said Prieto, who now works as a special assistant to Holmes Thomas. “I always knew I could go to Beth for completely kind and non-judgmental help when I needed confirmation that I was on the right track. She is a perfect example of the kind of support every graduate student wishes they had through school.”
Offering a strong shoulder to lean on or just a piece of candy from the seemingly endless supply she keeps stashed in her office is simply part of the job, Sauer said. “Students often come in and say, ‘Wow, you’re so nice.’ Well, if I wasn’t nice, I might not have a job, so why not be nice? I’m here to help you. I really try to go the extra mile to keep students happy.”
Boy has she. Graduating students have selected Sauer as the recipient of the “Most Supportive Staff Award” at least a half dozen times during her tenure. “The first time I ever got a staff appreciation award…,” Sauer said, pausing as her eyes welled with tears. “That meant a lot.”
Sauer spends an equal amount of time contributing to the School of Social Work community as a whole, said Sarah Naylor, the School’s assistant dean for student affairs. Among her activities, Sauer serves as the building leader for the State Employees Combined Campaign, which raises money annually for local, state, national and international charitable organizations.
“When there are big events at the School, you can almost guarantee that she will have a hand in their preparation and ultimate success,” Naylor said. “Beth makes the School a better place, and we are incredibly thankful to have her here.”
After 25 years, there is very little that Sauer doesn’t know about the School or the University, which staff and faculty are often reminded of when they need an answer to a pressing problem. “Beth is the go-to person for me when I have questions about almost anything,” said Joelle Powers, the School’s associate dean for academic affairs. “I think we would be lost without her!”
Sauer feels the same way about her colleagues, many of whom have helped strengthen her over the years, especially following the deaths of her father and sister. And though retirement is certainly within her sights, she has no plans of leaving just yet. She’s still having too much fun.
“I just love my job, and I love the people,” Sauer said.