University’s answerman hits 1,000th question mark

Questions are a daily way of life for Tim Marsh. Tucked away in an office a stone’s throw from the president suite and adjacent to the News Bureau, Marsh is Washington State University’s online answerman — at the helm of WSU’s AnswerLine, http://answerline.wsu.edu.

With newspapers, magazines and clippings methodically stacked and filed within arm’s reach, Marsh relies on over 16 years of news and public relations experience in fielding questions.

And, with 18,441 inquisitive students (and parents) and more than 6,500 faculty and staff, the questions roll in on a steady basis. In fact, Answer-Line responded to its 1,000th question in September.

“AnswerLine was created in April 2001 to improve internal communication for faculty, staff and students,” said Barbara Petura, assistant vice president of University Relations. “The high volume of questions submitted demonstrates that there was a need for this type of service. We want to assist people with their individual questions so they can understand the university’s goals and policies, do their work effectively and find the WSU services that will meet their needs.”

Although questions are limited to issues relating to WSU, the variety of topics is overwhelming, including meal ticket use, graduation requirements, class schedules, tickets for athletic and cultural events, air conditioning policies, tree trimming, legislative issues, etc.

“It’s interesting to see what people ask,” he said, “plus I enjoy finding the answers, knowing that I am helping people.”

AnswerLine, however, is only a fraction of the job for Marsh. As assistant director of University Events, he also:

• handles the marketing, advertising and press releases for all major university events.

• coordinates and edits the university’s portion of the “Pullman Community Update.”

• oversees the WSU’s Web Calendar of Events.

• helps coordinate the WSU Speakers Bureau.

• works closely with the City of Pullman, the Chamber of Commerce, and other area organizations on jointly sponsored events.

As a result, he, like few others, knows the intricacies of the WSU system — the right place to look and the best person to ask.

To make best use of everyone’s time, University Relations has created an archive of frequent and previously asked questions (FAQs) that can be accessed easily via a keyword search system. As a result, Marsh encourages people to search the archives before firing off a question. Answers to previous, related questions, he said, can often give you more information than you need or were planning to request.

“AnswerLine has proven especially valuable during periods such as the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America, legislative sessions and budgeting efforts,” Marsh said. “It also has provided important facts and information addressing rumors. But, day in and day out, the most valuable service I see is responding to general questions. When people need an answer, Answer-Line is there to help.”

Marsh says he currently receives about four questions a week. Sample questions include:

• Can I use my scholarship/financial aid money to help pay for my cost of renting a university apartment?

• I need to change my address. What’s the procedure?

• My daughter has an outstanding bill for her senior year which we have been unable to pay due to financial difficulties. We would like to make arrangements to pay the balance. Could you please help us?

“AnswerLine reflects the WSU’s commitment to be a caring, personalized university,” Marsh said. “It provides a helpful service to people, whether they use it as an initial source of information or are turning to it because they have exhausted other methods of finding that information.”

So, next time you have a question regarding the university and can’t seem to find the answer, send it to AnswerLine, and see how it works.

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