Most of the students who come to see Claire Stager, student services officer in the Computer Science Department, begin their visit with the same nine-word statement: "I just need to ask you a quick question."
Rarely, Stager allows, are the questions quick, and often the answers aren't easy. But being able to help students unravel problems of all sizes is a big part of what Stager, who was awarded a 2003 Amy Blue Award, finds satisfying about her work. "My job is really about problem solving," she said.
As the files stacked on her desk and conference table attest, Stager's office sees a steady stream of student traffic. She is the primary administrative contact for 400 undergraduates and 300 master's students, who rely on her for information about everything from meeting departmental requirements for graduation to interpretations of university policy to help in navigating difficult personal situations. "The students get themselves into messes sometimes," Stager said. "It's useful for them to have an advocate, someone who understands how the university works."
Stager, who was born at Stanford Hospital and grew up in Palo Alto, earned a bachelor's degree in history with a minor in classics from the University of California-Santa Cruz. After graduation, not knowing exactly what she wanted except that it wasn't writing, teaching or law school, she began to work a temporary part-time job in the Music Library.
Stager's talent for organization earned her promotions to circulation manager in Green Library, but after six years of working in libraries, she was ready for a change. In 1986, she began working in student services for the then brand-new undergraduate program in the Computer Science Department. The undergraduate program, now one of the university's largest, was administered by a four-person staff housed at Tresidder Union.
Stager's role in the department has changed dramatically over the years as both the program and her responsibilities have grown. In addition to working with students, Stager, with staff to assist her, oversees program instructor assignments, schedules 55 to 60 courses each quarter, manages the teaching assistant program and organizes events including the department's diploma awards ceremony.
Stager's good judgment and her ability to take responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the educational program for the department allowed Professor Eric Roberts the freedom to concentrate on teaching and curriculum development, the former associate chair of the department wrote in an e-mail. (Roberts is on sabbatical.) "I have never met an employee who is as thorough, as conscientious, as productive or as effective as Claire," he wrote.
Stager was the first staff member to be presented a departmental distinguished service award when the annual award was inaugurated in 1995, and she was presented the award again in 1999.
It's not just students who come to Stager for advice, said Peche Turner, the department's administrative services manager. "She's someone I go to when I want a sounding board and I want to bounce ideas off someone. I value her judgment."
Proof that the wisdom of relying on Stager's judgment has become part of the department canon can be found on a framed list called "Becoming Chairman of CS: A 12-Step Program," that sits on Chairman Hector Garcia-Molina's desk. Step 8 is "Approve of all Claire Stager's suggestions."
Stanford Report, May 14, 2003