In the summer of 1976, Gerald Ford was president, Apple Computer Company was just getting started, a gallon of gas cost 59 cents, and Susan Imes Yell was a rising senior at Fayetteville High School. She was also a new part time staff member at the School of Law’s Admissions Office. She worked half a day and, in the fall, went to school half a day.
Little did Yell know that this part time job would lead to a 40-year journey at the University of Arkansas. She worked for the School of Law for five years, then joined the Department of Economics and the International Business Studies program, eventually becoming the administrative support supervisor for the economics department at the College of Business Administration, as it was known at the time.
From 1976 to 2016, Yell has seen many changes at the university, especially with technology and its influence on student engagement.
“Probably the biggest change was the introduction of computers. Our department had the first one in the college,” said Yell. “It required the use of floppy disks. The program was on one disk, spell check was on another disk, etc. That first computer was stolen, along with the printer and everything that went with it, when several people propped doors open from the second floor and went through the ceiling tiles into the main office. It took a while to get a replacement, since it was not covered by insurance. And, no one ever said you need to back up your work. Everything was lost and to my knowledge, the culprits were never apprehended.”
“Always do the right thing, no matter what. And, if you see an injustice, do something about it.”
Per Yell, technology has also changed the way staff members interact with students. With more centralized registration and other electronic processes, students spend less time engaging staff and faculty.
“When I first started, we would sit in the halls and hand out printed cards for registration. When you ran out of cards, the class was full. The students would then take their packets to the Union, to stand in a huge, long line to register,” said Yell. “Later, the U of A used the Hog Call system and students would register on the phone. We had to process overrides using this system. It would literally take weeks. We were very busy with students then. Now, with centralized advising and everything online, we don’t have much student interaction, except with our graduate students.”
Yet Yell does interact with students as evidenced by the hundreds of post cards adorning her office walls. Each day she works surrounded by post cards sent to her from around the world from students and faculty who have studied and/or traveled abroad. She has collected them since the ’80s.
She values the economics faculty and is impressed with their research and how much they care about their students. While she thinks they are one of the best things about the college, she has learned to say no when it comes to dissertations.
“Right after I first started working in business administration, one of my new faculty asked me to type his dissertation. Now, if you have ever seen an economics dissertation, you might know that it is FULL of equations. He showed me the first chapter, which was mostly text, so I agreed to type it for him,” said Yell. “Over the duration of my first pregnancy, I worked on it using a manual typewriter. It required using three different elements. So, when you would type text that took one element, an equation, one or two other elements. Every time there were any changes from his advisor, the entire chapter would have to be retyped, since there were strict rules about margins, etc. We joked whether I would finish the dissertation first, or would have my daughter first. I don’t even remember who ‘won.’ I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t very funny then!”
“I also cherish my WOW friends…a group of ladies…Women of Walton…with whom I have remained friends for years and years…and we still have lunch at least once a week.”
While the faculty and students are one of the best things about work, Yell has experienced significant obstacles as well.
“My biggest challenge occurred when my department chair suffered a catastrophic accident,” said Yell. “It completely changed the face of the department and my position. For a short time, I was in charge of the department. It was a very difficult time.”
Throughout the years, Yell has served on numerous committees for the college and has raised funds for local nonprofits. She is the departmental representative for United Way and has helped raise money for the American Diabetes Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, University of Arkansas Staff Senate Scholarship fund, Northwest Arkansas Food Bank and Full Circle Campus Food Pantry among others. She was a member of the Walton College team on the Habitat for Humanity the House That Jane Built project.
Yell has represented Walton College at the university level as a staff senator, staff senate secretary, staff senate scholarship committee, by-laws committee, elections committee, internal affairs committee, Employee of the Year for the university and Employee of the Quarter for Walton College.
Yell was nominated for the Arkansas State Employees Association Outstanding State Employee Award in 2005 and 2010 and was chosen as a finalist in 2010. In 2006, the Department of Economics faculty established the Susan Imes Yell Staff Senate Scholarship in her honor. This scholarship was created to help promote and encourage staff development through higher education.
After 40 years of service, Yell retired from her job in December 2016. She is married to Garlen and has two daughters, Erin, who teaches French at Springdale High School, and Sara, who is the manager of special programs in the Walton College Career Center. In retirement, she plans to spend more time with her family and her young grandchildren, Nora and Silas.