May 14, 2021

photo of renee babcock in mcknight student center
Renee Babcock, Academic Advising Coordinator (Photo credit Holly Bhasin)

Renee Babcock, the academic advising coordinator for aerospace and computational undergraduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM), is one of only thirty staff members at The University of Texas at Austin selected to receive a 2021 President’s Outstanding Staff Award. The Outstanding Staff Awards Program recognizes non-teaching UT Austin employees who have made outstanding contributions to the continuing success of the university. Recipients receive certificates and an honorarium of $1,500.

Babcock has a long history with UT Austin. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Miami and her Ph.D. in Musicology from UT Austin where she wrote her dissertation on German opera in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. During her time as a graduate student at UT, Babcock started working in the Registrar’s Office on the original degree audit development team. She also spent some time working in the College of Fine Arts Dean’s Office.

Once Babcock received her Ph.D., she accepted a full-time job in the Registrar’s Office before taking her first advising position in the UT Department of Psychology. After three years there, she took a short break from UT and then returned a year later in an advising role in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering where she worked for seven years before joining the Office of Graduate Studies. Babcock says she’s thrilled to be back working with undergraduate students in the ASE/EM department.

Tell us about your main responsibilities as the ASE/COE Academic Advising Coordinator.

I wear many hats in this job. Of course, a primary responsibility is to provide quality advising to our students, helping them with decisions that impact their academic completion. I also manage our student services team, including our senior academic advisor and graduate coordinator. But in addition, I have a number of administrative responsibilities, including course scheduling for the department, enrollment management, new student orientation advising and new student recruiting. I also participate in outreach events including prospective student visits and nominate continuing students for scholarships. I collaborate with our faculty and other colleagues across the Cockrell School as well.

What do you find most rewarding about working with our students?

When I was a little girl, like many kids in the late 60s, I wanted to be an astronaut. But was told I couldn’t, because I was a girl. So, there’s a part of me that loves working with some future rocket scientists. But I know the students in our department are so much more than that! I’ve learned a lot, especially this semester, about the work our students are doing in the student organizations and I’m so impressed by their technical skills and their confidence. These students are going to be making such an important impact in the world, no matter what field they go into upon graduation, and I am honored to be a small part of their educational experience.  Who wouldn’t love working with such bright, talented, creative students? I feel like I’m in my dream job.

How did you feel when you learned that you were selected for this award?

I was really surprised – I mean, what an honor! And what a great way to start the day. Better than coffee! I honestly never expected I’d be selected for this award because I know how competitive it is. The university has a tremendous wealth of talent on the staff. And this past year, so many colleagues across campus have supported me. I couldn’t have done my job the past 15 months without the help and support I’ve received from the staff and faculty here in the department, from ESS, and from advising colleagues across campus. I am grateful to everyone who helped me succeed and helped me be a better advisor. It’s been a challenging year, and to be acknowledged for my part in our collective success is an immense feeling.

You began your new position with us shortly before the global pandemic hit. How has this affected the way you’ve been working over the past year?  

I was just getting into a groove when the rug was pulled out from under us and we started to work from home. It was rough learning a new job while also learning how to work from home and being short-staffed for part of the year. I’ve had to learn how to maintain my boundaries between work and personal life, since they are in the same space. In the past, it would be so easy to just pick up the phone and call someone on campus, or stop by their office for help, or for students to pop in for a quick question. We don’t have the luxury of that spontaneity now, and we have to be more deliberate in how we communicate, especially since the communication needs have been so great. My email got out of control for a while, but I work hard to keep my inbox as close to zero as I can. It was a challenge working with Zoom at first, but I’ve also found in some ways it fosters good communication with the students, I’m able to share information with students easier, and I hope to continue incorporating Zoom into the advising experience moving forward as we return to campus in the fall.

What has helped you stay positive during the pandemic?

Absolutely it’s been Dorian and Marigold, my two cats. They join me on a lot of Zoom calls and often hang out during the day in my home office. And the feedback I’ve gotten from students about the difference I’ve made to them – advisors love hearing that! Having Holly as part of the undergraduate advising team now too – I’m so happy she’s joined us! Also, I make a point to get out of my house daily if I can, to go workout, to walk, or swim.  I also bought a recliner for my home office that allows me to relax periodically during the day. Also, now that I and many of my friends have received the COVID vaccine, being able to see friends again has been great.

photo of a cat on office deskDorian Babcock offers help and support to Renee while working remotely.

What are you looking forward to most when we return to campus?

While there are some distinct advantages to working from home, I miss the energy the students bring to campus. One of the things I enjoyed before the pandemic was leaving my office at the end of the day and seeing so many students using the McKnight Student Center, collaborating, learning and having fun working. I really hope they are soon able to use that space as it was intended.

What kinds of activities do you enjoy outside of work?

I read a lot. I also love football, exploring Austin’s brewpubs with friends and watching movies with friends. And I’m obsessed with Nordic noir crime drama.