New parking director talks transition, challengesEffective April 1, Melissa Harden took over as interim Director of Parking and
Transportation from Sam Veraldi, who assumed the position of visiting associate professor in the Markets and Managements Studies program. But the change made a small staff even smaller—with Harden still fulfilling the duties of her former position as Assistant Director for Strategies and multiple assistant director positions vacant, she said the staff has pitched in to overcome the staff shortage. The Chronicle's Hailey Cunningham spoke with Harden about the transition.
The Chronicle: Can you describe your role prior to becoming the interim director?
Melissa Harden: I was the Assistant Director for Strategies for the parking section. I oversaw our two major projects—restoration of Parking Garage II [off of Erwin Road] and improving the parking access revenue control system, which is replacing all of the gates and the parking systems. So my plate was pretty full even before all of this change.
TC: Do you know what the status of your position as interim director is?
MH: They’re doing a national search for a permanent solution. [I’ll be in the position] as long as it takes to find a viable candidate. [Vice President for Administration] Mr. [Kyle] Cavanaugh told me to plan on between six and nine months.
TC: What do you hope to do in your time as director?
MH: One of the things that we are focusing on now is just making some very noticeable changes and improvements throughout campus. For instance, last Saturday [April 12], we renovated the [Graduate Center] lot, which is on Trent Drive. It had some potholes, some crumbling areas and just problematic areas, which had needed to be addressed for years. Since, we have already received some very positive feedback from people who park in that lot and who had complained about the condition of the lot for years. Also the bus stops... have tape and flyers that have been up the last five years, so we’re going to come in this summer and get all of that gunk and goo off of those—just more noticeable beautification projects and things that that will make the user experience more positive. As well as moving these projects along and getting as much work as we can accomplish done this summer, while the students are away, we’re moving full speed ahead.
TC: What are your biggest challenges in coming to the job?
MH: Just doing the work of two positions. We don’t have a lot of fluff as far as our staffing goes. We’re a lean department as it is, and we’ve got some vacant positions. Before the change was made, I was very busy, as we all are—it’s just a matter of being able to juggle all of the different priorities and making sure that we don’t have any absences of service and that we’re not overworking the people that we have here, not piling their plates too high, so that we don’t drop anything. We want to ensure that we keep moving forward, without any missteps, and that there are no lapses in customer service.
TC: Do you have help covering the dual positions from within the department ?
MH: We have a couple assistant director positions which are vacant. I think that the thought process from senior leadership is, ‘Let’s get the permanent solution here and let them hire for the vacant positions.’ I think that’s a logical thing to do. Sure, that just seems to make it harder for you and the staff, yeah... But I think one of the things to remember is that the people that are here have really pitched in and are willing. They have been very gracious in adding more to their plates and handling more tasks so that we don’t miss a beat. They have really pulled together and have been very supportive.
TC: What do you want readers to know about the Parking and Transportation Department in the next six to nine months?
MH: Our real focus is on improving customer service and customer experience and just making parking an afterthought, something that is easy for the parker and nothing that they really have to plan out. We want to make sure that we are communicating our services and delivering those services in a way is user-friendly and helpful. Nobody comes to Duke to park their car—they’re coming because they have doctor’s appointments or they’re going to class or to work. We want to make the whole parking and transit experience something that happens and flows, so they don’t really have to think about it and it’s not a hassle for them.