"People who are doing frontline customer service - you’ve got to have the patience of a saint."

Williams (right) at PennCard Center

Photo by Mark Garvin


Manager of Campus Card Services

Length of service:
2 years

Other stuff:
Hiked the Inca Trail in Peru; has a cat named the Sad Kitty that she and her husband took in during a blizzard.

Blame it on her parents. Though Joy Williams (GEd’97), the manager of Campus Card Services, has probably one of the more stressful jobs on campus, especially in September, she’s one of the friendliest and most buoyant personalities around. How does she keep the smile on her face? “I think it’s part of my nature,” she said. “It is one of the curses my parents bestowed upon me by naming me Joy.”

Besides implementing Penn’s smart card program and issuing PennCards to hundreds of incoming freshmen, she also has to deal with faculty and staff, spouses and partners of Penn employees, graduate students, foreign students, visiting faculty, visiting students, visiting scholars, visiting lecturers. The Patchogue, N.Y., native last year initiated a policy of sending PennCard applications to incoming students during the summer, which saved thousands of students the agony of waiting on long lines once they got to Penn. At year’s end, with the retirement of her boss, Frank Neithammer, Williams will become the director of the PennCard Center. “He’s leaving at the end of the year just before the Y2K issues,” she noted. “Very smart man.”

Q. Would you describe your work here?
A. My boss hired me to be the project manager to implement our smart card program. The PennCard has a little gold chip on it and that little gold chip holds electronic cash. You can use the electronic cash in copy machines, vending machines, laundry machines. So instead of carrying around change in your pocket -- and you know how nobody ever has enough quarters to do a load of laundry -- you can use electronic cash. The technology is wild.
   One silly little piece of plastic for a student or faculty or staff member is literally like the key to campus. It’s how you get into buildings, it’s how you get food, pick up books, go to the gyms, you name it. The card can also be an ATM card if you bank with PNC bank or the University’s student federal credit union. So this little piece of plastic that does everything on campus can also provide banking services at a regular ATM, any ATM all over the world. I’d never heard of smart cards before I started the project manager’s job and it’s fun technology -- lots of toys.

Q. Is it crazy in September?
A. It’s nuts. It’s absolutely crazy. One of the reasons I take vacation in the first week in October is that I need to decompress. The week that school was starting, we saw 500 a day. And it was mayhem. Imagine. In that little office. The fire marshal would have had our heads. From 9 in the morning until 7 at night, lines out the door, people waiting. The sound is deafening, phones ringing off the hook, never enough staff.
   Some day we’re all going to have sainthood bestowed on us. People who are doing frontline customer service -- you’ve got to have the patience of a saint.

Q. Do people ask for their photos to be taken over and over again?
A. Some do and some don’t. One of the things that’s really funny about pictures is, especially for undergraduate students, we send the mailing over the summer and the new Penn student is away for the summer -- traveling, working, doing something. So their mother gets ahold of the Penn card application, completes it, selects a photo and we use it to make
their card.
   Yesterday somebody was in, and he was like, “Would you look at the picture on this card? I’m running for elections and I don’t want my 10th-grade picture in the DP.” Because what we do for the folks that run elections, we let them use the photos that are on file, after getting everyone’s permission, and give them to the Daily Pennsylvanian so people will know what they look like.
   They’ll also use those photos for class lists. Professors can get a photo class list so they can see that you’re not there or you are there. And the more photos are used for reasons like that, they want to be happy with their photo.

Q. Are there restrictions on what the photo can look like?
A. There’s a plain white background, no hat, no sunglasses. You can’t use anything that’s been digitally retouched. For the most part they look pretty normal, but there’s an occasional really strange face.
   It’s a student typically -- and I hate to say it, but there are more men than women who make goofy faces. And you say, Okay, we’re going to take your picture now. One, two, three. And an adorable, sweet undergrad who’s got a gorgeous smile one minute will go [screws up her face and rolls her eyes upward]. They’re worse when they come in with their friends. So we’ll retake them.

Q. How do you keep your sanity?
A. I don’t know if I am sane. [laughs] You can ask my staff. I think they’ll debate.

Front page for this issue | Pennsylvania Current home page

Originally published on October 14, 1999