Jane Hirschbiel, administrative assistant, Department of Accounting
When Jane Hirschbiel started working on campus, she was younger than almost all of the current Purdue University Fort Wayne freshmen, and essentially, 42 years later, she’s never left. That means her experienced influence is still a blessing to everyone around her.
Hirschbiel, the administrative assistant in the Doermer School of Business’s Department of Accounting, is always greeting everyone with a smile full of helpfulness and optimism. Rarely, does she not know how to answer a question, and when she doesn’t, she knows whom to call to find the answer. And actually, she loves those challenges.
“It’s fun because you get to know students,” she said. “I’ve met so many new faculty members, too. It’s fun to hear where they come from, and what their culture is like. It’s just fun.”
It’s fun because she found her niche early on and knew what she was supposed to be doing with her life.
When Jane Bunner was a 17-year-old senior at Northrop High School, Cooperative Office Education Director Richard Housel suggested she work part-time her senior year as an intern in the chancellor’s office during the afternoons.
“It was a really good learning experience for me,” Hirschbiel said. “It gave me some confidence, and I got to know everybody because everybody came through the chancellor’s office.”
That’s back when high school students could learn to use a typewriter, take shorthand, and even organize filing cabinets — not to mention rotary phones and mimeograph machines. Voice mail? Texting? Still years away. When she started, male administrative assistants were extremely rare.
After graduation, she started working on campus full-time. The acting chancellor was Dwight Henderson, followed by Joseph Giusti, Edward Nicholson, Thomas Wallace, Joanne Lantz, Michael Wartell, Vicky Carwein, and now Ron Elsenbaumer.
Imagine all the hundreds of professors she’s worked with — now from dozens of countries — and all the thousands of questions she’s answered for students. Consider all the passwords she’s changed.
“A less obvious way that Jane’s experience helps on a regular basis is her experience in going through changes,” said Steven Hanke, associate professor and chair of the Department of Accounting. “She has seen many evolutions of processes and technologies. She is therefore very willing and adaptable to developing new skills to meet the needs of our department. Jane’s experience provides a level of confidence in everyone.”
There’s a lot of institutional knowledge inside Hirschbiel that can’t be replaced, though she’s compiling a book of shortcuts and procedures that might be priceless. Staff members like Hirschbiel build the culture of a place by staying in place while faculty members move on, and decades of students graduate. A tremendous resource, they can set the tone for the day with a smile or by providing a bit of guidance.
“Jane's nonquantifiable contributions are what I value the most,” said Mike Slaubaugh, associate professor of accounting. “She is very family-oriented and treats us in the department like family as well. To work in a department that feels like family is one of the main reasons I enjoy being a faculty member at PFW, and Jane is an important part of creating that atmosphere.”
Along the way, she married Jim Hirschbiel 33 years ago, had two daughters, and later started spoiling six grandchildren. She learned incredible new tools like computers, the internet, and mobile phones. She’s also seen tremendous growth and quite a few name changes at DSB.
“Sometimes I’m happy that I’ve had that chance to learn right along the way, too,” she said. “The whole thing is you are moving forward, and you have to keep up with the times and the changes that are coming.”
Maybe that is what she does best, doing her job so others can continue to grow. She has no intentions of stopping and hasn’t even made up a list of things she’d like to do in retirement, though she has started scrapbooks for each of the grandchildren.
“My goal is just to continue to do what I’m doing to the best of my ability,” Hirschbiel said.
“That’s what I try to do every day. It’s a new challenge every day because I’m learning something new all the time.
“I love what I do. I almost feel like this is my second home because I’ve always loved coming to work. I feel pretty confident in what I do, and I have great support and great people that I see and talk to. I’d really miss them.”
Not to mention how much they’d miss her.