Erin Flanagan, the MSSC business operations manager, is a jack-of-all trades as she regularly jumps from spreadsheets to student engagement.
By Briahnna Brown
As an honorary big sister to all George Washington University students who visit the Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC), Erin Flanagan does it all.
Officially, she is the business operations manager for the MSSC, but her day-to-day involves so much more. From putting out mini-fires such as finding a missing file or fixing a malfunctioning printer, to being a personal problem solver for the students who come into the MSSC, Ms. Flanagan has greatly contributed to making the MSSC a home away from home.
“People ask me like, what is it that you do—I can't tell you,” Ms. Flanagan said. “Each day brings something different, and I think that, for me, I like working in that kind of ambiguous grey area of what's happening because I feel like you discover possibilities when you don't have something that's set."
Nyat Ghidel, a senior studying political science and creative writing, spends a lot of her free time visiting Ms. Flanagan at the MSSC to get life advice, laugh about their day and just bond over lunch.
"She's the best listener,” Ms. Ghidel said of Ms. Flanagan. “Even if she knows that she has nothing to add, whatever advice you're seeking from her and she doesn't have it, she'll just sit there and listen—she’s like that one big sister everyone goes to.”
Ms. Ghidel also said that Ms. Flanagan has an uncanny ability to know exactly where everything is in the MSSC, helping anyone find that one object that’s in the back, left corner of a random drawer—behind all the paper clips. Ms. Flanagan said she knows the MSSC so well because it’s like a big house full of family members.
"You know your house, you know where things are, you know which floorboard kind of squeaks a little bit, you know which cupboard gets stuck,” Ms. Flanagan said. “MSSC is home, not just to the students, it's also home to us because we spend just as much time, if not more than the students, in the building."
Stumbling upon the MSSC
From Fort Washington, Md., Ms. Flanagan studied communications and dance at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she later earned a master’s degree in finance and an M.B.A. degree. She said she takes a serendipitous, “whatever happens, happens” approach to life and pursued what she loved and what she felt was important to her.
She knew she loved working with and helping people while having fun and engaging with the spreadsheets and procurement reports that are typically associated with working in business.
"Where is a corporate culture, where is a business—what is something I could do that I can be myself but still do the spreadsheets and things that I love?” Ms. Flanagan asked herself.
In 2014, a GW staff member in her capoeira class mentioned the opportunities available at the university, and she found everything she was looking for at the MSSC.
MSSC Director Michael Tapscott said that Ms. Flanagan was quiet when she first joined the center, but quickly connected with their “family and team” ideology. He said Ms. Flanagan has become the glue that holds the MSSC house and community together through her efficiency in management and her ability to connect with the students that visit the center.
“We all work hard to make sure that any and every student feels like they belong here, that they matter here, and that this place is their forever university home,” Mr. Tapscott said. “Erin provides the daily heart, the warmth and the affection that students often seek when coming through our doors.”
Most mornings, if she isn’t working in her car because she’s determined to find a parking spot on G Street, students can find Ms. Flanagan in her office eating breakfast (which sometimes means leftover spaghetti Bolognese at 10 a.m.) with a tote bag full of snacks (including baby food fruit puree pouches and a large carton of oatmeal).
She’ll also have an obscure Netflix series up for background noise, her laptop open so she can answer more than 100 emails and a to-do list on her white board so she knows what she needs to get done.
Students will typically drop in seeking help with preparation for an upcoming MSSC event, or just for a quick chat. Ms. Flanagan said she often gets sidetracked by conversations with students in the MSSC, but being able to help out where she can and make even the smallest difference makes it more than worth it.
"For eight hours a day, I am in a place that's super supportive,” Ms. Flanagan said. “It's a huge collective, and it's such a genuine presence."
Learning through the GW experience
In her four-and-a-half years at GW, Ms. Flanagan has learned to be open to learning new things so she can continue to grow. She learned about areas of study she never knew about such as organizational sciences, she met a student who put milk in the bowl before the cereal—which was surprising—and she tried a mango for the first time (she wasn’t a big fan).
But along with the hundreds of Only at GW moments, the biggest lessons Ms. Flanagan learned from her time working at GW is patience with other people and herself and taking the time to stand still and be in the moment.
"I don't think, in the last four years, that I would have grown the same way outside of GW,” Ms. Flanagan said. “Being at the MSSC and being at GW as a whole has really expanded how I look at things."
Her favorite part of the GW experience is graduation, including the graduation MSSC hosts before commencement. Seeing how much the students have grown in just four years and watching them start fulfilling their potential is bittersweet because of the bonds she formed with the students. But overall, the experience makes her happy to be here at GW.
"You go through everything with this person and then you see them, you see them express what MSSC meant to them, and you see them go off into the world, it's like ‘wow, this is absolutely crazy,’” Ms. Flanagan said.
“To see them as full-fledged adults out here with renter's insurance and getting engaged and everything like that, it just feels like your family expands."