The service center associate adds hand waves to her work helping GW employees navigate Human Resources.
This is the first Staff Focus, a new regular feature in George Washington Today that will introduce university staff to the GW community. The staff profiles result from feedback gleaned from a GW Today reader survey on ways to better serve our readers. The profiles will be published every few weeks on Mondays. If you want to recommend a coworker for Staff Focus, contact us at [email protected]. Please put Staff Focus in the subject line.
By Keith Harriston
Gaby C. Tagle sits at the far end of the Human Resources Faculty and Staff Service Center on the first floor of Rice Hall at George Washington University.
Her routine behind the glass, western wall of the Rice Hall lobby looks busy as Ms. Tagle and her coworkers Shelly Rich and Reyna Bonilla assist a steady stream of GW employees with a broad array of questions. Some ask about the proper documents for employment eligibility. Others about medical or retirement benefits. And there are always those seeking help with parking or payroll.
“We help with anything that an employee is offered by the university,” said Ms. Tagle, a service center associate for two years.
On first glance, Ms. Tagle’s work seems routine, even for a woman who—along with her coworkers—serves as a face of the university for faculty and staff. However, observe long enough, and you will see that Ms. Tagle’s approach to her job is anything but routine.
A familiar visage enters Rice Hall. Ms. Tagle’s brown eyes light up. Her smile broadens. And her right hand shoots up about level with the top of her head and waves back and forth.
The gesture has become Ms. Tagle’s signature greeting during her workday.
“I like to make people feel comfortable and welcomed,” Ms. Tagle said. “There was a radio [disc jockey] who used to sign off his show with a saying: ‘It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice to somebody.’ That saying means a lot.”
There are scores of those faces logged to memory through 24 years of working in the benefits division for GW’s Human Resources.
“There were faculty, staff, some students,” she recalled. “Services were not always online, so I got a chance to talk to people, I got to know lots of GW employees because we had to sit down face-to-face with everyone.”
Ms. Tagle helps new employee Claire Meyer file paperwork in the Human Resources Faculty and Staff Service Center. (Rob Stewart/GW Today)
Comforting the Uncomfortable
Ms. Tagle shares her warm greeting with more than the familiar faces.
She moved with her family from Bolivia to the United States—specifically Washington, D.C.—in the early 1960s. She was a young child, full of youthful energy and high expectations about her new home. But not all of her memories from then are fond. The children in her new school weren’t all that friendly, at least initially.
“They wouldn’t play with me,” Ms. Tagle said. “I remember trying to tell them ‘I can run fast, too.’ I will always remember that.”
Those years helped to shape the woman that the young Gaby became both personally and professionally. Ask her family, friends or coworkers to describe her, and they will quickly mention the word “friendly.”
She notices new faces entering Rice Hall about the same time over a few days. She observes their demeanors, facial expressions. One of those new faces, who began working at GW in Rice Hall about a year ago, looked like he “wasn’t sure he wanted to be here,” Ms. Tagle said. After a few days, she made eye contact with him and gave her signature greeting. Now, they wave to each other daily.
“Sometimes a small gesture, something as simple as a wave of your hand, will be a friendly way to improve someone’s comfort level,” she said. “I like to make people who look uncomfortable more comfortable.”
That, said Ray Francis, Ed.D. ’06, who has known Ms. Tagle since 2002, should be “the kind of person you want in a customer-oriented area.”
Dr. Francis, an adjunct assistant professor of clinical research and leadership in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, met Ms. Tagle when he was a full-time research assistant while a doctoral student at GW. Ms. Tagle presented the benefits briefing during orientation. She impressed him so much that he made a point to write down her name and contact information.
“Whenever I have HR questions, I call on her,” said Dr. Francis, who also is an adjunct in the Department of Human and Organizational Learning in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. “She always gives thorough answers and is very concerned about customer satisfaction.
“I think Gaby Tagle is a model for all GW employees,” he said.
Mary Tucker, director of Graduate Medical Education at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has known Ms. Tagle for more than 20 years. “She’s friendly. She is approachable,” Ms. Tucker said.
Ms. Tucker said she has watched Ms. Tagle assist hundreds of her residents with everything from insurance choices to visa issues. “She is discreet, accommodating and has excellent customer service skills,” Ms. Tucker said.
When she is not working, Ms. Tagle enjoys spending time at home with her husband, Jorge, whom she married in 1973. Together, the two natives of Boliva raised three children in their Northern Virginia home: Alexandra, a pre-k teacher for Arlington County, Va., schools; Mauricio, who is in charge of substance abuse programs for juveniles for Fairfax County government; and David, who is working toward a master’s in foreign service at Georgetown University.
A long-time, “passionate’ racquetball player—she “had a mean serve”—Ms. Tagle still exercises regularly, most often with her husband. The couple exercise together about five times a week. “He runs,” she said, “but I walk.”