Behind the scenes at Mail Services: Students share work experiences

The mail room is pictured on Sept. 20, 2000. The Tufts Daily Archives

Processing 70,000 packages annually, the Tufts University Mail Services Department is responsible for providing mail service to residence halls, small houses as well as university offices of the Medford, Boston and Grafton campuses, according to Senior Facilities Director Cory Pouliot.

Mail Services is run by Support Services Manager Sheila Chisholm. It is staffed by four full-time staff members and 21 student workers, according to Pouliot. The number of workers may increase to meet demands, especially at the beginning of the semester when there is a larger volume of packages, according to Pouliot.

Pouliot said that online ordering services such as Amazon have increased the amount of packages received by Mail Services, including an increase in the number of textbook deliveries. Student workers have noticed this change as well.

“For some reason, we have a lot more packages this year than we normally would, so we’re always … working,” senior George Umegboh, who has worked at Mail Services since spring of his first year, said.

The increased volume of packages received by Mail Services has a serious impact on the environment. This includes the packaging involved as well as the environmental costs of shipping, Pouliot said.

In an effort to increase sustainability within Mail Services, the Office of Sustainability has added a Trex bin, which takes thin plastics that normally cannot be recycled and turns them into wood-alternative composite products, and additional recycling signage at the Mail Services office in Hill Hall.

“The bin is good, not just because that kind of plastic is typically impossible or difficult to recycle, it’s also that that’s a pretty common form of plastic in packaging,” sophomore Tyler Stotland, an education and verification intern at the Office of Sustainability, said. “It’s bubble wrap and those little air packets — those can now be recycled.”

Students looking to seriously reduce their negative impact on the environment may want to look for local options. Students who have the ability to walk to Davis Square to get the same goods they would get online should seriously consider that option, Stotland said.

Stotland also encouraged students to break down their cardboard boxes. This would not only prevent an excess of boxes but also aid in the recycling process, as full boxes cannot be recycled.

With a seemingly never-ending stream of packages passing through Mail Services’ doors, student workers, who are primarily responsible for making sure students get the right packages, are constantly on their feet. According to Umegboh and fellow student worker Geoffrey Tobia, packages go through a multi-step process before they reach their intended recipient: They are scanned in when they first arrive, then students receive an email saying their package is ready to be picked up and finally packages are alphabetized and put away in the correct spot.

Tobia, a first-year, added that when a student comes in to pick up their package they may be asked how many packages they have or how many emails they have received, which help the student workers assess how many packages they are looking for.

Difficulties may arise when names or addresses don’t match up, according to Umegboh.

For instance, while Tufts has allowed students to change their preferred name on their student ID card, Mail Services’ records currently reflect only the legal names of students. Students would receive packages with their preferred names, which led to student workers becoming “detectives” in order to figure out who the package belonged to, Umegboh said.

Outdated addresses require extra work as well. Student workers have to confirm addresses in the database, Tobia said. Someone who lived in Houston Hall last year may now live in Wren Hall, all of which must be verified.

With renovations on Miller Hall having completed, mailboxes have also been removed from the building. As part of a “new direction for the university to eliminate mailboxes within renovated buildings,” Pouliot said. Students living in Miller Hall can now pick up their mail at the same place that they pick up their packages.

“This new way of doing business has allowed us to become more efficient and to provide improved customer service,” Pouliot said.

As this shift is implemented, mail for residents of Miller Hall will be processed separately, according to Tobia. Sometimes emails will be sent out for letters, as is currently done for packages, Tobia said.

Tobia added that students occasionally come in looking for time-sensitive packages, such as passports, medicine or books for class. If packages are not processed in time, workers at Mail Services may have to go “digging through the huge bins of boxes” in order to find them, Tobia said.

Speaking about his experience talking to students, Umegboh noted that the majority of people cared the most about getting their packages on time.

“If your parents send food, or you order something for a specific class for a certain day, if we don’t get it in before that day, then … you ordered it for no reason,” Umegboh said.

Umegboh commented that Mail Services has been inefficient “because we haven’t been prioritizing the right things,” suggesting that the organization could be more effective if it placed a greater emphasis on scanning packages, rather than dealing with letters, leaving workers to constantly play catch-up with the demand.

Tobia urged students to pick up their packages regularly. He added that some students come in to find 10 or more packages waiting for them, which they cannot afford to be carry back in one trip. 

“We’ve got a lot of boxes in the back room, so clearing that up would certainly be a relief,” Tobia said.

Pouliot noted that Mail Services has always been open to suggestions for improvement.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve and welcome feedback from students, faculty and staff about potential ways to enhance our services,” Pouliot said.

Overall, student workers seem to enjoy their time at Mail Services.

It’s great. The staff over there are really nice, very friendly. I’ve gotten to know them over the years,” Umegboh said.

Tobia said he also likes working there.

“For the most part I’m on my feet, I’m working and I don’t mind interacting with people,” Tobia added. “It’s going fairly well, I don’t foresee myself quitting anytime soon.”