The Heart of Administrative Service


by Laura Wisman

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SUMMARY: Sandra Purington, Senior Administrative Assistant in the School of Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication (WRTC), is a vital part of the administration in the College of Arts and Letters.

Sandra Purington is a self-described workshop and training junkie. “You always come away with something new and useful,” she says. Her role as Senior Administrative Assistant in the School of Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication (WRTC) gives her many opportunities to learn new things and meet new people.

Purington ALR Article1Purington has seen lots of change at JMU. After beginning her JMU career in 2000 in what was then the Honors Program, she moved to Writing and Rhetoric Studies just two years before it merged with the Institute of Technical and Scientific Communication to become WRTC in 2008. Though her regular departmental tasks are many — budget work, faculty searches and hires, procurement and scheduling increasingly more classes, new events and conferences — she always makes time to mentor other administrative assistants and seeks out opportunities for growth and discovery. Purington credits the four Academic Unit Heads (AUHs) she has worked with for encouraging her to pursue professional development opportunities.

Michael Smith, AUH of WRTC, describes Sandra as a leader: “It comes through in a lot of different ways. You can lead by example, and she certainly does that. Her organizational skills. Work ethic. Professionalism. Optimism. The willingness to learn new things, to get genuinely excited about trying to improve on the same old ways of doing business. She sets a high standard in all of these areas.

“But you can also lead by helping others to excel,” Smith continues, “by giving them the necessary preparation and tools they need to succeed, or by keeping everyone on point, on task and headed in a clear direction. She's mentored and led so many folks at JMU in those ways. It's been my constant bit of good luck to work with and learn from her."

Purington is particularly proud of helping conceive and launch the first CAL Career Conference in 2017. She and Daisy Breneman, faculty and advisor in Justice Studies, proposed the conference “to create a coordinated, unified experience to help students explore career and civic-engagement opportunities available to CAL students and alumni.” For Purington, “Building this conference from the ground up with the CALCC committee was an amazing opportunity and experience and one I was thrilled to be a part of.” The college will host its fifth iteration of the successful conference in February.

Beyond her daily responsibilities in WRTC, Purington lends her expertise to various committees and organizations. At JMU, she serves as co-chair of both the Academic Affairs Administrative Staff Advisory Council and the College of Arts and Letters Staff Advisory Committee. While time-consuming, she proudly states, “We are a voice for staff members [throughout the university] — we help solve problems, and that’s important.” As a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, she serves as co-director of the Central Virginia branch, part of the Mid-Atlantic Region. Through IAAP, Purington earned her Certified Administrative Professional certification in spring 2023.

Purington’s professional life has revolved around relationships, and she recommends that anyone considering working at JMU or in higher education “connect with others and have multiple mentors, as each one fulfills a need. And partner with your supervisor. I have been fortunate to work with people who value my opinion.”

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Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, February 1, 2024

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