Job advertisement? Headhunter? The suggestion of a friend? No. Renate Merk's journey at HSWT began in 2006 with a construction site. "At the time, I kept driving past the billboard for what is now Building C," explains the Middle Franconia native. "So I thought to myself, if they build and expand, I'm sure they’ll need new staff." Her assessment was correct, and a few weeks later she landed the job of Secretary to the Department Chair. In a way, this beginning anticipated the theme that would go on to shape Renate Merk’s now 15-year employment at HSWT: growth and change.
She herself is a reliable constant. "At first, I was Secretary for the 'Environmental Engineering' and 'Agriculture, Food and Nutrition' departments, both of which were much smaller than they are today. Since then, there have been more and more students and professors, and new buildings being added all the time, including at the other teaching institutions in Triesdorf. I've been surrounded by construction sites since day one, so to speak," she laughs. She welcomes this growth and the innovations that come with it, because getting stuck in a rut is not her thing. "As Secretary to the Department Chair, my colleagues and I have to react flexibly to spontaneous events. This is very challenging, of course, but I appreciate the variety and diversity in my job." This is not least due to my changing line managers, as the usual term of office for Department Chairs is four years. When a new Chair takes over, Merk uses her experience from a decade and a half in the Department Chair’s office to help her settle into the new processes and responsibilities.
The Department Chair’s office staff across the two departments at the Triesdorf campus have established a method of supporting each other in the best possible way, "sharing offices across the departments. For example, I sit with the Secretary to the Department Chair of the Environmental Engineering department, and the Department Chairs’ assistants do likewise. This automatically leads to a positive exchange and fruitful cooperation, which benefits everyone because a team can achieve more than a lone warrior."
As Secretary to the Department Chair, Renate Merk takes care of the bureaucratic processes relating to part-time lecturers and appointment committees, sets up elective modules online, edits the curricula, prepares and follows up on Department Council meetings and answers telephone enquiries from internal and external callers. And then, of course, there are the countless large and small concerns of the many people who come in and out of Merk’s office every day. "I miss the party traffic now, during the pandemic situation," says the 52-year-old. "More than anything, I miss having students on campus – it’s quite strange that everything is so empty now."
Under normal circumstances, students with worries and difficulties would also turn up on Merk’s doorstep from time to time. "Most turn directly to Student.Service, but even in our office we sometimes have to offer words of comfort and point out that the world is not falling apart." Thanks to the familiar atmosphere and short distances at the Triesdorf campus, Renate Merk also meets up with the students by chance on campus and is therefore able to follow up on their concerns.
To clear her head after work, Renate Merk goes for long walks with her Labrador, Bailey. For Bailey, the end of the day also begins after Merk has driven the few kilometres home from campus, because he spends weekdays at Merk's brother's florist shop, where he has made it his business to greet the customers. "The long walks provide me with the perfect balance. A dog like Bailey demands exercise outside in all weathers. In the past decades, I have only lived without a dog for three quarters of a year and came to the realisation that you can always find an excuse not to go out. However, the reality is, you always feel better after spending time in the fresh air."