OSP Move to University Hall Prompts Look Back at Its History

Posted: April 21, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: April 21, 2011 at 12:57 pm

By Heather Aleknavage, office manager, Office of Sponsored Programs

In what is reported to be its ninth move, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is slated to move into the new University Hall on June 1 and 2. A phased move is planned to minimize disruptions to operations so the office can continue to provide quality service to the research community.

According to Jennifer Murphy, assistant vice president of research and economic development and director of technology transfer, OSP became the office it is today in 1992 by merging two separate units: the Office of Research, which reported to the vice provost for research; and Grants Administration, which reported to the controller.

Murphy came to Mason in 1988 as the director of grants administration, and with the help of Deborah Boehm-Davis, now chair of Department of Psychology, the two offices were merged into the Office of Sponsored Programs.  Under Murphy’s direction, the newly merged office was located in West Building.  There were about 10 employees and approximately $7 million in research expenditures.

Murphy developed the team concept, similar to the one in place today, where pre- and post-award functions are organized and dedicated to specific schools and colleges. She also created a tracking system for receiving and disbursing paperwork.

Murphy spoke fondly of (Evelyn) Vivette Ricard, a secretary in OSP, and credited her with the success of logging items in and out of the office. Ricard passed away in 2001. “She was a real-life Mary Poppins!” Murphy said.  “She lived close to campus and rode her bike to work every day.  She was French and had a memorable personality.”

The logs were such a success that they are still in use today, but in an electronic format.

Following multiple moves as separate offices, the combined OSP moved from West Building to Robinson Hall, and then to the Finley Building.

Melinda (Mindy) Barnhart, now executive director of finance and administration in the Volgenau School of Engineering, recalled her days in OSP:  “We moved out of West to Robinson because West was going to be renovated, and we thought we would return in six months.  We stayed in a very small space in Robinson on the fourth floor for 18 months.“

“The fire marshal visited us often since we kept putting file cabinets in the hallways and blocked fire exit routes. We were told the elevator was unreliable, so we walked 72 steps up and down to get to our offices. West was never renovated, and then we moved to Finley.”

Another long-term OSP employee Karen Cohn, assistant director of reporting and operations, recalled pre-Sept. 11 days when federal agencies had fewer regulations on package deliveries.

“I think we were in the Finley Building, and June Tangney [of Psychology] had a large multi-year NIH grant proposal that was due at midnight,” Cohn remembered. “Margaret Hanson, Norma Sain and I were at the office until 9:45 that night collating and organizing the required copies and packing them into a large carton. June arrived with two sleeping children in tow to pick up the box and deliver it to the drop box by the deadline.”

Tangney got the grant and has received many more since that night. Most proposal submissions are now sent electronically or via express mail delivery.

Ethenia “Tippi” Phillips, contracts administrator, has been in OSP the longest of all of the current employees. She shared memories of the office’s move to an off-campus location.

“Before moving to Patriot Square, and even after moving there, all of the routing [proposals for signature] was done by Norma Sain, the office manager,” she said.  “It was a big deal trying to figure out how we would get this done, especially since Norma walked the routings around campus in person.  There was even talk of getting a golf cart for Norma, because no one wanted to handle the routing via email or fax.  There was also concern about the faculty having access to us, and there was talk about whether grants administrators would visit the PIs for appointments.

She added: “On the other hand, parking was easy!”

OSP spent five years in Patriot Square before moving to its present location in Research I.  With 20 to 30 transactions per day, routing is now done via email and fax.  Grants administrators meet with faculty at their location or in OSP, whichever is more convenient or efficient to meet the tight deadlines. OSP even has a new grants administrator dedicated to the Prince William Campus science faculty.

Murphy left OSP in 2001 to create the Office of Technology Transfer, an offshoot of OSP that she envisioned. Ann McGuigan took over the leadership of OSP after Murphy’s departure and was director when the office moved back to campus.

“Moving back to the campus certainly conveyed the message to the university community that the administration recognized that having readily accessible services was important,” said McGuigan, who is now director of research development. “I think that the move to campus helped people in the office feel that they belonged to the university community.”

As for the change in the OSP image, the move came at a time when the research culture at Mason was changing, and being here on campus played a valuable role in the continued integration of OSP in that research culture, according to McGuigan.

Grants administrator Joanne Carter joined OSP in 1999 when the office was still located in Finley. She said, “Being back on campus really makes you feel connected. Knowing that you are literally within walking distance of most of the faculty and administrative staff certainly serves as a major benefit to our office workflow.”

The office has continued to evolve during its five years in Research I. McGuigan’s move to her role in research development in 2007 led to a complete team restructure and paved the way for Mike Laskofski, then assistant director of post award, to accept the promotion to interim director and eventually director.

About the move to University Hall, Laskofski said, “I am looking forward to being in the same building as other central administrative offices. We work with Fiscal Services, Human Resources, Budget and Internal Audit on a daily basis. Being able to walk down the hall to work through an issue or special request will help us better serve the Mason research community.”

OSP is still the pre- and post-award administration office for all externally sponsored projects for Mason, but there are now about 40 employees, and research expenditures now exceed $100 million.

Change is a part of OSP history, and moving is an aspect that incites change. Once this ninth relocation is completed in June, OSP will begin another era in a new location on the third floor of University Hall in Suite 3100. Be sure to drop by for a visit this summer, and check out our new space.


Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu