In the thick of things with 1Capen’s Jennifer Markee

Jennifer Markee.

“We want to be the wayfinders. You walk in, we’re the ones you see. We’re the face of the university,” says Jennifer Markee, strategic operations manager for 1Capen. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published September 9, 2021

“That first week is non-stop. Have you ever been to a Tim Hortons on a Sunday morning? That’s what it feels like. ”
Jennifer Markee, strategic operations manager

One of the busiest places at UB over the past couple of weeks has been 1Capen, the one-stop shop for essential student services.

That’s where you’ll find Jennifer Markee, in the middle of all the action.

“That first week is non-stop,” says Markee, 44. “Have you ever been to a Tim Horton’s on a Sunday morning? That’s what it feels like.”

As strategic operations manager at 1Capen, Markee oversees some 40 staffers who are on site from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to field any number of questions about UB Cards or financial aid or student accounts or class registration or health insurance or parking.

It’s sort of like the Department of Motor Vehicles, Markee says.

“Only nicer,” she adds.

In many ways, staffers at 1Capen are the face of the university, so Markee is responsible for making sure the center is running smoothly and visitors receive first-rate customer service.

Truth is, Markee didn’t want any part of customer service when asked to serve as operations manager on an interim basis in 2018. She had worked in retail customer service before coming to UB and had had her fill of angry customers.

But 1Capen is different, she says.

Jennifer Markee speaks with sudents looking for assistance at 1Capen.

Jennifer Markee speaks with sudents looking for assistance at 1Capen. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

“It’s still customer service,” Markee says, “but it’s helping students persist to graduation, past those hurdles that might have stopped them from moving forward.”

More than 1,000 visitors walked through the doors of 1Capen on the first day of classes, and by week’s end that number had grown to more than 3,000. That’s in addition to the 3,500 who visited 1Capen the week prior.

While those numbers were down from a traditional first week of classes, it was busy and noisy, nonetheless, with students tucked into every corner of the center waiting for their turn at the counter. Most were there for a UB Card.

“It’s exhausting,” Markee says, “but at the end of the day, it’s fulfilling.”

Inevitably, she will have to diffuse an outburst or two, but temper tantrums are rare, she says. Some may leave disappointed, but more often than not reaction is matter of fact.

She gives credit to the empathetic agents behind the counter, who remember what it was like as a student or have kids of their own in college.

In fact, since heading operations at 1Capen, Markee has tried to instill a mindset that the center is there to help, whether it offers the services students are seeking or not.

“We want to be the wayfinders,” Markee explains.

“If they just want to ask us for directions, I want to give them directions,” she says. “I want them to think of 1Capen as a place where they can get all of their answers — regardless of what they are looking for.”

Since joining UB in 2003, Markee has worked in the Financial Aid Office, student housing and the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, she started as assistant to Lee Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management. In 2019, a search committee appointed her strategic operations manager for 1Capen on a permanent basis.

When she is not at 1Capen, Markee is an avid reader and crafter, who enjoys sewing and making homemade Christmas gifts for friends and staff. The Lockport native and UB graduate lives with her husband, Butch, and dog, Obi, in Ridgeway in Orleans County, a 55-minute commute to her office.

As students settle in for a new year, visits to 1Capen will level off to about 500 a day before falling off completely around Thanksgiving, Markee says. By the second week of classes, business at 1Capen had already begun to normalize.

Markee and staff had once again survived another semester surge.

What Markee loves most about her job is watching students grow up before her eyes — from the time they pick up their UB Card as wide-eyed freshmen to the day they drop by in their cap and gown to say goodbye.

“We see the whole life cycle,” she says, “and that’s really rewarding.”

Your Colleagues highlights employees who have an interesting story to tell, hobby to share and those who work behind the scenes to make UB go every day. Know someone who would make an interesting profile? Forward suggestions to Jay Rey.