Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 4, March 2, 2012

Curtis Powell


A Word From Human Resources
Working To Support Faculty, Staff, and Retirees

This has been a turbulent decade for both employers and employees around the nation. The evening news often presents stories that range from employers that are either closing down or reducing employees’ benefits and pay, to workers who have been out of work for years and unable to find gainful employment. The news is different at Rensselaer. The Institute has been able to retain faculty and staff, continues to provide an excellent benefits program, and has been able to keep pace with the market when it comes to compensating employees.

“Historically, many view human resources as a department that represents the interests of the organization only,” said Curtis Powell, vice president for human resources. “In today’s world, human resources is critical in ensuring that the mission and values of the organization are met. However, many employees are not clear as to the role that human resources plays. We know that 21st-century human resource departments must serve the collective needs of both the employer and the employee.”

Overall, the profession has become more complex and demanding. At Rensselaer, human resource professionals must have an understanding of the business of higher education, and the mission of the Institute to educate the undergraduate and graduate student population. Powell noted that the Division of Human Resources at Rensselaer strives to create an environment where all employees can obtain excellence in the profession that they have chosen. The division is comprised of 24 employees who are responsible for 31 distinct programs.

Powell also noted several stories about employee or retiree support from HR that help to underscore the value of the division.

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Tom Zimmie, a faculty member for nearly 39 years, has high praise for the health coverage offered by Rensselaer. Two years ago, Zimmie’s wife suffered a serious medical emergency that resulted in her having surgery, spending time in an Intensive Care Unit, and incurring $177,000 in medical expenses. “Our total out-of-pocket cost for the entire ordeal was only $150,” said Zimmie. “If I didn’t have this fantastic coverage, it would have been catastrophic for my family.”

“What some employees don’t realize is that HR is there to advocate for us,” said Bonnie Westlake, an operations associate in the Lighting Research Center. “People don’t utilize all that’s available to us through Human Resources. We have really great benefits. We learn about services such as will preparation at no cost, flu shots, and discounted movie tickets at orientation, but then we forget about them until HR reminds us. I don’t think they get the credit they deserve for all they do for employees.”

Retiree Dick Many, who now lives in New Hampshire, concurs, saying, “The HR staff is very responsive and very easy to reach.” Due to the fact that Many lives outside of the Capital Region and uses out-of-plan medical services, he sometimes runs into difficulties with providers about his health insurance coverage. “I just tell them to call the HR department to verify my coverage, and I am always comfortable and confident that the HR staff will help me out.
They invariably solve the problem for me; their follow-through is great.”

Another retiree, Ted Greve, who was an electronics technician for Rensselaer, credits the Division of Human Resources, and the entire Rensselaer community, with helping him and his family weather the devastating loss of their son in a house fire several years ago. When he was ready to return to work after a long absence, the HR staff worked with his department manager to find a new position for Greve, who had difficulty returning to his former position as a result of the stress he was suffering due to his son’s death.

“I had worked at RPI for so long, so why would I want to leave to work anywhere else?” said Greve. “They made changes that allowed me to stay at RPI. They were very good to me.”

“At the end of the day, we want to create a culture that appreciates respect, hard work, dedication, and teamwork,” Powell said. “We also believe that our caring efforts and continued commitment are helping to provide an ideal living, learning, and working environment where our employees can become the best, and our students can become the most innovative leaders and productive citizens of the 21st century.”

Curtis Powell, SPHR
Vice President for Human Resources

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Number 4, March 2, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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