National registrar association awards Sarah Harris with honorary membership after 30 years at UI

After more than 30 years at the University of Iowa, Sarah Harris was awarded an honorary membership to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. A native Iowan and longtime Hawkeye, Harris will retire later this year.

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Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter


The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers recently awarded honorary membership to University of Iowa Senior Associate Registrar Sarah Harris, who has spent more than half of her career serving the campus community.

Harris graduated from the UI in 1982 with a degree in home economics. After a brief stint working in Chicago, Harris returned to the UI in 1984 to work as an admissions employee at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

She held various positions in different departments at the UI before finding herself in the Office of the Registrar by 1989, where Harris said she found her true passion for helping students succeed at the UI. She was recognized by the university for 30 years of service in October 2019.

“I really have a love of assisting students in gaining higher education,” she said. “I like to calculate GPAs and help students continue to get good discounts on insurance and things like that. I found my passion in student services.”

When universities in Iowa close their doors and the UI receives all of their records as the repository of the state, Harris’ specialty in the Registrar’s Office comes into play. She specifically focuses on digitizing students’ records from those schools as well as creating a system to distribute transcripts to students of institutions that are no longer in service.

Harris’s passion and expertise is integral to the office, said UI Senior Associate Registrar Julie Fell, who worked with Harris for more than 20 years. In an email to The Daily Iowan, Fell said she will miss having Harris in the office when she retires later this year.

“I will definitely miss Sarah when she retires … and seeing her at staff meetings and talking to her several times a week,” Fell said. “She is a very generous person and has been a good friend and colleague to me and many others.”

Harris said that honorary membership in the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers is important to her because it’s an opportunity to continue helping registrars around the country.

The 110-year-old organization is based out of Washington D.C. and advocates for students, said Mike Reilly, executive director of the association. He said the organization also helps its members become better professionals so they can better help students.

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Reilly said that honorary memberships are hard to come by and are typically only given to former members of the National Board of Directors. Harris’ involvement in the association, however, went above the call of duty and couldn’t be overlooked, he said.

“The honorary membership is a measure of your engagement with the organization throughout your career,” he said. “Sarah has just been so involved at the national level with our meetings and with our professional development. The membership is for your lifetime and you can attend and engage in our meetings for free to stay connected to the organization.”

Harris served on several committees since she joined the national association in 2002; however, she spent most of her time on the Program Committee, which she chaired in 2018. This committee, Reilly said, is integral to the annual meeting the association hosts and members usually stay on the committee for three years or leave after they’ve chaired.

Harris stayed on for eight years, Reilly said, and made a huge impact on the organization’s events and goals.

“She’s made an impact and in the last five years or so, [the association’s] work has become more important, particularly around student success,” he said. “Sarah is a part of that.”

He said that he will remember Harris’ work because of its impact on the overall profession. Reilly said Harris’ focus on creating a better way to facilitate the transferring of documents once an institution has closed was important to registrars across the country.

Fell is also a member of the association and said that Harris’ honorary membership represents her commitment to helping students, even those beyond the UI.

“Sarah’s honorary membership recognizes her service to [the organization] and her dedication as a registrar professional,” she said. “Our office is proud of her accomplishment. Her involvement in [the association] and [the Upper Midwest Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admissions Officers]— our regional organization — has encouraged others in our office to also become involved.”

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Harris will return to the university after her retirement as a temporary employee to finish an imaging project she has been working on for a few years at the UI.

The project aims to transfer all of the documents from the registrar office onto a digital format, she said. Some of these files date back to when the UI was founded in 1847, she added.

“The transcripts [and documents] have disintegrated over time and some of them are typed, while others are handwritten,” she said. “We are transitioning and scanning all of the hard [copies] of records to make them electronic … We’ve been working on the project for almost six years and we’re seeing the end of the tunnel.”

As Harris finishes this project for the UI, she will take her expertise to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers to chair a new work group.

Reilly said this group will guide registrars across the country into understanding how to obtain records for students when a university closes.

“Sarah is an expert on this and works on it for the University of Iowa,” he said. “Schools need this guidance to understand how to help students and maintain their records.”

When Harris leaves the UI later this year after a long career on campus, she will look forward to the future. Although the outbreak of COVID-19 has not impacted her work or future plans significantly, Harris said she looks forward to enjoying what she has and learning from this unprecedented time.

“After this is all said and done, I hope we don’t go back to being too busy to enjoy what we have,” Harris said. “I think this time is teaching us to value our relationships, family, friends, and work. I hope we remember to breathe when we can all get back together.”

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