Maha Groeber: Gatekeeper Keeps UC Smiling
Date: Aug. 20, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photo By: Lisa Ventre
Archive: Staff Profiles
An orange-colored jeep drives up near the West Campus main gate and a young woman with a backpack gets out. "Have a good day!" shouts Maha Groeber, UC's front gate parking attendant, over the sounds of nearby traffic along Clifton Avenue. It's not the first time Maha will take the time to greet someone passing by her booth this morning. It certainly won't be the last.
"One thing I like about my job is I like working with people," says Maha, who tried being a university cashier for a few months and didn't enjoy it. Even after 20 years on the job in Parking Services - nearly all of it at the front gate - she's energized from the minute she gets to work. "I like starting my day with a positive feeling and a smile. It helps make the rest of the day go better."
Before she can begin another sentence, another member of the campus community, this time on foot, says "Good morning, Maha!" It's M.J. Woeste of Community Service Programs. "I just popped over here for a little dose of sunshine," he explains on his way to work. Does he mean the one in the sky or the one in the booth? "This sunshine," he says, pointing his thumb at the woman in the Parking Services uniform of black pants and a white shirt. "There are good days and bad days. Maha has a way of making the bad days livable."
"As long as you don't ask her, 'Can I pull in here?'" he jokes as he walks away.
Woeste is referring to drivers who think they should be allowed to park or drive on McMicken Circle without a parking permit. While Maha stresses the vast majority of students, faculty, staff and visitors she encounters are "very good people," there are a few who don't think the university's parking rules should apply to them. "There are a very few who think ... they have to be tricky," says Maha. "So they say 'I sprained my ankle today and need to be dropped off.'" But she sees that they have a paper that is due or a drop slip sitting on the front seat.
"Today, I had a lady who came by and said, 'I'm picking someone who is handicapped up at Beecher," Maha continues. Since the university tore Beecher down in the summer of 2000, Maha easily figured out what the woman really wanted to do: pick up her transcripts. So Maha tactfully directed her across campus to the Registrar's new location in Edwards.
While a good portion of her job entails the enforcement of parking policies, Maha spends a very big part of her 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. workday providing help and information to people, especially new students. Prospective students, visitors, faculty, staff and alumni all approach her booth with questions about how to find this or that on campus. Frequently the questions are about off campus as well.
"Is it okay if I just turn around here? I'm lost," says the driver of one truck that pulled up at Maha's doorway. "Where are you trying to go?" Maha asks. "I was on Martin Luther King and I need to get back to Reeding," he says, mispronouncing Reading. He is from Marion, Ohio, according to the driver's side door. Maha, a Syrian native who was once a newcomer to Cincinnati herself, supplies him with directions and sends him on his way. "There are people looking for Deaconess and Good Samaritan who stop here at times and others asking for other institutions and directions around the city," she says.
Just how many questions, cars or pedestrians fill her front gate days is not clear, because no one keeps an official count. "There are too many cars to count," Maha shakes her head. But it's clear that Maha knows practically everyone on campus, and they know her. And she likes it that way.
"Good morning," Maha says to Amy Barnard of the Health Promotions Program as she walks by. "I like your shoes," Maha observes. Barnard pauses to explain that a major accident on Columbia Parkway had her stuck in traffic for 45 minutes.
"Good morning, David," Maha addresses a man walking away from campus, rather than toward it. "You going home?" she asks. "Yeah, I have a sinus infection. My head is pounding," he reveals. For Maha, quitting time lies hours away. Until then, you can bet dozens more exchanges like this one - plus waves, nods and questions - will fill the day.
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