Karen Salisbury keeps Olympic visitors smiling

Are you happy? Do you have any problems? What can I do to make it better? Posing such questions to dozens of people on a daily basis (and actually listening to the responses) would be acutely challenging for most of us. For Karen Salisbury, the feedback she receives from these inquiries has been invaluable in her efforts to accommodate Emory's Olympic visitors.

Director of University Conferences, Salisbury began serving as coordinator of Olympic activities at Emory soon after Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Olympics in 1990. She began working on Olympic-related projects unofficially in 1988 and has been one of the key Emory people involved with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) in planning accommodations for Olympic visitors to campus.

For the last several weeks prior to the Olympics, however, Salisbury's work shifted from planning to on-the-spot troubleshooting for the ACOG staff, Olympic competition officials and international media using Emory facilities and living in Emory residence halls during the Olympics.

The keeper of the contract

A typical day for Salisbury just prior to and during the Olympics begins at 7 a.m. with visits to the P.E. Center (site of Olympic athlete training), Cox Hall (location of the Press Subcenter for international media), Cappuccino Joe's (for one of many daily cups of coffee) and to Turman Residential Center (where Olympic competition officials are being housed). At each location, Salisbury talks at length with ACOG staff and volunteers, as well as representatives of firms providing contract services to ACOG, about how their operations are running.

"I talk to all these guys and find out what problems they're having with work orders, maintenance, etc.," she said. "If they ask for my help, I jump right in and see if I can bring the problem to some resolution. We make sure there is a response."

Strictly speaking, Salisbury's job is to ensure that Emory's accommodations contract with ACOG is enforced. In addition to accommodations for competition officials and journalists, the contract includes provisions for telecommunications, parking, security and food service. (A separate ACOG contract provides for athlete training at the P.E. Center.)

"The thing that's been the most complicated or confusing has been to work on a contract that is very generic," said Salisbury. "A lot of what we've been dealing with has to do with what the contract says in general versus what it means now, this minute, with a real person standing in front of you. It's a different ball game. I think the contract, for most purposes, is a liability, legal, insurance coverage document, as well as a payment structure document. A lot of the other issues involved are things that we just try to work out together informally. When something we have isn't workable, we just figure out how to adjust it. If it doesn't involve added liability or risk any money, we just do it."

One such problem arose as a result of a clause in the contract that provided for shared use between Emory and ACOG staff five days prior to ACOG guests checking into a particular building. "The intention there was that ACOG could come in and begin their process while we were doing our process of cleaning it and getting ready to turn it over," she said. "The reality of that is that we were tripping over each other." Salisbury helped work out the kinks in that situation through creative scheduling of Emory housekeeping and maintenance staff.

A new role

After the Olympics, Salisbury's professional life will change in a more dramatic way than the completion of such a massive project would suggest. On Oct. 1, Salisbury will become director of Student Activities in the Division of Campus Life. The change is part of a broader shift in which Salisbury and three other Campus Life staff will change positions.

"It's strange to think about leaving University Conferences, but it's time," said Salisbury, who worked in student activities before coming to Emory. "I really had to think about it before I made the decision, because I am so proud of the program that's been built and I want it to continue to be great."

Both Student Activities and University Conferences have been ideal professions for Salisbury, who said she is "not much on cocktail party situations. I don't like being in a crowd and having to make small talk. I like being the one behind the scenes doing the work. That's where I'm most comfortable."

--Dan Treadaway

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