Wednesday, May 7, 1997
At NKU, lunch served with warmth

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lunch with Meg Winchell is a movable feast. Northern Kentucky University's director of admissions has to be flexible when it comes to her midday meal.

As I learned on a recent lunch, noontime is Meg's face time with as many members of the NKU community as she can find. Food tends to be a prop.

One day, she brown-bags it with her co-workers. The next, she savors a submarine sandwich in the student cafeteria.

Nominating herself - and NKU - for a "Lunch with Cliff," the busy woman with the easy smile sent me a fax with a "list of topics to explore." She wanted to talk about the university's new president, NKU's bridesmaid basketball team and working women. What I saw between bites was a personable professional, a warm human being inside the suit. That she's working for a rapidly growing university is a point of personal pride. She wears it well.

Meg has two regular lunch haunts. It's either down the hall to the admissions department's makeshift lunchroom. "Gossip Central," her lunchmates call it.

Or she walks across the plaza from her office to the student cafeteria. There, she takes a seat at what the campus grapevine calls, "The Good Old Boys' Table."

Today, because I'm tagging along, she visits both.

The Good Old Boys' Table takes up 10 window seats at the rear of the student lunchroom. It's easy to find.

It's the only table with men wearing ties and the titles dean, registrar, financial aid director, assistant vice president, university archivist.

One guy's in a warm-up suit. Everybody calls him Coach.

Ken Shields, NKU's basketball coach, picks up a fork-full of peas and carrots. He's listening to the table talk and answering questions about next year's team.

"I'm sure some people wonder what we are doing out here with the students," he says between bites.

"But if you want to get the heartbeat of what's going on at any campus, the cafeteria is the key place."

At the table, they note how the campus of 11,500 students desperately needs a new science building. The men hope that next year their basketball powerhouse - after two failed tries in a row - will finally win the Division II national championship.

Whether any of this becomes a reality depends in part on the university's new president. Dr. James C. Votruba takes over NKU's top job Aug. 1. He's also the talk of this lunch.

Meg mentions she has met the man. They've spoken briefly and shaken hands.

On a scale of one to 10, she gives his handshake an eight. "Not a bone cruncher. But very solid."

The men nod. The Good Old Boys' Table is impressed.

"Men and women talk about different things at lunch," Meg says quietly.

To illustrate her point, she takes me to the lunch area by her office. At a table set off by tall cubicle walls in a corner of the admissions department, six women talk about movies and those common household pests - men.

"Lots of male-bashing goes on here," says admissions counselor Angie Rieder. "The men in our lives say so many dumb things, we're ready to kill 'em."

Victoria Schwartz, an admissions counselor for the adults who make up 35 per cent of NKU's student body, is the lunch group's film critic. After she gives her review of Sling Blade, the conversation drifts back to a favorite topic, students.

Meg leads the way. Folding her hands on the table, she talks about the fear she sees in the faces of first-time students.

Each woman in the room shares a little secret about how they help them cope in the strange world of higher education. They don't just admit them and forget them. They help these students feel welcome and wanted.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.