Staff Excellence
Margaret E. Coburn
Award Type: 
Teaching/Student Support

Senior Administrative Assistant

Let the Music Do the Talking


A Tribute, in Aerosmith Song Titles, to COLSA’s Classic Rock Fan Meg Coburn


Classic rock is always playing quietly in the background of Meg Coburn’s office, but now she has one more reason to be Rockin’ on Top of the World: She’s the recipient of the 2011 College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) Staff Achievement Award in recognition of her teaching and student support. As the Senior Administrative Assistant for the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences (MCBS), Coburn plays an integral role in creating solutions that work for everyone in this large department spanning four buildings, four majors, and a diverse group of faculty and staff. She provides invaluable support for the work of the MCBS Chair, Rick Cote, who summarizes the integral role Coburn plays by saying, “The bottom line is I don’t think I could do my job without Meg. She assumes responsibility for so many of the daily tasks that need to be done.”

During her 25-year (and counting) career at COLSA, Coburn has worked with four consecutive department chairs and a multitude of different students, faculty, and staff with whom she has routinely strived to make a personal connection. Dr. Tom Foxall, professor of animal sciences, recalls that Coburn was a Soul Saver during the time that he served as department chair from 2001 to 2008. “Meg always dealt with others with courtesy and respect, but also with a great sense of humor. She could put things in perspective and laugh at the absurdities; she helped me keep a better perspective on things and it was fun to work with her.” In fact, they still share a fondness for classic rock and often jokingly apply a song to go along with all that’s happening in the vibrant department.

The faculty’s appreciation of Coburn runs deep. Dr. Gale Carey, professor and nutrition undergraduate program coordinator, knows that Coburn Won’t Let You Down. She says, “When I asked her what we could do to keep track of our over 300 majors, Meg created a spreadsheet of student names with all the pertinent information needed by an advisor including class year, date of entry to UNH, student ID, and the student’s option.” This willingness to respond quickly and thoroughly with a can-do attitude is a hallmark of Coburn’s professionalism.

As Professor of Biochemistry, Chair Rick Cote appreciates Coburn’s ability to prioritize while treating each person she encounters with great respect. “Meg never forgets who’s most important around here: it’s not the chair, it’s not the faculty . . . it’s the students.” During her time at COLSA, Coburn has always maintained this focus, saying, “It’s important to do our best here for the students no matter what.” Even with a special emphasis on the students, there’s no Conflict of Interest for this music lover who energizes and supports everyone with whom she works. In making life a little bit easier for everyone, Coburn adds the “rock and –” to her modus operandi “roll with it.”

When she was a kid, Coburn’s father brought home one of the Beatles’ earlier albums, Meet the Beatles, the year it came out in 1964. He learned to play the songs on his Martin guitar and the whole family sat around and sang together. “He used to be in a country western band that toured around New England . . . before going off to World War II,” says Coburn of the man who most influenced her love of music. Coburn stuck with her rock and roll roots, later becoming a fan of such luminaries as the Moody Blues, Neil Young, and, her favorite band, Aerosmith, whom she’s seen over fifteen times. “In August 2010, I saw Aerosmith and J. Geils at Fenway. It doesn’t get much better than that,” says Coburn, also a self-described “wicked Red Sox fan” who is known to stream games through her office computer during the height of the season.

Dr. Estelle Hrabak, associate professor and genetics undergraduate program coordinator, shares Coburn’s enthusiasm for the Olde Towne Team, and was one of the faculty that treated her to a gift certificate to Fenway Park a couple of years ago.  With appreciation for Coburn’s ambitious “I’m Ready” nature, Hrabak says, “Meg is always willing to do whatever it takes to get everything done on time. In short, Meg is a large part of the reason that our department runs so smoothly!” This ambition to excel has enabled Coburn to communicate well and develop strong working relationships across the University. “One of the ways that Meg works magic is that she’s developed really friendly relations with the registrar. They’ll do whatever they can for Meg because they respect her so highly,” says Cote. “With Meg, the doors of communication are always open. She’s garnered everyone’s trust from her lengthy experience in working with the various units of the University.”

Born in Concord, Coburn has lived all over the northeast, including Maine, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but returned to make New Hampshire her home more than thirty years ago. As a child, she developed resilience in the face of transition when her family moved frequently with her father’s ever-increasing responsibilities in management for Sears. Later, she would draw upon this resilience during COLSA’s reorganization in 2008. At that time, Coburn was promoted to senior administrative assistant and left Kendall Hall after more than twenty years for her new office and added responsibilities in Rudman Hall. “Everything worked out well,” says Coburn whose positive outlook and longstanding ability to flow with life reveals a shimmering Light Inside.

In spite of her familiarity with transition, Coburn also enjoys the consistency of A Good Thing in her love of working for COLSA, classic rock, and her two children, Jeffrey ’11 and Molly. “In addition to being a vital member of our department, Meg is a very dedicated mom. Her children are a priority in her life as she juggles the demands of a very full time job,” says Dr. Joanne Burke, director of the dietetic internship program and clinical assistant professor of nutrition. In 1986, Coburn began her career at the college as an entry level administrative assistant in the animal and nutritional sciences program and, two years later, gave birth to her son. And, now, with a quarter century of experience at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), the scope of Coburn’s familiarity with the institution is vast. “The depth of her knowledge of department, college, and University procedures, policies, and practices is nothing short of extraordinary,” says Cote of Coburn whom he considers the glue that holds MCBS together.

At COLSA, Coburn’s responsibilities outmatch the complexity of a Rubik’s cube. She coordinates the operations of all the undergraduate programs at MCBS as the primary liaison between her department and other academic and administrative units at UNH. “It’s a 365-day a year job,” says Coburn of her work with scheduling the times and rooms of all the courses alone. Much of her other duties involve direct interaction with students and faculty and, with her ready Three Mile Smile, she is well-suited to the role. Dr. Gale Carey knows how important that affable person-to-person interaction can be. About Coburn, she says, “Her professionalism coupled with her buoyant, congenial, and hospitable nature made her the logical choice to be the face of the department to the public and to students, and it continues to be so in her role as administrative assistant to the chair of the Molecular, Cellular & Biomedical Sciences Department.”

In addition, Dr. Dave Townson, associate professor of animal sciences and undergraduate program coordinator for the biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology program, who relies on Coburn’s administrative assistance, says, “She is resourceful, friendly, industrious, and firmly committed to improving the lives of others through her service.” And it is a service that Coburn finds rather satisfying. “I like most everything I do,” she says, adding, “You’re here for a good portion of your life, you might as well be happy and have fun doing it.”

“I look on the bright side of things,” says Coburn, whose luminosity makes her a Shooting Star among her co-workers. “I work with a really good team that is supportive of one another. We’re there for each other,” she says about their dedication in assisting one another professionally and personally over the years. A fellow administrative assistant in MCBS, Pamela Wildes, says of Coburn, “She is the department go‐to when it comes to the extra-curricular events such as holiday gatherings or barbecues. I bet few people truly know how an event like that is implemented. Well, it’s Meg for sure. She makes sure everybody has a good time and helps to maintain the community of our department.”  Coburn applies her willingness, enthusiasm, and dedication to all her responsibilities, creating a career that has been a collection of truly Great Moments throughout her time at COLSA.

- Victoria Forester Courtland