It was like doing the impossible.

The end-of-semester chore of processing grades for the University’s
thousands of students usually takes about 18 days. But Renee
Cartwright and her three-member staff in the transcript/grade
department did the same amount of work in four days over the

As a result, for the first time in USC’s history grade sheets were in
the mail prior to the start of the next semester.

“We came in early and stayed late – usually working from 7 in the
morning to 6, 7 or 8 at night. One night we burned the midnight oil
until close to 10 p.m.,” said Cartwright, who supervises the
department. Her staff includes senior grade technician Claudia Fish
and Quincy Smith and Rosa Gustus, both grade technicians.

The deadline for all grades to be submitted to Cartwright’s
department from the academic units was Dec. 23 – the day before
Christmas Eve – and the plan was to get them in the mail by Jan. 4,
the day after New Year’s weekend. Considering the two extra holidays
on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, that gave them only about four
work days to get the job done.

On Dec. 23 the staff was faced with working very late or coming to
work the Saturday after Christmas, so that the grades could be
uploaded in the system by the following Monday. The grading system is
fully automated with a program that matches the grades to the
students after they are uploaded. Once the grades are uploaded and
matched with students, the grade sheets must be read by human eyes to
make sure they are correct.

When told they might have to come to work that Saturday, “everybody’s
face just dropped,” Cartwright said. “Everybody said, ‘Let’s put our
shoulder to the grindstone and do what we have to do to get it

“We got it done,” she added.

The following Monday was spent proofreading the grades and by that
Wednesday – Dec. 30 – everything was in the system and was correct.
The grades were in the mail on Jan. 4.

“If I had gone with the normal holiday schedule, the grades would not
have been out until Jan. 11,” Cartwright said.

Getting the grades out to students in a timely manner is crucial to
the University’s integrity, said Cartwright. If they are late, it
delays students from enrolling in classes for next semester.
Scholarship committees, graduate schools and future employers are
also waiting for students’ transcripts.

“We find that the quicker you get grades out to students, the better
the University campus is,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright came to work at USC in 1980 as a grade technician. She was
promoted to supervisor of the transcript department in 1987. In 1990,
grades and transcripts were consolidated under her management.

Communication with academic units has been the key to getting grades
out in a more timely fashion, said Cartwright.

In the mid-1980s, there was no communication. “It was a one-way
street. We’d send out grade sheets and then didn’t know what was
going on or who to call to get them back.”

Now, each grade technician is in charge of coordinating with certain
academic units, and the deadlines are rigidly enforced through phone
calls, memos and flyers.

Cartwright said she couldn’t have gotten the grades out so fast in
December if it hadn’t been for her staff and the cooperation of
faculty and grade coordinators throughout the University. “When we
got really serious about our deadlines, we got hardnosed. But in the
long run, it helped everyone else.”

[Photo:] Renee Cartwright: “When we got really serious about our
deadlines, we got hardnosed. But in the long run, it helped everyone