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East Tennessee State pioneers next-generation campus mailroom

Automation, mobile app reduces footprint and improves student service

Universities are often the perfect environments to test new methods for old processes. A perfect example of this is the campus mailroom where inefficiencies, outdated technology and spatial waste are proving to be more of a burden than a service.

Universities are exploring new ways to redefine the mailroom of old. Campus card providers offer automation services for package pickup, and technology companies like Ricoh and even Internet giants like Amazon are working to change the way campus mail is delivered.

A new entrant to the campus space, USZoom, is positioning its digital mailbox platform – which has been implemented at 120 locations across 42 states – specifically for the university space. Under a new moniker, iCollegeMail, the system provides campuses with a means to notify students when mail arrives and turns the concept of mail delivery into something of a concierge service.

USZoom initially developed the digital mailbox concept in 2007 for its shipping store that was serving international customers, says Barry Gesserman, chief marketing officer at USZoom. The company now serves 25,000 customers with digital mailbox solutions.

“We hear it all the time, whether it’s a dorm or a campus mail center, mail is delivered to boxes and it just sits there,” says Gesserman. “Even if they’re in close proximity, students aren’t thinking as much about mail, and it’s not a central part of their life.”

Since postal mail isn’t as much of a focus for students as it was years ago, universities need to rethink how they deal with letters and packages. The digital mailbox enables students to be notified – via smartphone app or email – when they receive a package or letter. Once notified, they can choose to visit their individual mailbox or report to the mailroom service window to receive their parcel.

Alternately, they can opt to immediately discard and recycle the mail, hold for pickup or forwarding to another address. It’s giving a measure of control to students as to how their mail is handled, while doing away with clunky mailboxes.

ETSU blazes a trail

The mail center at East Tennessee State University is pioneering efforts to introduce new methods of mail delivery.

“East Tennessee State probably has the most innovative university post office in the country,” says Don McCarty, manager of Postal Services at the university. “We’ve been very progressive in launching new ideas.”

Prior to joining East Tennessee State, McCarty spent 27 years in the Marine Corps working in postal service, and by the time he retired he had essentially assumed the role of postmaster for the Corps.

“After moving mail all over the world  –  which the Marines do better than anybody else  –  I decided to join ETSU,” McCarty says. “When I arrived, they were about 30 years behind what I was used to.”

Students can pick up mail 20 hours a day, 365 days per year. They can receive their letters and packages without coming to a window, without assistance and without staffing.

ETSU previously had a system that required an employee to manually enter students’ box number and send out an email notification to the student, explains McCarty. “The notification was simple and basically told students that they had first class mail in their box. Students didn’t know what the mail was – letter or package – only that they had mail.”

McCarty initially contacted USZoom looking for a means to introduce additional automation. With iCollegeMail, ETSU can now give students choice. “They have the choice currently to treat it as waste mail, which is good because a lot of those letters would normally fill up the trashcans in my lobby,” he says. “Now we directly recycle behind the counter so mail isn’t exposed to just anyone walking by.”

Students at ETSU also have the option to have mail placed in the mailbox, forwarded to another address or held for future pickup during vacations or breaks.

“My students can pick up mail 20 hours a day, 365 days per year,” explains McCarty. “They can receive their letters, parcel mail, everything without coming to a window, without assistance and without staffing.”

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