Originally published Feb. 19, 2012

What’s the lifespan of a squirrel? And how many stripes are on a zebra? If you don’t know these answers, call the 2020 Information Desk at Grand Valley State University. You won’t be the first person to ask. In fact, the desk receives so many strange calls that it has a Blackboard site devoted to swapping stories.

Between the elderly woman inquiring about refrigerating yeast and GoogleMaps seeking the address of the arboretum, your question may not be as outlandish as you think.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the help desk received 91,958 calls with questions like these. Such support from the GVSU community has inspired the people behind the desk to host a 20/20 Information Appreciation Day today.

“20/20 is showing our appreciation to faculty, staff and alums and the community that all call and have made 20/20 kind of a household word,” said Lisa Williams, student manager of the 20/20 Desk.

Workers at the desk are giving out balloons, candy and 20 percent discounts at the student bookstore. Students can also take surveys to enter for a chance to win $20 in debit dollars or $20 to the bookstore, and they can contribute to the celebration by posting their favorite 20/20 stories on Twitter or the 20/20 Desk Facebook page.

Williams said she has responded to a number of odd phone calls during her time behind the desk, whether it is directing someone as they drove through the state, participating in student surveys or answering unusual questions.

LeAnn Tibbe, assistant director of Student Life, said her favorite call was from someone in Indianapolis who asked for the nearest Mercedes-Benz mechanic.

“We were able to provide a service that was pretty unique,” Tibbe said.

In fact, the service is so unique that people outside the GVSU community and even outside the state of Michigan call to get their questions answered.

“Students who go to Grand Valley, who graduate and live elsewhere still call 20/20 to get their questions answered,” Williams said, adding that even students from Michigan State University call with questions. “A lot of other universities don’t have what we have.”

Although the desk sees a lot of traffic, it wasn’t always as well-used or efficient as it is today.

“20/20 had humble beginnings,” Williams said.

The 20/20 Desk started as “Buzz 206” in the late 1990s with a steel-case desk, a single student worker and a phone book.

“We started it from nothing,” Tibbe said.

The modern version of 20/20 was started in Fall 2002 when the university finished the Kirkhof Center renovations. It is now run by the Office of Student Life and supervised by professionals in the department.

“The 20/20 Information Desk is a valuable asset to the entire campus community,” said Bob Stoll, associate dean for Student Life. “The student staff who work at the desk are there providing a wide variety of services. People are able to find out about almost anything by calling the staff who are there even late at night and on the weekends. They are well trained and experienced in getting information that people need to know. The campus culture has embraced
this operation and finds great value in knowing who to call if they need assistance.”

Besides answering phone calls, student 20/20 workers manage the recreation room and big screen theater, sell tickets and provide special event support.

The workers at the 20/20 desk are considered essential staff, and the desk is one of the few campus offices that remains open during snow days.

“We know we’re not perfect, but we really care about the campus community and we want to provide the best customer service we can,” Williams said.

The desk is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight.

Students can contact the 20/20 Desk via Twitter or Facebook, or by calling 616-331-2020.


Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2012/02/got_questions