Heard on the Hill: What’s the KU Ombuds Office? We’ll tell you; sculptor to demonstrate how to bend wood; N.J. KU fan featured on ‘GMA’

Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Today, an office at KU will celebrate its 35th anniversary. It’s an office that I’ll bet many Heard on the Hill readers are not aware of: the University Ombuds Office.

I don’t say that to be mean-spirited. The university ombuds herself, Kellie Harmon, told me her office is rarely in the limelight.

“Even though we’ve been here 35 years, it’s just one of those kind of weird, hidden offices that people don’t know about,” Harmon said.

But even if it’s received little public attention, the office performs an important service, she says: It’s a place for students, faculty or staff to go for informal, off-the-record discussion of conflicts, grievances or other problems on campus.

If, say, a student has a conflict with a professor (or the other way around), that student could come to the Ombuds Office to talk it over and receive some coaching on how to handle the situation, without needing to go through any sort of formal process.

The first university ombudsman — as it was then called — took office in 1977, after University Governance groups created the position, Harmon told me. Harmon is the fourth ombuds in KU history, but she’s the first person to hold the position full-time; until 2007, the role was filled by a faculty member.

Harmon said she started working in the office part-time 20 years ago when she was a graduate student, and she liked it so much that she stayed there to work full-time after she finished school. Two faculty members assist her in the office now.

In its 35 years, the office has addressed more than 10,000 concerns from folks on campus, Harmon said.

It’s going to celebrate its 35th anniversary from 3 to 5 p.m. today in the Malott Room at the Kansas Union, where refreshments will be served. In attendance will be former ombuds, other people who’ve worked in the office and various folks from around campus, Harmon said. Anyone who’s been helped by the office before is welcome to attend, she said.

• To me, someone not terribly adept at working with his hands, “wood bending” sounds like some sort of witchcraft.

But Matthew Burke, an associate professor of sculpture at KU, assures me that it’s something humans can actually do. He’s planning to prove it Saturday morning, when he’ll offer a free wood-bending demonstration for anyone interested in bending wood for sculpture or other projects, or anyone interested in just seeing it done.

The demonstration will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the KU Art and Design Building.

Burke says that not only is wood bending real, but there are three ways to do it: with chemicals, cold lamination or steam. He’ll demonstrate all three Saturday.

It’s the second of three “hand skill Saturdays” the sculpture program is offering this semester.

• A hat tip goes to the @KUNews Twitter feed for this one: A brief clip on “Good Morning America” on Thursday showed an 11-year-old girl in Hoboken, N.J., who set up an “Internet café” out in front of her family’s home where people who’ve lost power because of Superstorm Sandy can come charge their electronics.

The “café” appears to consist of a whole bunch of power strips, making use of what appears to be a portable generator, into which folks have plugged in phones, tablets, computers, a coffee maker and all manner of things, which makes for some neat visuals.

But the reason we’re mentioning it here, and why @KUNews tweeted it, is that for part of the segment the girl, Lucy Walkowiak, is wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt adorned with what is clearly a KU Jayhawk.

The “GMA” talkers don’t acknowledge this, so we don’t know exactly what her KU connection might be, but the 90-second clip is still worth a watch.

• We’ve got a long way to go if we want the number of Heard on the Hill tips received to match the number of cases dealt with by the KU Ombuds Office over the years. In fact, I haven’t been counting, so we’ve pretty much gotta start now. So get those tips in, quick, to merickson@ljworld.com.