The long-time answer man at Montana State University's Ask Us Information Center knows who to call when a live chicken is trapped in the Bobcat Grill. He can describe the hubbub that arose when someone slipped a barracuda into the MSU duck pond. He spits out MSU phone numbers without checking a directory. He can tell callers if an aardvark has toes almost as easily as he can tell them the location of the next football game.
"I like it. I guess I'm a little bit ADD. I find the questions to be quite stimulating," said the senior who fields questions from all over Montana, the United States and sometimes outside the country.
Hendricks is one of 14 to 17 students who currently work at the Ask Us desk at the hub of the SUB. A Billings native working on his second undergraduate degree, Hendricks figures he answers 30 to 40 questions an hour or as many as 800 questions a week. And those are only while he's on duty. When the Ask Us phone is busy, his answer-seeking friends call him at home. After six years at the job, Hendricks said he knows the routine answers by heart. For the trickier ones, he turns to the Internet, reference books or MSU experts.
"It's a pretty unique service," Hendricks said about the student-managed service that began 41 years ago.
"It's amazing," agreed Al Bertelsen, director of the SUB. "What's really interesting is the number of e-mails I get about it, particularly from former employees who have gone up the ranks at other institutions."
Many callers or people who stop by the Ask Us desk ask questions related to MSU, Hendricks said. They ask about financial aid or admission, for example. They want to know when a show begins or where a lecture will be held. But some callers want to know the highest mountain in the world, the tallest building on the planet or the names of the seven dwarves. They want help with their homework. Some callers are drunk and ask questions so crude that Hendricks politely says he doesn't answer those kind of questions.
"We get lots of crazy questions," Hendricks continued, saying he doesn't mind as long as they don't interfere with answering MSU questions. "Sometimes they are messing around, sometimes they are serious. Sometimes they are having an argument around the house, and we are the tie breaker.
"I always love it when they ask the number for the Ask Us desk," he added. "That's a bizarre one."
Hendricks worked at the Ask Us desk for three years when he was working on his degree in psychology. He resumed after returning to MSU to study biochemistry.
"He has been here forever," said Tony Little Owl of Fort Belknap, Ask Us Desk manager and senior in math. "He's kind of like the older brother at the desk. We all respect him a lot."
Bertelsen said, "He has always been so professional and hard working. He's the kind of person that will be an asset to any organization he decides to be part of."
Hendricks said he enjoys answering other people's questions, but he has asked a couple of important questions himself in the past few years. He met a woman who worked around the corner from him at the SUB and asked her for a date. He later asked her to become his wife, and she accepted.
"I would say the desk has been good to me," Hendricks said.
Now married to Morgan Hendricks for 1 1/2 years, Hendricks said he will graduate in the spring and hopes to enroll in graduate school at MSU, the University of Washington or the University of Colorado in Boulder to study neuroscience or biopsychology. No word yet on whether he'll continue answering questions for pay.
Q & A with Jay Hendricks:
Hometown: Billings, but his parents, Tim and Kathy Hendricks, now live in Missoula.
What's your favorite book?
The best book I have read recently was "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene. Mr. Greene does a fantastic job of describing and helping the reader to understand some of the more difficult theories in physics.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself doing research and teaching, preferably in a university setting. I enjoy learning and helping others to discover things about the world around us.
Who are your role models?
Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking are two of my many role models. I admire them more for their creativity than their intelligence. Both figures were willing to challenge the conventional thinking of the time.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy being outside and active. I love to hike, bike, ski and travel. Nothing makes me happier than doing all of these things with my wife, Morgan.
What's your favorite gadget?
My favorite electronic gadget is my home computer. I like to research, build Web pages, and enjoy the occasional video game.
Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service