Mailing a UNCG student a letter? Address it like this:

John Smith

jsmith1 at UNCG

Greensboro, NC  27413

No, that’s not a mistake.

Since the beginning of the academic year students at UNCG have used their email address to receive regular mail, the implementation of a first-of-its-kind solution that solves not only a space problem but also a generational gap.

The solution is the brainchild of Robert Walker, the director of business services and systems for the university. The problem was the renovation of Moran Commons, the university dining hall, which used to centrally house 6,000 student post office boxes.

Traditionally, UNCG had provided a postal box for every student on campus, but that system was antiquated and the set-up required “a lot of overhead and a lot of maintenance,” Walker said. At the end of the school year, “we had to change the dial on the combination locks, relabel them, move the mail. It was two weeks worth of work.”

Work that wasn’t appreciated by a generation of students reared on email. “We had full boxes of stuff they didn’t pick up,” Walker said.

The renovation, which made the old postal boxes unavailable, offered an opportunity for change. “We looked at it with fresh eyes and said we can do better,” Walker said. “If we’re going to change it, let’s do it in a way students will appreciate.”

The new system — dubbed Spartan Mail Management — abandons the old model using post office boxes. Now when students receive a letter or package on campus, they are emailed a unique postal code that corresponds with a cubby in the campus’ central postal center in Jefferson Suites. To pick up the mail, the student gives the postal clerk the code and, if applicable, shows his or her university ID. Once cleared, the cubby is then reassigned for the next piece of mail.

In a nod to sustainability — and changing student habits — the university no longer delivers bulk mail, fliers or junk mail to the campus’ 27413 student zip code.

“Students love it,” Walker said of the new system, which gives students instant notification that they have mail and tracks all the envelopes and packages received. “We have more tracking and accountability than we’ve ever had.”

Others see the potential for the system as well. The dynamic mail management system, the first of its kind in the nation, is patent pending and won the National Association for Campus Auxiliary Services’ Innovative Use of Technology Award.

Pulling on his IT background, Walker spent about six months and 300 to 400 development hours to create the web-based system, incorporating features he found lacking in the marketplace. The university spent less than $10,000 on the hardware and computing supplies to accompany the system, he said.

But the real savings, Walker added, was in UNCG avoiding having to buy a commercial system and the expensive licensing fees that would accompany it. Other systems currently available would have cost UNCG between $100,000 and $1 million and still lack some of the flexibility and features Walker’s system has.

Now, with the pending patent on the Spartan Mail Management system, “it could become a revenue generator for the university,” Walker said.

The new system also reduces the amount of square footage necessary to handle student mail, with less than 2,000 dynamic mailboxes necessary to handle what used to require 6,000 traditional postal boxes. When the renovated space in Moran Commons reopens, “we’re giving a lot of space back to dining services,” Walker said.