An Inside Look at Brockport’s New Normal: Spotlight on Staff
Some staff members have taken on tireless charges to keep campus operating safely and effectively throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dubbed by his SUNY Brockport colleagues as "The Corona Guy" this semester, Assistant Director of Physical Plant Services Larry Brien has managed all service areas in Facilities & Planning for the last three of his 15 years on campus. But now, Brien's team of more than 100 personnel is working round-the-clock to not only keep campus operations running as smoothly as usual, but also to Protect the Nest.
With much to coordinate, Brien has grown accustomed to juggling three different phones every day. His usual go-tos are his work phone and his personal cell, which he'll answer at 3 am if it means he can help solve an issue on campus. This semester, he's tacked on a third phone, used to receive notifications when any of the 300 disinfectant wipe stands across campus require refilling.
Acquiring those wipes, in addition to 200 hand sanitizer stands, 26 electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, and much more, wasn't a simple feat for the Facilities staff amid the nation's high demand for cleaning supplies over the summer. But early action, teamwork, persistence, research — and a bit of innovation — made it possible.
"We estimated our consumption of wipes, at the high end, would be about 780,000 for the semester, given one wipe per class per student. We were actually running low. So now, we're not only using the canister wipes we have, but we're also making them. We have a couple of different contraptions we built," said Brien.
The use of these new supplies was incorporated into the campus's cleaning guide, revised this summer by Brien and Director of Physical Plant Kevin Rice to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and United States Environmental Protection Agency standards. Coming out to 27 pages long, the guide was used by SUNY as an example of best practices for schools preparing for safe returns to campus.
Brien says the typical cleaning routine for Hartwell Hall, for example, would require five housekeeping staff members and about eight hours. This semester, 10 people are working in the building throughout a 24-hour period to achieve adequate disinfecting in addition to standard cleaning.
"There's so much disinfectant out on our campus right now, I'm surprised anyone's catching the common cold," said Brien. "If we can't stop someone from getting COVID-19, we can stop the transmission."
Brien noted that many Facilities staff members are working double shifts, sacrificing vacation time, and taking on much of the risk in order to keep others safe. His quarantine housekeeping team, especially Supervising Janitor Sondra Aman, is his right hand. He gave a shoutout to Assistant Director of Maintenance Services Brad Menear and his team, who have helped equip campus for safety, setting up all the barricades. Menear once even video-chatted with a student in quarantine to teach her how to reattach her window shades she accidentally dismantled.
"I'm so proud of our people," he said. "The thing I love about Brockport is that the people who work here care about this place."
The impact of COVID-19 across the globe has hit home in the Center for Global Education and Engagement, where roles have also evolved to support campus priorities.
"Keith Davis (associate director of international enrollment and campus support), Dylan George (international advisor/ recruiter), and Michaela Luedke (assistant director of education abroad) are actively involved with pool testing and quarantine/isolation," said Director of Global Education and Engagement Lindsay Crane, who volunteered to help with pool testing alongside Administrative Assistant Heather Weber.
Weber even provided help to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions in processing transfer student credit earlier in the semester, and Crane and Davis are now teaching an Academic Planning Seminar course.
George and Luedke started out creating programs for students in quarantine and isolation earlier this year and have now transitioned to helping maintain the resident roster and communications.
"Keith, however, has done it all," said Luedke. "Since the spring semester, he’s served on so many COVID-related committees. He also leads the pool testing for campus. Anything and everything from planning, campus communication, risk management, to making sure each test is run smoothly and efficiently. When campus needs to get creative, Keith is brought into the conversation. It’s been remarkable to see him manage both his everyday responsibilities while being so heavily involved in 'protecting the nest.'"
In addition to contributing extra support to help keep campus safe, the global education staff is continuing to offer virtual study abroad programs. Upcoming opportunities for students include the Global Citizenship Virtual Exchange Programs and remote international internships in Dublin, Ireland, and Prague Czech Republic in the Spring 2021 semester.
"COVID has literally changed how our Center works on a day-to-day process and has also changed the way our students study," said George, who noted that both SUNY and Department of Homeland Security guidelines and restrictions in place for international travel must be monitored weekly by the team. "I applaud our international students' ability to adapt."
Like the facilities and global education teams, nursing staff on campus are no strangers to working late nights and weekends this semester.
Pre-COVID-19, Registered Nurse Coordinator Lynne Maier would have described herself as the "immunization guru," "clinic flow monitor," "nurse supervisor," "staff professional development manager," "student family liaison," "staff social coordinator," "case manager," "PrEP champion," and, in case she missed anything, a "jack-of-all-trades" in the Hazen Center for Integrated Care. And while none of those responsibilities have dissipated, Maier has added to her job description the coordination of medical support for students in isolation or quarantine, pool testing assistance and planning, and supporting staff through COVID-related issues.
"Continuing to meet other pressing health needs on top of COVID added responsibilities is a 24/7 operation," said Maier.
The staff heads home with blisters on their fingers from untwisting hundreds of pool test tubes in a day.
Despite their perseverance through the quirks and demands, Maier and the rest of the round-the-clock nursing staff are working to prevent burnout and build a positive atmosphere in their office and among the campus community.
"In March, we were so nervous. There wasn't as much information about COVID. Now, we've got this. We've got a process, we've got a policy, we can take care of this. Our staff has been really well trained, and a lot of campus partners are kicking in to help," said Maier.
Maier, Brien, Davis, George, and Luedke are all part of the Brockport Quarantine and Isolation Group, along with 17 other staff members on campus. Each contributes their expertise to ensure the campus quarantine/isolation operation runs effectively, needs are met, and students' mental and physical health are monitored daily.
"There's a lot of teamwork and collaboration," said Maier. "Nobody is going to let the boat sink."
In the realm of residential life, staff are working to keep students entertained and enriched in an era of social distancing. Assistant Director of Residential Life/Learning Communities Vanessa Taylor says Resident Directors (RDs) and Resident Assistants (RAs) have implemented creative solutions to continue offering living and learning programming within the residence halls.
"Virtual and small in-person programs have been hosted several times per week," said Taylor. "Some have included mental health programming, partnering with the Academic Success Center and University Police, Living Learning Community (LLC)-focused programs, friendship bracelets, grow your own plants, meditations and stress management programs, trivia and bingo nights, and Halloween costume parties." The Residential Life staff is also collaborating with the Academic Success Center to host a first-generation student celebration in the residence halls, the first of its kind in Brockport history, in early November.
While 57 percent of the College's new students belong to one of the 17 first-year LLCs on campus this semester, they'll help protect the nest by foregoing the array of off-campus field trips that are a traditional element of the program. Taylor says Residential Life/Learning Communities staff miss hosting those signature activities, but in their place, partnerships with other offices and academic departments are spurring new opportunities for more intimate LLC programming on campus.
Taylor is noticing that the one-one-one interactions suited for social distancing are stimulating deeper connectivity among residents and staff.
"One RD shared that some suitemates took the initiative to write dozens of sticky notes with inspiring and motivational messages to put on the doors of suites," said Taylor. "When the RD asked why they took the time to write them, they said they did it because they believed taking the time and effort to make even one person happy and feel connected that day is worth it."
"We're all in it together; that's really the motto this year," said Maier. "It's going to take the whole campus to support and get each other through, whether that's a shoulder to lean on or much more."