Much of the Division of Student Affairs staff found themselves on the frontlines after COVID-19 forced a transition to online learning and remote work.
While the ways in which they supported our campus varied, from cleaning residence halls to providing meals to other essential workers or keeping orientation running, they all played a key role in maintaining critical operations for our students and the larger UNT community.
Below you can read stories from just a few of our frontline heroes and find out how they dealt with the unprecedented challenges this health crisis has brought.
Executive Director of the Student Health and Wellness Center and UNT’s Chief Medical Officer
"There were days it felt like a ghost town and the only people we saw were each other. It was very quiet and felt unnatural.” That’s how Dr. Cynthia Hermann, Executive Director of the Student Health and Wellness Center and UNT’s Chief Medical Officer, describes the University of North Texas Denton campus after the shut down in March when classes went online, and most faculty and staff began working remotely. But with a global pandemic knocking at the front door, Hermann and her staff went to work implementing safety protocols to not only keep students safe and healthy, but to make returning to campus possible. “Every day we are here and open and on campus and that is a blessing in my book,” she said. “It makes you appreciate how active and vibrant the campus is when it is full of students, faculty, and staff.” Herman, who recently celebrated her 15th year at UNT, took on the responsibilities of chief medical officer this summer as the COVID-19 crises threatened the community. In response, she and her team ensured testing was available on campus as well as coordinating a random testing program. “One of the things I am most proud of is the initiation of telehealth visits,” she said. “This started in our psychiatric clinic providing mental health appointments and ,it worked so well, we extended it to the medical clinic as well. We were able to continue to provide services to students who had to leave campus in March unexpectedly. This is something we had never done before but will certainly continue moving forward.” And now that people are coming back, Hermann hopes they will take their responsibility to stop the spread seriously. “Keeping the University safe and open is a team effort,” she says. “We all have to be mindful of our actions and strive to do what we can each day.” Part of that work is staying educated with the latest information from UNT’s Health Alerts site and the CDC. “There is a lot of misinformation out there in general and we have to keep ourselves educated,” Hermann said. “I would also ask that people trust the processes that have been developed over the summer. There are so many people from across campus with varying backgrounds that have worked tirelessly to help make things as safe as possible for everyone.” Hermann said she couldn’t be prouder of her team and everyone who worked so hard to put our students’ needs first during this crisis. “I am thankful for the support given to me individually and to the SHWC,” she said. “I am proud to have played a role in making our campus as safe as possible for our students.”
Chef and Manager of Kerr Dining
The operations of every aspect of UNT Dining Services has had to adjust due to the pandemic. For Klaus Meier, chef and manager of Kerr Dining Hall and his staff that has meant many changes in their day to day operations with the safety of students and staff in mind. Meier and his crew have ensured that the kitchen and the dining area is clean, and the staff is following safety protocols. Kerr Dining Hall never shut down throughout the pandemic, so they have had to be consistent in keeping everything clean and safe throughout the spring and in the summer. “Everyone is working together to make sure food is provided safely and that we are communicating with our staff,” said Meier. He added that one of the adjustments dining has made is to the serving style in the halls. “We also are making sure to speed up the lines to avoid any crowds of people waiting for their food so we can maintain social distancing.”
Associate Director of Career Services
In the weeks leading up to the start of the fall semester, Patricia Chastain and the Career Services team had their hands full helping students apply for jobs around campus. They also assist students in filling out the necessary paperwork to start their on-campus employment and with the onset of COVID that became more challenging. With CDC guidelines and social distancing procedures in place, students must make an appointment to fill out the proper paperwork in person. “We currently have 400 appointments this week for students to come and fill out their I9 and another 170 next week”, says Chastain. “Safety protocols are set-up for the entire office and I feel like my team and I have been one step ahead since March”. She feels that the university has done a great job providing plenty of disinfectant and PPE. “With so many students coming in and out to fill I9 forms, there has been a lot of spraying and wiping,” said Chastain. The Career Center has been diligent about making sure the students and staff stay safe in their day to day operations. She added that because of social distancing and less in-person meetings, the Career Center has had to create new telecommuting forms for students that helps better track their work from home if their job has that option. Communication is something that she feels has improved and has kept their operation fully functional. “The one thing I think moving forward, is that this pandemic has caused our communication with all of our supervisor to increase and improve; that is an aspect that we will continue to stay efficient at.”
Assistant Director for Building Services in Housing
During the Coronavirus outbreak, Assistant Director for Building Services in Housing Peter Beaulieu and his staff have remained on campus providing critical sanitizing and cleaning of residence halls. “Everything we do is for the students,” Beaulieu said. After more than 30 years working in higher education, Beaulieu said COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges but also a sense of community unlike what he has seen before. “We have all been dealing with the anxieties this situation has brought, but everyone on the staff has held together really well and supported each other,” he said. Beaulieu said one of the bright spots of the pandemic was his staff’s ability to focus even more than usual on sanitizing and cleaning the residence halls. “When the shutdown began in March, we went ahead and transitioned into our summer cleaning mode,” he said. “We always sanitize, but now we are doing it even more than usual. We were really able to take the time to be extremely thorough.” Beaulieu, who joined UNT two and a half years ago, added that safety of the housing cleaning staff has stayed at the top of his mind throughout the pandemic. Social distancing is maintained in all assignments and PPE is provided for the staff’s protection. “We have protocols in place that we follow whenever we are dealing with any virus, so we are ready and equipped to deal with this one,” Beaulieu said. Students returning for the fall semester has been a boost to everyone’s spirits, he added. “It feels really good to see the kids come back,” he said. “It feels good to be in back-to-school cleaning mode.” Ultimately, Beaulieu said he feels nothing but pride when he reflects on the past seven months. “I am so proud of each one of my staff and our leadership,” he said. “Everyone has stepped up to be sure we are all safe and ready for our students to come back.
Community Director in Kerr Hall
Russell Bouyer, Community Director in Kerr Hall, said when the campus first shutdown due to the COVID-19 virus it was a little nerve-wracking in the beginning. “We had to really flex our adaptability muscles,” he said. Bouyer said the entire 20-person staff stayed on campus to continue to serve the students who remained on campus after the shutdown. “I am so lucky to have such a great team with such a wonderful dynamic,” he added. Bouyer who has worked in Housing for five years beginning as a community director in Maple Hall said that with fewer people on campus his staff took advantage of that time to do some cleaning and exploring. “We got to go through old files and organize,” he said. “We also were able to learn more about the building and how we could better utilize the space so that was a positive that came out of this.” Bouyer said having students back on campus felt a little surreal at first after months of an empty campus but he and his team are grateful to see them return.“It has been really nice to see the students come back,” he said. “We missed them.” While he and his team carried on living on campus each day since the pandemic began, Bouyer knows many are adjusting to returning. “I would urge everyone to remain calm,” he said. “I keep wipes at my desk to protect myself and my space and we have a wonderful custodial staff that have been hard at work throughout this.” Bouyer said to combat stress he is trying to be more intentional about taking breaks to walk outside and get some fresh air. “I know for a lot of other people things are stressful and the work/life balance is hard right now,” he said. “I remind myself that this is temporary, and things will normalize.” Bouyer said it is important for the UNT community to remember that we all have a part to play in keeping ourselves and each other safe. “We model the behavior we expect from our students and continue to lean on each other,” he added.
Director of Residential Dining Services
In his four years at UNT, Sandeep Basu, Director of Residential Dining Services, has never encountered any challenge as difficult as COVID-19. “My team always wants to provide the best service to our students, faculty and staff and this crisis pushed us in new ways,” Basu said. Basu said Dining Services had to come up with entirely new service protocols to ensure that students were having the safest experience possible. Some of the practices implemented since March include protective screens, extra cleaning, spacing in dining halls and extra outdoor seating to allow for social distancing, and education for patrons. The campus shutdown and subsequent significant decrease in traffic in dining locations also gave Basu and his staff time for cross-training. “Ultimately, this time will help us be stronger in dealing with future emergencies,” Basu said. The lack of students once learning went remote had an impact on dining staff, he added. “We missed seeing our students and the familiar faces we have gotten to know through the years,” Basu said. “We are so excited to see everyone start to trickle back in.” Basu said now that more students are back campus, his staff will continue the new protocols started in the spring. “We make sure to follow the CDC guidelines and take care of those around us,” he said. “I am proud of our team for how they have taken care of our students, themselves and each other.” That caring attitude is, Basu said, what UNT represents. “We couldn’t have come this far without our UNT community trusting and supporting us,” he said. “None of us can do this alone.”
Director of the office of Orientation and Transition Programs
As the Director of the office of Orientation and Transition Programs, Stephanie Brown and her team assist new students and families with their transition to UNT and when COVID struck they had to rethink everything and move orientation virtually to webinars and Zoom meetings. “All of our processes and communication methods changed due to the virus, and additional support programs were organized to better explain processes to students and families,” said Brown. She added that while she and her team missed the traditional orientation experience, it is all about doing what is best to keep students, their families and staff safe. “I miss giving presentations in person and being able to assist people in person,” Brown said. “There is definitely a difference in getting to talk to someone face-to-face instead of through an email but the most important thing is that we are still connecting our students to the great resources and services we have on our wonderful campus.” The COVID pandemic has allowed OTP to think differently on how they serve incoming students. There are some programs and services that they plan on keeping even after things go back to normal. Virtual mentoring meetings have been very successful and is something they want to continue expanding on. Brown shared that some of the positives that have come from these unusual times for OTP is that they have had to become very flexible and the communication with one another in their department has increased. “In the beginning we hosted daily morning calls to connect with one another,” she said. “As the pandemic continued, we moved those calls to weekly optional “hang outs” where we can see what’s going on and just catch up. It’s been neat to see everyone still interact like we would in an in-person session and care for one another.”