snow covered hurley building and the library mall on campus

UNT Student Affairs supports students through winter storm

Tue, 03/02/2021 - 12:45 | Written for: DSA News

The Division of Student Affairs is dedicated to serving and supporting our students no matter the situation and that was on full display during the recent winter storm.

When a historic winter storm hit campus on Feb. 14 blanketing the state with snow and ice and shutting down campus for a week, DSA employees fought through their own challenges at home to be sure our students were taken care of.

“I could not be more grateful and proud of the way our team members stepped up to take care of and support our students while dealing with their own numerous challenges at home,” says Elizabeth With, Vice President for Student Affairs. “Their efforts were herculean and yet another great example of what a caring community we have here.”

In Housing and Dining, our staff made sure that students were warm (as could be), dry, fed, and, supported the entire week campus was shut down. When Eagle Landing had to be closed due to storm damage, Dining Services jumped into action and moved all food and operations to Bruceteria and were up and running in three hours.

There are so many staff from Housing including many student employees who stepped up the week of the storm but special thanks go to Danny Armitage, Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services, who was on site every day to provide steady and calm leadership while he and his staff were dealing with a variety of heating, plumbing and many other challenges; Craig Zemmin, Associate Director for Residential Facilities, was also on campus each day including the day before the storm hit. Craig’s leadership directed countless staff who helped remove water, identify emergency issues immediately, and provided crisis management. He was in constant communication with our partners in facilities, and our contracted service providers and served as the central command for triaging problems as they arose; Pete Beaulieu, assistant director for building services, came in and cleaned on his own at times; Julie Townley, community director, had many things thrown at her and she handled it with grace. She dealt with several floods, walked rooms and picked up student items so not they would not be ruined by water, and walked buildings during power outages to check on students; Amanda Vaughn, assistant director for talent management, was like a conductor. She was responding, organizing and informing students and staff; Matt Moreno, Adrian Jourdan among others- these students cleaned up floods and delivered over 20,000 bottles of water; kudos to Melissa McGuire, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Zach Shirley, Director of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, who worked tirelessly to finding shelter for sorority members displaced by storm damage to their houses.

“To say this was one of our most challenging weeks is an understatement, but our folks rose to the occasion as they always do,” says Armitage. “Despite one setback after another, including no or intermittent power, loss of wi-fi, frozen or busted pipes, they continued to fight through and step up and support our students.”

In Dining Services, there were many staff, both full-time and hourly who showed up that week, but even considering their status as essential services, there are some who stood out.

Derrick Cripps, senior director of Dining Services, led on the ground efforts for Dining during the closure; Chefs, managers, and supervisors who ensured hot meals for students at Eagle Landing during power failure: Klaus Meier, Andrew Klipsch, Rudy Vasquez, Desmond Williams, Sean Coxon, Taylor Battle, Teresa Olivarez, Rodrigo Blanquet Suarez, Esayas Estifanos, Anthony Durant, Illinca Capuchina. They showed up each day regardless of scheduling and organized carpools for full time staff, and an on-campus transport service for student staff to ensure that employees did not have to traverse campus in freezing temperatures to serve food at Champs and Eagle Landing; Management staff who ensured hot meals at Champs and Bruce: Sarah Kettelhut, Steve Schmidt, Brennon Turner, Brenda Fineau, Rolando Yoc; Benito Gavirio, executive chef, ensured that students in isolation due to COVID-19 had three meals per day during campus closure: Earl Flowers and Pierre Thilllez, delivered food to students in COVID-19 isolation each day and managed logistics and food deliveries on campus so that no ingredients went to waste as a result of power outages; Alyssa Torrance, director of communications and guest experience in Dining Services, was "plugged in" around the clock on social media to make sure parents and students were aware of important Dining Services information during the campus closure. She responded directly to parents and students to make sure no Dining related question or concern went unanswered during the closure; Matt Ward, executive chef of residential dining, organized communication and movement of hourly staff across operating areas during the closure, while also ensuring deliveries of bottled water due to the boil water notice.

“There are a multitude of full-time cooks and student Dining staff who alongside many of the managers and chefs listed above showed up each day to make sure the students and emergency staff on campus were served hot meals each day in less than ideal circumstances,” said Peter Balabuch, executive director of Dining Services. “Their efforts, while not surprising, leave me in awe of their commitment to serve the University community- in my eyes, they are all outstanding. I am proud of all of them.”

When the campus shuts down, the University Union is one of the places that stays open for students to go and this winter emergency was no exception. Staff traveled to the Union daily to ensure that students had a safe and warm place to take refuge. The Union staff made sure that the building stayed operational throughout many challenges.

Mike Flores, director of maintenance and operations, was the MVP of the Union during the winter closure. He was on-site on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 7 a.m. to ensure the building would be safe to open after the first snowfall. After each power outage, Flores checked all the building systems to ensure they were still operational. He continued to be on-site daily communicating, working with the team, and troubleshooting challenges as they came. Later in the week, when the Union became a location for water distribution, Flores was at the forefront of resolving issues and maintaining operations. His long hours, dedication, and expertise are greatly appreciated. The Union would also like to recognize operations staff including Rick Rodriguez, who managed the daily challenges, and the student building managers; the maintenance team including Les St. Clair, Martin Garibay, and our student staff who continually reset systems and checked on mechanical operations after every power outage; the custodial crew including Karen Hanselman, Rufus Hudson, Allen Langlie, Luis Perez, Michael Ruiz, Alketa Sulollari, and student worker Donovan Prentice who kept the building clean; student information desk workers who provided needed information and water to guests and staff who came in to flush water lines and prepare the Gateway and Coliseum for reopening when the boiled water notice was lifted, including Tyler Baker and Michael Slater.

Other notable items:

  • The staff in the Pohl Recreation Center with special thanks to Richard Allen, Facility Manager, who oversaw the Rec Center systems daily from responding to system alarms, cleaning up flooded mechanical rooms, hand feeding chemicals to all 3 pools to ensure pools maintained balance, and taking systems off-line to avoid costly repairs. 
  • Our Housing and Dining staff with help from partners across campus were able to supply deliver bottled water provided by UBSC to our students both on and off-campus during the Denton County boil water notice.
  • The UNT Food Pantry was able to open Feb. 20 and 21 for our students experiencing food insecurity. Also, while the Pantry doesn’t normally serve faculty and staff, President Smatresk and Dr. With made we were able to make an exception to allow those experiencing food insecurity due to the storm to utilize it Feb. 23-26.