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Efforts of essential personnel help JCSU during COVID-19 pandemic

Charlotte, N.C. / June 17, 2020 - As the world continues to deal with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, essential personnel are hard at work. At Johnson C. Smith University, faculty and a majority of staff are working remotely, but a number of essential workers remain on campus during this unprecedented time. Members of Institutional Advancement, the Health Center, Post Office, Facilities, Residence Life, Campus Police, Housekeeping and the Business Office are among the essential employees on campus during this pandemic.

“I feel that it is a great privilege to be able to serve the University during COVID-19; however, I look forward to the time when the faculty, staff and students will be able to safely return to campus,” Post Office Clerk Greg Pryor, said.

During the pandemic, Pryor has maintained social distance by restricting access into the Post Office area, maintaining safe distances and handling customer service business at the student window with the recommended personal safety equipment.

Social distancing has not been easy for all essential personnel. Shane Jackson, facility manager, has had to take a different approach when introducing himself to contractors. “I’ve replaced handshakes with a head nod or hello,” he said. In addition, Jackson has limited in-person meetings with his staff and leveraged technology.

“The Health Center has been open while the majority of the campus operates remotely to make sure people on campus have direct access to health services,” said Marian Y. Jones, Health Center director.

In addition to providing services to students unable to go home – international students and students who aged out of foster care – Jones and Elizabeth Cauthen, staff nurse, keep the Health Center open to serve other essential workers. “There are essential staff on campus, and we have been here to answer health-related questions, conduct health assessments and provide PPE if needed.”

Staff in the Division of Institutional Advancement, which includes Alumni Relations, University Communications and Marketing, and University Development, have all worked tirelessly to keep the JCSU family engaged, informed and focused on essential fundraising programs during this pandemic. "We realized quickly that we would be instrumental in keeping our constituents connected to JCSU even though many are located across the country," Tami Simmons, vice president of Institutional Advancement said. "Despite adjusting to the demands of social distancing and the way we work, our team scaled up its operation to meet the customer/community engagement, communications, and fundraising challenges. The UCM team, led by Sherri Belfield, has worked literally around the clock bringing the news to us which is more important than ever."  

JCSU Alumni and the Charlotte community have responded overwhelmingly to the University's fundraising appeals to help the campus navigate COVID-19. Funds contributed by alumni – nearly $20,000 – have been used to assist students directly. Corporate and community partners have contributed nearly $450,000, which will help purchase safety equipment like masks and hand sanitizing stations; technology to enhance online teaching and learning; and other materials such as signage and partitions needed to prepare for students, faculty and staff to return in fall 2020. 

While some staff has worked remotely, keeping up with incoming gifts and donations has required Senior Analyst Katrina Gordon and Calvin Banks '69, donor prospects manager, to be in the office on many days.

"Katrina and Calvin have been a great team throughout this time. They are our ‘in-office heroes’ because of their institutional knowledge about donors and essential processes," Simmons said. "They make sure our donors and internal partners feel well cared for, and they just keep things going. Their support in the office has helped us increase our fundraising and solidify additional resources to navigate this unprecedented time. Their work on the back end has been vital to the division’s success."

Staff in the Office of Residence Life worked diligently to help students leave campus this past March following the Stay at Home proclamation from Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio and subsequent order from N.C. Governor Roy Cooper. Since that time, the Residence Life staff has helped provide service to the international students and former foster care students who have remained on campus, while also making sure the residence halls are monitored to help protect the belongings many students had to leave behind. 

However, the bulk of their time has been spent preparing residence halls for students to return to campus in fall 2020. "We have been steadfast since students departed," said Terry McPherson '83, director of Residence Life. "We've adopted 'Smith Strong: Surviving Together' as our slogan. Our work has involved a lot of planning and working with other departments in anticipation of students returning to campus."

McPherson said not only are he and his staff on campus daily because they're essential workers, but also because they're passionate about their jobs and the students they serve. When asked why they do it, McPherson said, "Because we care! We miss our student residents and look forward to their return. Until then, we continue to Hold High the Gold and Blue."

We’ve heard the saying, “money makes the world go round.” That has proved to be true even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff in the Division of Business and Finance kept the office open during the work from home months so JCSU could go round with the rest of the world. Chief Financial Officer Greg Petzke said many of the division’s functions can be performed remotely, but some functions need to be done in the office. “The accounts payable department processes and pays the University’s expenses, and the cashier takes care of daily deposits,” said Petzke. 

Not only was it important for the business office to remain open to conduct the University’s daily financial business, but it was also important to help students resolve issues regarding their bills and to continue assisting students with financial clearance for the fall 2020 semester. “Staff in student accounts and in the financial aid office continue to work diligently, resolving problems and responding to students’ questions and concerns,” Petzke said. “As an institution of higher education, it’s essential for us to be responsive to our students and their families. We recognize that many families have been affected by the loss of jobs and income caused by the stay at home period of the pandemic. The lack of funds to fulfill their dreams of earning a college degree is always a barrier for many of our students, and the pandemic heightened that barrier for some of them. I’m proud of the small group of staff in my division who have been on campus every day to provide valuable, much-needed assistance to our students as they strive to become graduates of Johnson C. Smith University.”

Campus safety remains the highest priority for campus police. Chief of Police Jermaine Cherry said new measures have been implemented for visitors to ensure the campus remains safe. He has also taken additional measures to keep his officers safe. “We've been really intentional about making sure that we maintain safety in terms of their health. Make sure they have the right equipment, making sure that they are practicing the CDC guidelines and social distance,” he said.

Cherry is also using this time to speak with his officers about policing. “We have to get back to the basics as to why we got into this job. Most law enforcement officers in the country, I would say, are in it for the reasons,” he emphasized.

Other departments would not be able to work on campus, without the help of WFF. Richie Colon, director of Housekeeping, says crews are taking all the necessary precautions by utilizing cleaners that kill the coronavirus on contact. “I couldn’t be more proud of my staff and all the work they’re doing during this time,” he said. “They continue to make the safety of the campus a priority, and I couldn’t ask for a better team of employees.” Although Colon does not have to be on campus, he comes to work daily to “show support to my team.”

While working during this fluid situation has not been easy, University essential personnel have made it look easy. The efforts of these employees have kept dear old JCSU up and running over the last three months. Their service is greatly appreciated.

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