“. . . we all have to do what we need to do to make sure that we keep others safe.”
By Megan Bradshaw
Photos by Lauren Castellana, Alexander Wright
Never in the university’s history had an operation of this magnitude occurred: In mid-March, nearly 4,000 faculty and staff and 23,000 students learned that after spring break, Towson University would pivot to entirely remote learning and working due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the flurry of students moving out of residence halls and faculty and staff collecting curriculum, technology and office plants, the campus was quiet.
But not still.
Life at TU kept humming along, shepherded by hundreds of essential workers from departments throughout campus. They cleaned the physical spaces, kept technology running smoothly for 8,000 remote courses and supervised maintenance and construction, among many other roles key to university operations. We asked a few of them to share how they persevered.
Note: On Aug. 26, TU announced the entire fall term would pivot to remote learning after an increase in positive PCR tests.
Property Manager of Housing Staff
Doug: Before the pandemic, we would go into rooms and start cleaning them. We have to clean trash and go into spaces to make sure that we remove any unwanted items.
I'm responsible for the whole housing department, so I oversee all the dorms. I [have] four supervisors. One oversees West Village, one oversees 10 West and Res Tower and another oversees the Glen. Consuelo works on the York Road side of campus.
There have been a lot of changes since the pandemic. We were scared at the beginning. Our jobs require that we be here and get things done for Towson. It was very difficult for everybody. But we've managed it real well. We haven't had any break or anybody sick because we followed the proper protocols.
It takes longer for us to clean now. Before, we used to have, like, three people go into one room, and one of them do the furniture, the other one do the bathroom, the other one do the kitchen. Now it's just one or two. One of them goes into the kitchen, the other one's into the bathroom to keep the social distance.
They all wear PPE and masks, and it's very frustrating cleaning with this. It's very exhausting. But at the end, the job has to get done.
With no one on campus, we get a lot more done. But when you don't see anybody, you feel like, ‘wait a minute, are they coming back?’ Or ‘what's going to happen?’ So there is a sense of uncertainty, not seeing everybody here. It feels like something's missing. It feels empty.
Housing Staff Supervisor, ABM Janitorial Services
Consuelo: I oversee Newell, Richmond, Prettyman, and Scarborough. I supervise 64 people in regular times. In summer break, it's maybe 20 people.
At first being an essential worker scared me. I miss my people, the students. It’s so different, but then I think, ‘tomorrow is another day. We can do this.’
We will keep focusing on common areas, touchpoint areas and all the places we need to to keep people safe. It's good because I want to help my company and my Towson University. I feel good.
Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities and Event Management, Department of Athletics
Normally around this time, it's more of a quieter time for us. We've got things going on, but it's not as busy as it is when our teams are in season.
My job responsibilities include overseeing the athletic facilities—all our facilities on South Campus, as well as Schuerholz Park. I make sure that our facilities are up and running and if there are any issues, take care of that.
Also, I oversee our event management. Me and my staff make sure that all of our sporting events run smoothly, that there aren't any issues. We're kind of like the team behind the scenes who make sure things go well.
When campus was shut down, I was basically one of the only essential workers here in the Towson Center. Me and our athletic director, Tim Leonard, were literally the only two people. And it’s a three-story building. I'm on the basement level, and Tim's on the top level.
There was one time I went outside, and things were pretty eerie because you're used to hearing bats hitting balls or whistles going or even cars driving by. But it was just silent. I'm nearly to the point now where I know if somebody's in one of our buildings because I'll see a car in the parking lot. During the summer, there was an empty parking lot.
But, at the same time, it seems like every day there's just numerous meetings going on—WebEx, Zoom meetings. We're trying to determine what new policies we have put in place; how can we safely and efficiently clean our surfaces; what do we need to change in regards to both access to the fields and things like that as well. I would say it went from this supposedly being a down time for me to probably being one of the busiest times I've had since being here.
I think we were all kind of a bit kind of shocked. The weekend that TU shut down was going to be extremely busy for me and my staff.
We had a men's lacrosse game. We had a women's lacrosse game. We had a baseball game. We had a softball game. Not to mention that night, after the Maryland state girls’ high school basketball championship games, we were having to go in and flip the arena for gymnastics. We were planning on being here from, let's say, 7–8 a.m. to about 1–2 o'clock the following morning.
Something that kept going during the pandemic has been construction here. Originally, we were supposed to have our new turf field installed after Special Olympics [in mid-to-late June]. Unfortunately, the Special Olympics was canceled, so now the project that was going to be completed toward the end of July was done at the end of June.
Like everyone else, COVID is definitely concerning to me. I'm taking all the precautions. One of our facility workers—an older gentleman—came into my office. He was like, ‘hey, I thought nobody was supposed to be in the building right now.’ I'm like, ‘they're not.’ He said, ‘no, there's somebody up on the basketball floor right now.’
You could see the concern in his face, and you could hear it in his voice. That's when it really hit me how COVID affects some people a lot more than it might affect myself. I started thinking about what his concerns might be.
At the time, they were saying how COVID had a more serious effect on the elderly's health. I was thinking he also might be concerned for his wife at home. What if he did catch it? And what if he was OK, but it hurt someone or caused someone in his family to get sick or potentially die?
I think, for me, it's just keeping in mind that it's a team effort. It's a group effort. And who knows? I might be asymptomatic; I might not be. But whether I am, we all have to do what we need to do to make sure that we keep others safe.
Director of Enterprise and Infrastructure Services, Office of Technology Services
OTS is pretty big, about 120 to 130 people. Everyone on my team within OTS is responsible for TU's email, file shares, phones and the network—all the infrastructure.
We have data centers on campus storing faculty, staff and student accounts, net IDs, passwords and allowing remote access to our systems.
When TU moved to remote learning this spring, we were focused on ‘how do we make sure our systems can handle everyone being at home?’ We quickly worked with departments and organizations like FACET to help faculty set up instruction and University Marketing & Communications to build web pages with quick answers to technology questions.
We also ramped up our own services to handle the change in the load.
Our team in general has had to have a presence on campus. We use rotations, and we limit who's coming on campus significantly. We make sure we follow all the safety guidelines. We’re logging staff campus visits.
We have people on campus to offer walk-up support and administer the laptop loaner program. We took over the old health center building, to give people easy access to help.
We also have people working on the network and the infrastructure. We work with Facilities Management to make sure the data center is cooled. We still have network work happening. We still interact with vendors, who are bidding on projects. Elsewhere in OTS, people are outfitting classrooms with technology to support remote classes and lecture capture.
Our faculty and staff helpdesk’s call load saw a rapid increase in support requests coming in coming in via email and phone calls. A few thousand calls came in in just the last two weeks of March. We did the same number of calls in that time frame as we did in all of April.
I think most everything members of our community touch, at some point, probably relies on something on our campus. And that's why it's important to stay running.
On a lighter side, we had an OTS Social Space in Webex Teams, where people could just chat about anything. Usually every morning there are memes and little animated gifs in there. In some ways, we're slightly more connected than we were before because it's constant interaction and jokes.
Business Travel and General Working Fund Administrator, Business Travel and Working Fund
I’ve been here about 33 years, with 31 of them in the Bursar’s Office.
In Business Travel, we're still doing everything the same, essentially. It was a little difficult to get acclimated to working remotely. You had to make sure you had all of your equipment because pretty much all the travel for the university—faculty, staff, students—funnels through Tiger Travel and PeopleSoft Financials.
After the travel restriction, we’ve been battling airlines and hotels and trying to get refunds and credit, so that our employees can eventually use that credit for future travel or get refunded because they couldn't go on the trip.
One of the university’s priorities at the beginning of the pandemic was getting students reimbursed for fees like housing and meals. That is normally initiated in the Bursar's Office.
Because I used to work there, they asked if I'd be willing to help. Another one of my team members from business travel used to work there too, so we pitched in.
We were working 12-hour days to get them all done. We were one of the first schools that got those refunds out.
We also processed parking refunds. I partnered with the accounts payable department as the staff processed thousands of refunds as quickly as possible. We processed all the reimbursements by the end of April.
The refunds were quite a challenge because they had to be prorated. There's a lot of information behind all the tables to get those calculations to work correctly. It was time-consuming, and repetitive because the state still requires us to mail/deliver the paperwork down to them.
We all worked together as a team. In fact, everybody was emailing and phoning each other. And they're like, ‘come on, let's do 100 more, and we'll be done.’
Then you had to verify them. Sometimes that was 8 o'clock at night. We just kind of kept working through it, and we got it done.
I really am impressed by the way Towson has handled this situation. I'm very, very pleased at how they've kept us in the loop with everything and that they care about us. They care about our safety.
I really think it's brought the campus even closer because I connect with a lot of staff and faculty members helping with the forms. Everyone's like, ‘stay well. Take care.’ I just think they've just done a great job with it.