Dillard People of 2020: #1 The Essentials

One of the phrases we heard a lot in 2020 was essential employee. These were the people that HAD to go to work in spite of a deadly virus. Even when cities shut down, schools and universities went online, and major corporations went to virtual offices, we still had people maintaining the basic functions that could not be done from a laptop at the house.

At Dillard, we had our essential employees as well. I know sometimes students and parents believe that everything should operate perfectly all the time, but anyone honest with themselves in 2020 realizes that this is not possible. Add in a hurricane or two and you realize that many things happen that are out of your control. The Essentials are the folks who show up despite the odds, and at least for us, I think they are the Dillard University people of the year for 2020.

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The facilities staff are the backbone of the essentials. They had to build much of the PPE we used for classrooms and offices, and then implemented new strategies for cleaning. This was on top of routine maintenance and cleaning.

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When Hurricane Zeta came through (during the pandemic), our facilities team was out that night assessing damage, and working with outside contractors to address lingering power issues. We were fortunate that power to campus came back on in about a day and a half; parts of the city didn’t have it for over a week.

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When you have lots of hybrid and online classes, you can expect one of the concerns will be internet access. While our residence halls have ethernet ports in the rooms (which is better for streaming), everyone wants fast and CONSISTENT WiFi. And with students bringing more and more devices each year (the whole internet TV thing still boggles my mind), campus systems are quickly overwhelmed. We thought we were ahead of the game by increasing bandwidth, but then realized we needed to start overhauling the whole system. Our IT team though has been responsive to needs and continues to look to improve the service.

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Michelle Matthew (loving called Ms. Michelle by the students) is the poster child for the essentials. She really does too much because she responds to any and everything even though her primary job is special events. Recently she has been providing leadership for the facilities area as well. When Hurricane Zeta hit, she was helping students in any way possible. What students didn’t know was that she was without power for about a week, and yet she was at work for them. She always supports the students, even when she has to cuss them out! But she won’t let anyone else mess with them, and we all need people like that in our corner.

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Our food service provider Sodexo, led by our general manager Yolanda Brent (a Dillard alumna) is always essential. With Dillard being in a region impacted by weather events, they have to provide food service for residential students in spite of hurricanes, floods, and now a pandemic.

So their charge was not simply to provide meals, but to design the way the dining hall would function, ways to distribute meals, and provide flexible times to reduce density.

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Our student Bleu Troop provided support for our efforts to keep the campus safe, through fun activities to reinforce behavior. They were able to use the donations we received through the office of community and church relations led by Nick Harris (who is essential for anything related to the community).

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Nurse Lyntrell Picot led the day to day operations on campus, helping to coordinate our testing of faculty, staff and students. Early on in the year she actually had a first hand experience with COVID-19 and one of its byproducts- increased crime.

Back in April while she was recovering at home her car was vandalized. Again, sometimes we forget that those who are essential have their own trials and tribulations, and we often expect them to forget to take care of themselves and take care of us. Hopefully 2021 will be a year when we take care of the essentials!

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A key member of our essentials is our medical director, Dr. Corey Hebert. Corey is the doctor for the people so he is everywhere — on WDSU, on MSNBC, on the Governor’s task force, etc. So I had great confidence that whatever he told me was the latest and best information available. He has been invaluable during the pandemic and it is comforting at least to me that I am able to get information from the same person who gives information to hundreds of thousands of people each week.

Please follow his mantra. Mask up. Wash up. Separate. Vaccinate.

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While all of the cabinet members are technically essential employees, the coordinator of our COVID-19 response was Dr. Roland Bullard, Vice President for Student Success. He and his team did a very good job this semester, and he interacted with a wide range of constituencies both on and off campus to make sure we had everything we needed to do our best.

2020 was the year of The Essentials, not just Dillard, but everywhere. Make sure you say thanks to them as they continue to do their jobs with an increasingly dangerous virus, and lobby for them to be one of the earliest groups to get the vaccine.

The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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