A Day in the Life: First Day of Classes

A behind-the-scenes look at how Duke employees spent their first day of the academic year

Duke Dining's Wallace Burrows makes pancakes Monday morning in the East Campus Marketplace.
Duke Dining's Wallace Burrows makes pancakes Monday morning in the East Campus Marketplace.

During the first day of classes Monday, many Duke staff and faculty worked to welcome back students and provide important campus services.

From driving buses to examining décor in Duke’s residence halls, employees carried out their roles and special tasks throughout the day. Here’s a look at the work of some staff and faculty on Monday, Aug. 29.

8 a.m. – Making chocolate chip pancakes

Wallace Burrows, a lead food service worker at the East Campus Marketplace, arrived to work at 6:30 a.m. Monday to begin preparations to serve hundreds of students who would visit his pancake station. From 7:15 to 11 a.m., Burrows flipped buttermilk pancakes made in batches of 15 to 20 on a large griddle. He estimated he’d make more than 500 during breakfast, occasionally adding chocolate chips on request.

“One thing that’s important for me is my rapport with our clientele,” said Burrows, who has been at Duke for 30 years. “When I ask them ‘how are you doing?’ I’m real about it. Food lasts for a minute, but dealing with people lasts a lifetime.”

10 a.m. – Turning plastic rectangles into DukeCards

Again and again, Jonathan Blanding beckoned the next person in line to step forward.

In the DukeCard Office in room 012 of the Telecom Building, Blanding, a staff specialist, is one of the first people students and employees see when they need help with their Duke-issued ID. While creating and replacing DukeCards, the office was filled with a warm whirring sound as white, plastic rectangles were fed into a Datacard printer to be inked and laminated.

“We’ve had the line wrap around itself, and we’ve had the line out the door,” he said. “You try not to let it stress you out and you have to try to keep up as much as possible.”

Duke first year Erin McDermott stopped by the DukeCard Office Monday morning to replace a lost card. She arrived from Spanish class, one of four classes on her first day, and she handed Blanding her Scottish passport to confirm her identity. She needed a new photo taken for her DukeCard so Blanding motioned toward the camera.

“Just lean all the way back and look at the camera,” he said. “One, two…”

12 p.m. – Patrolling on bike

The first day of classes can be busy for Duke Police security officer Andrew Golby and officer Kelly George, who crisscrossed West Campus on bikes during a regular patrol around mid-day Monday.

Most days, they’ll ride from the Davison Building through Abele Quad and toward Cameron Indoor Stadium, stopping to chat with campus community members and answer questions. They’re often asked for directions to academic buildings, the University Store and residence halls. On Monday, George was even asked to act as photographer for a couple posing outside Duke Chapel.

“The summer gets pretty calm and all of us are excited when students come back, which gives us the opportunity to interact with them on a daily basis again,” said George, who’s spent three years at Duke. “That’s why we’re here: to guide, direct, protect and serve all these people.”

1 p.m. – Teaching an acting class

Clutching a bottled water, class roster and tan backpack, Ellen Hemphill made her way through the Bryan Center Plaza, past groups of students looking at posters for sale with images of palm trees and Arianda Grande.

She walked into the belly of the Bryan Center, settled into a rehearsal room and organized a stack of syllabi for the first class meeting of an Acting course with 16 students representing different academic disciplines and levels of experience.

“As a theater teacher, director and performer, you read people," said Hemphill, an associate professor of the practice in Duke's Theater Studies Department. "You see what the team is like before you ask them to do major work. That's what the first day is like.”

Hemphill, surrounded by an upright piano and music stands, asked students to arrange their chairs in a circle, where they introduced themselves.

“It's one of the gateway classes to the theater department," she told the class. "You'll be on your feet with acting, voice and movement exercises and working with the assigned texts. This is an action class.”

2 p.m. – Driving between West and East campuses

Ron Jones believes he offers one of the smoothest bus rides at Duke, which is good news for the faculty, staff and students who hopped on-and-off his C1 bus Monday. For 18 years, Jones has made loops along campus roads as a bus driver for Duke, shuttling passengers from one side of campus to another.

“I enjoy getting to know the students as freshmen and then over their four years here as they mature and grow,” Jones said. “After students graduate and are gone for years, there are still some who come back and recognize me and will run over to say hi. As I get to know students and employees alike, I enjoy that we all treat each other with kindness and respect.”

3 p.m. – Judging a “First Impressions” contest

Debbie Lo Biondo zig-zagged through back stairwells and hallways of Keohane Quad, greeting students as she walked by. She would occasionally stop to examine the nametags on student residence doorways. Some names were plastered on little ninja illustrations or Harry Potter book covers.

Lo Biondo, associate dean for West Campus, scribbled notes on her clipboard. She was judging the “First Impressions” competition, in which Duke residence coordinators and resident assistants face off regarding the creative décor and overall welcoming environment of their residence halls.

The winners receive a home-cooked Italian meal of chicken parmesan at Lo Biondo’s house.

“It’s about making spaces that students feel comfortable in and want to come back to,” Lo Biondo said about the competition. “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”