Dedicated Devils: Rising to the Challenge During COVID-19

Showcasing Duke staff and faculty going above and beyond during the pandemic

Randy Smith sends a daily uplifting email to the Department of Biology.
Randy Smith sends a daily uplifting email to the Department of Biology.

As we face the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke staff and faculty everywhere are stepping up to keep the important work of the university and health system going. In an effort to highlight contributions, we've started a new feature, "Dedicated Devils."

With your nominations, Dedicated Devils will showcase the work of Duke employees who go above and beyond during this trying time. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us here or write to the Working@Duke team.

Randy Smith: Keeping Spirits High in Duke Biology

Every morning, Duke Biology staff, faculty and students receive a pick-me-up from Randy Smith. 

Smith, departmental manager for Biology, has been sending a daily email to everyone in the department that includes updates on labs and on mask and glove donations and tips for working from home.

Randy Smith“My role has become a cross between a cheerleader and an air traffic controller,” Smith said. “Biology is pretty tight community. It’s important to me that we maintain that while we're all separated."

Smith began preparing the department for remote work in early March. He assisted Biology’s 40-something labs in creating contingency plans and lists of materials that would need to be maintained. He asked employees to test working from home to ensure no IT issues. 

Smith began sending his daily email out on March 16. The messages always include uplifting moments, like a gooey grilled cheese recipe, compliments to Smith’s colleagues and reminders for everyone to take a break.

“His morning notes – sent every day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays – are wise and funny and have provided a daily reminder that we are all in this together, and that we will emerge even stronger than before,” said Anne Yoder, the Braxton Craven Distinguished Professor of Evolutionary Biology. “It is the first email that I read every day and never fails to put a smile on my face.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Dedicated Devils: Planning for the Protection of a Quiet Campus

When the decision was made to halt most on-campus operations due to stay-at-home orders, Facilities Management Department (FMD) was presented with a challenge. For its Facility Operations and Utilities groups, this included addressing campus building systems.

Campus buildings are filled with systems and require maintenance and attention whether occupied or not. With a reduced number of staff members on campus, figuring out how to look after campus facilities required a coordinated effort.

Top row, left to right: Steve Palumbo and Sean Saunders. Bottom row: Jim Gortner.The department had plan. And its Facility Operations team, led by Director of Facility Operations Steve Palumbo, Assistant Director for Building Management Jim Gortner and Assistant Director of for Building Systems Sean Saunders, led the effort in carrying it out.

“They [helped] pull together an amazing plan to help keep every [Facilities Management] employee safe and maintain all the buildings on campus,” said David Wilson, plumber coordinator for Facilities Management. “After all, without functioning buildings, nobody can perform their jobs adequately.”

The Facility Operations team began discussing a staffing and maintenance strategy for a mostly empty campus in February when the COVID-19 crisis was weeks away from derailing the spring semester.

“When you leave your house to go away on vacation, you come back and you don’t really think too much about it,” Palumbo said. “But based on the size of our buildings and some of the systems in them, we had to put some thought into how we make sure everything is maintained and we have safe buildings to come back to.”

When the decision was made in March to depopulate campus, the Facility Operations team put their system in place, scheduling regular walk-throughs of each building to spot problems, flushing pipes to protect water quality and making sure issues are addressed by members of the structural trades, general maintenance and key and lock shops.

“With the buildings, you can’t stop,” Saunders said. “We’re still engaged, we’ve got to keep them running. We hope to have them 60 or 70 years from now and so we’ve got to continue doing maintenance on them.”

The Facility Operations team said the system has worked well, and the buildings are ready to welcome students, staff and faculty whenever life on campus resumes.

“I feel pretty proud of our group in Facilities Management as a whole because we were seeing the writing on the wall ahead and did a lot of contingency planning and discussion up front,” Gortner said. “So, I think we had a pretty solid plan to roll out to our workers and the campus.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Kamara Carpenter: A Steadfast Presence During a Season of Change

The unique nature of Kamara Carpenter’s job in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences leaves her with one foot in Duke’s educational mission and the other planted in patient care. 

When COVID-19 upended life in both parts of Duke, Carpenter faced a special set of challenges.

Kamara Carpenter But the senior program coordinator has risen to the occasion, continuing to provide key support for the team of 27 psychiatrists that serve Duke’s hospitals and coordinating the work of the medical students who gain experience by working and learning in the department.

“It’s my job to make sure these people are successful,” Carpenter said. “I don’t want to work in isolation, I want to be part of something bigger than myself.”

Carpenter serves as the liaison between the department and the medical students who pass through for month-long rotations. With the students sent home, Carpenter has helped execute a revised curriculum that features online assignments and video teleconference sessions with experts, which will be combined with in-person clinical experience this summer.

“We’re trying to create a robust experience for people who have not had any clinical experience yet,” Carpenter said.

In her other role, Carpenter organizes meetings, manages schedules and addresses the needs of the psychiatrists that serve all three of Duke’s hospitals. Having to work from home and move most meetings to Zoom, Carpenter has adjusted to meet the changes in her work style without disrupting the workflow of the caregivers she supports.

“She hasn’t missed a beat as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world,” Jane Gagliardi, associate professor of medicine, said in her nomination. “To interact with Kamara is to feel and be well taken care of … and our patients, our learners and we are incredibly grateful.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

The Keep Learning team: Providing Answers in Uncertain Times

As the Duke community prepared to operate remotely in mid-March, a group of employees hunkered down in the Student Wellness Center to answer thousands of questions.   

The Keep Learning team, a collaboration between Duke Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, the Office of the Dean of Students, Duke Residence LifeDuke University International HouseDuke University Student Affairs and Duke Student Wellness Center, worked long hours during the weekend of March 13 to answer emails from students and parents. 

Members of the Keep Learning team.David Frankel, assistant dean of students, and Janie Long, associate vice provost for undergraduate education, led the 30 employees on the team. While trying to stay six feet apart in the Student Wellness Center, the team processed forms with information from about 5,000 students. 

The Keep Learning team also responded to roughly 2,000 emails with questions about returning to residence halls, how classes would be graded and if summer school would be in session. They continue to answer hundreds of emails each week. 

Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president and dean of students, nominated the team for their collaboration and diligence in responding to due to COVID-19. 

“The Keep Learning team is a remarkable group of Duke staff members who keep Duke students at the center of all that they are doing,” Wasiolek said. “You’re seeing everyone step up as best they can. It’s incredibly gratifying to see so many people working together to keep the university moving.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Continuing Resource Acquisitions: Supporting Digital Classrooms

Next time you use one of Duke University Libraries’ thousands of journals, textbooks or articles online, you have Continuing Resource Acquisitions to thank. 

Continuing Resource Acquisitions provides technical support in the form of negotiating licensing agreements, working with publishers to order content and troubleshooting online access issues for faculty, staff and students. 

Dracine HodgesDracine Hodges, associate university librarian for technical services, leads Continuing Resource Acquisitions. 

“Continuing Resource Acquisitions is the primary steward of Duke Libraries’ electronic resources,” Hodges said. “These resources have become even more in demand and essential to helping faculty, students and researchers transition their scholarly activities to remote engagement."

The 10 employees within Continuing Resource Acquisitions spent much of March working with faculty members to secure digital files of textbooks and other materials to support classwork. They also sorted through resources that publishers temporarily made free to assist with remote learning.

“As publishers have offered more and more free things, we’ve had to figure out how long the materials will be available for,” said Virginia Martin, head of Continuing Resource Acquisitions. “We pass that information onto students and faculty. We don’t want them surprised when/if it disappears.”

Karen Newbery, head of library systems and integration support, nominated Hodges and Continuing Resource Acquisitions as Dedicated Devils during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Continuing Resource Acquisitions“We have staff inundated with orders for electronic resources as classes go online,” Newbery said. “They are ordering, paying for and troubleshooting access problems. They deserve to be recognized.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here

Victoria Krebs: Doing What She Can to Help Displaced Students

On a team that showcased its versatility and commitment, Victoria Krebs stood out.

Krebs, Duke’s associate dean of students for Title IX Outreach & Response and the latest in our series of Dedicated Devils, proved especially valuable as a member of the Keep Learning team, which assisted students as campus life was disrupted due to COVID-19.

Victoria Krebs and her dog.The Keep Learning team was a collaboration between the Duke Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, the Office of the Dean of Students, Duke Housing and Residence Life, Duke University International HouseDuke University Student Affairs, and Duke Student Wellness Center. In early March, it sorted through thousands of requests for assistance from students who faced logistical problems relating to last month’s decision to move all classes online and send most students home in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 

“I was really proud to work for the Dean of Students Office,” Krebs said. “People stepped up and worked all weekend and did what they could. Some people were there from early in the morning until late at night, but lots of people came in and helped for a couple of hours.”

Krebs started the whirlwind week following the March 10 announcement that students needed to leave campus by answering emails from concerned students. She later looked out for the other members of her team by keeping the team’s workspace clean by wiping down tables, computer screens and phones with disinfectant wipes and coordinating deliveries of food.

“Victoria's positive attitude was essential for the success of this team,” wrote fellow team member and nominator Laura Andrews. “I greatly appreciated Victoria and her work every day, and I am so thankful that she focused on keeping our team well during this challenging time.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Office of the Registrar: Keeping Duke Students on Course During Changing Times

When Duke was forced to transition classes to remote learning to slow the spread of COVID-19, the decision presented unique challenges for the Office of the University Registrar

As the group that oversees the university’s academic records, the Office of the Registrar had to sift through a galaxy of records to make necessary changes to course listings, student information and schedules.

Duke's Office of the RegistrarOver a period of around two-and-a-half weeks, University Registrar Frank Blalark and his team found a way to recategorize all of the semester’s courses, shift grading scales ensure changes were reflected in student records. They also began setting the stage for potential future changes to summer and fall schedules, working with government entities on compliance issues and figuring out a way to get degrees mailed to spring graduates who would have picked them up at commencement.

“Frank Blalark and his team in the Office of the University Registrar have done an amazing job adapting to COVID-19-driven changes to academic calendars, grading bases, instructional modes for existing programs and for new ones, and changes to course offerings, all while keeping Duke in compliance with innumerable external regulatory expectations which are also in flux,” wrote Duke Assistant Vice Provost for Institutional Research David Jamieson-Drake. “Many are pulling hard together to help institutional leadership navigate the rapids we’re in, but a special burden has fallen on Frank’s team.”

Blalark said that while his team of 17 staff members worked hard getting these tasks done, they never lost their positive spirit. In addition to being willing to take on additional duties that forced them to stretch their skillsets, the team also found ways to have fun, such as creating a March Madness style bracket of cakes and pies and building a playlist of music chosen by each team member.

“Everyone rose to the occasion,” Blalark said. “We’re a high-functioning team. While we do have a hierarchical structure, everyone came to the table as an equal partner. It’s a really strong team. I’m proud to work with them. They’re open, they’re flexible. They find a way.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

David Rabiner: ‘We had our lives turned upside down very quickly

Academic Advising Center

March is “bookbagging” season for the Academic Advising Center (AAC), when nearly 300 college advisers assist first and second-year students with selecting courses for the next semester. 

It’s David Rabiner's busiest time of the year and then came the decision for Duke to continue the academic year with remote learning due to COVID-19. 

David Rabiner“Like everyone, our AAC staff and all the volunteer advisers had our lives turned upside down very quickly,” said Rabiner, director of the Academic Advising Center and senior associate dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. “All of a sudden, it wasn’t just about making sure students sign up for the right courses. Our purpose as advisers was also to make sure students didn’t feel isolated away from campus and to help them feel connected to Duke.”

Rabiner and his AAC colleagues provided online-only advising sessions through Microsoft Teams to complement the work of the volunteer advisers, provided additional advising hours for students in different time zones and provided regular communications to assist roughly 300 college advisers. He also found time to help pack up and mail students’ belongings.  

Many of Rabiner’s colleagues took notice: 11 wrote to us to nominate Rabiner to be a Dedicated Devil during these trying times. 

“He has done and continues to do a yeoman's job of keeping everyone in the Academic Advising Center, first and second-year students and the 300 or so college advisers informed throughout the COVID-19 situation.  He even volunteered to help pack up students' belongings to be shipped to them. He truly has everyone's best interests at heart,” said Deborah Johnson, Duke college adviser.

"He has done an excellent job keeping staff up to date with everything going on at Duke and still manages to be an active and present adviser for his students,” said Shalonda Drake, staff assistant for the Academic Advising Center. 

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Kate Zhang: Helping Connect Students to Right Resources

Dean of Students Office

The challenge facing Kate Zhang and the rest of the Keep Learning team was steep.

In the days following Duke’s decision to finish the semester with online learning, thus emptying campus and slowing the spread of COVID-19, thousands of students needed to figure out where to go. Dedicated Devils

The Keep Learning team, a collaboration between Duke Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, the Office of the Dean of Students, Duke Residence Life, Duke University International House, Duke University Student Affairs and Duke Student Wellness Center, rose to the occasion.

“We tried to think like we were in the students’ shoes and how we could best place them so they can advance their studies,” said Zhang, the associate director of assessment in the Dean of Students office.

Zhang worked with the data from a survey sent out to Duke students, which drew around 5,000 responses. By verifying and marking information such as a student’s home country or particular issue with getting home – finances, visa issues, safety concerns – she made sure each response found people who could help.

“Kate was essential to the success of the Keep Learning team due to her knowledge of data management programs and analytical thinking skills,” said Zhang’s nominator, Laura Andrews, Assistant Dean of Students, Duke Reach.

By the time classes resumed online on March 23, Zhang and the Keep Learning team had helped hundreds of Duke students find solutions.

“We were all exhausted,” Zhang said. “But I think back to my career and I’ve never had the chance to respond to a situation this urgent. So it was an honor to be a part of this team.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Joan Combs Durso: Guiding Faculty Through Online Transition

Department of Statistical Science

Over the past few weeks, as the spread of coronavirus forced Duke to move its classes online, faculty members and teaching assistants embarked on a whirlwind process of becoming familiar with online learning.

For those teaching courses in Duke’s Department of Statistical Science, Joan Combs Durso, the department’s coordinator of undergraduate research and development, played a vital role.

Joan Combs DursoBy providing one-on-one help for faculty members and teaching assistants, Durso earned praise from colleagues and is the latest addition to our Dedicated Devils.

“I’m just grateful to be here at this time and be involved in this,” Durso said.

With around a decade’s worth of teaching online as a member of the faculty at Kentucky’s Sullivan University, Durso, who came to Duke in 2018, was well-suited to help others navigate the unique challenges of teaching online, such as being comfortable on camera.

“While faculty members may be used to working remotely with research colleagues and graduate students, teaching online is very different,” Durso said. “When you’ve still got to deliver the course, and the way you expected to do it isn’t going to be there, and you have to learn all these new tools, that’s a lot, especially this far along in the semester.”

In addition to working with faculty members, Durso also had to expand her knowledge of online communications tools, specifically in figuring out a way to move the give-and-take of a poster session online.

“She is working with faculty one on one to train them in remote learning, setting up their Sakai sites to work with Zoom, coordinating TA training with remote resources, speaking with our undergrads. She has dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to keeping Duke going,” said Matt Hartman, strategic communications manager for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. “She truly is an inspiration.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Duke University Librarians: Creating online learning resources

Deirdre McCullough, a collection development specialist for Duke University Libraries, wanted to acknowledge the dedication and effort her colleagues demonstrated to get print materials prepared for online learning, which began Monday.

Pictured here are some of the librarians who helped scan print materials. Top row, left to right: Jeremy Martin, Arnetta Girardeau and Sarah Griffin. Bottom row, left to right: David Hansen, Laura Williams, Danette Pachtner and Nathaniel Brown.She offered shout-outs to staff in Perkins Library, Lilly LibraryMusic Library Reserves and ScholarWorks who spent March 13-20 scanning thousands of pages from books, journals and other print materials that were not digitized. 

“My colleagues had to sift through reserve items for courses, contact professors, figure out copyright ramifications, collaborate on ordering e-books and scan thousands of pages all in about seven working days so that students learning via virtual classes can access resources without delay,” McCullough said. “It was a cooperative effort across many Duke Libraries employees to make this happen.”

As we face challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Duke employees everywhere are keeping the important work of the university and health system going. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us about them here.

Laura Andrews: Stepping up to Help Students

DukeReach

Under regular circumstances, Laura Andrews connects Duke students facing physical, mental, academic or other challenges with helpful resources. But when the coronavirus kept students from returning to campus, Andrews was part of a multi-departmental group that helped students with housing or travel solutions.
Laura Andrews helped pack up and mail students’ belongings from their dorm rooms.This work, which unfolded over several long days, featured close collaboration with Duke Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, the Office of the Dean of Students, Duke Housing and Residence LifeDuke University International HouseDuke University Student Affairs, and Duke Student Wellness Center.

“Every day in my normal job, I’m working with people all over the university to help support students,” said Andrews, assistant dean of students for DukeReach. "This experience of getting everybody in the same room to talk about these cases and figure out what to do next, it was kind of like that but at a more intense level.”

Francesqa Santos, assistant director of arts and media for Student Involvement, part of Student Affairs, wrote us to praise Andrews’ ability to handle students’ complicated situations in an empathetic and effective manner.

“Her patience and her commitment to the process, and to ensuring that our students are cared for has been stunning to watch,” Santos said. “She has led with grace and kindness and made sure to teach folks how to better assist students.”

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With your nominations, Dedicated Devils will showcase the work of Duke employees who go above and beyond during this trying time. If you know of a staff or faculty member who has risen to the challenge, tell us here or write to the Working@Duke team.