Showcasing ‘The Best of Duke’

Pride and dedication motivate staff in early days of the pandemic

Paul Schuler, control room operator at Chiller Plant No. 2, keeps a close eye on displays showing real-time data from the many pumps, chillers and boilers that make up Duke’s chilled water and steam systems. Photo by Stephen Schramm.
Paul Schuler, control room operator at Chiller Plant No. 2, keeps a close eye on displays showing real-time data from the many pumps, chillers and boilers that make up Duke’s chilled water and steam systems. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Paul Schuler, a control room operator at Duke’s Chiller Plant No. 2, said he and his colleagues take pride in working nights, weekends and holidays. When bad weather threatens, they even stay in nearby hotels so as not to miss a shift.

They know running the plants that produce the steam and chilled water that heat and cool buildings on the university and medical campuses is a big responsibility. Putting in 12-hour shifts during the pandemic is just part of the job for this team in Utilities & Engineering Services.

“We’ve got a good group,” said Schuler, a 32-year veteran of the Facilities Management Department. “If somebody needs something covered, we’re there.”

COVID-19 showed that there are plenty of other Duke team members who share the same pride in their work. While many university employees have worked remotely since mid-March, several hundred staff members in police, housekeeping, dining, financial services and other areas continued to report to campus throughout the pandemic, keeping essential operations running. 

Erica Sanders.“I think they represent the best of Duke,” said Kyle Cavanaugh, Duke’s vice president for Administration. “They took the right precautions of watching their symptoms on a daily basis, wearing masks and taking care of their own hygiene. That shows their commitment to the mission of keeping the essential operations of the institution working every single day.”

Housekeeper Erica Sanders is among the University Environmental Services team members who continue to serve campus.

Sanders, who works in the Bryan Center, recalled feeling a special concern for students who remained on campus during after spring semester classes became virtual. She knew that, as long as she did her part to keep the center clean, her effort would help keep students who passed through the Bryan Center’s quiet corridors safe.

“Everybody had their guard up, but I just knew if I kept my disinfectant close, we were OK,” Sanders said.

Pattie Poston, a telecommunicator with the Duke University Police Department, stayed ready to help emergency callers throughout the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Pattie Poston.Pattie Poston, a telecommunicator with the Duke University Police Department, said that as campus got quiet, the flow of emergency calls she fielded didn’t decrease. But the kinds of calls she got changed.

In addition to people locked out of cars or buildings and the regular flow of calls from Duke University Hospital, Poston heard from people who were lost on the university campus with no one around to ask for directions. During the spring, he also heard from students and parents far from Durham who wanted to know if belongings they’d left on campus were OK.

“We reassured people,” Poston said. “We’re still here. We’ve always been here. We’re still going to be here and we can still get you help no matter what else is going on. That’s one thing that’s always going to be there.” 

Help share the proactive and extensive work being done by all Duke community members during the COVID-19 outbreak. Send ideas, shout-outs and photographs through our story idea form or write working@duke.edu.