Posted: May 3, 2016 at 7:40 pm

By Ashley DeNardo, Karly Shire, and Matt Fergo

What does it take to keep a university running? At West Virginia University, the answer is people, and lots of them. From Facilities Management to Dining Services, there is a ton of work done behind the scenes 24/7 to keep the campus clean and the students safe.

“We have staff here every day around the clock to ensure safety and proper operations of the facilities,”said Keith Lawrence, the assistant vice president of Facilities Management.

While Lawrence has previous experience with facilities management, he has only been working at WVU for three weeks now. He is still settling into his typical day, which consists of meetings, conference calls and direct visits to problem areas. His personal goal is to learn about the needs of the staff and University. He supervises seven departments, including operations, ground and roads and maintenance.

“I oversee a staff of about 600 amazing people,” Lawrence said. “They work on the various WVU campuses in order to keep the buildings and grounds safe, maintained and looking great.”

Even more surprising than the size of the staff is the extent of services Facilities Management is in charge of: custodial work, grounds maintenance, construction, engineering, research and more.

With more than 800 student employees and 220 full-time staff members, Dining Services is another sizable department at WVU. David Friend has been the executive director of the department since 2007, climbing his way up from assistant director starting in 2000. He oversees retail, catering, operations, the budget, human resources – the list goes on.

“I am fortunate to have a great leadership team that assists in focusing on each of these areas to ensure the day-to-day operations,” Friend said.

With all of these duties and so little time, Friend said his hours can be demanding. The job often requires his attention for seven days a week during the academic year. Dining Services is involved with a large list of events, such as Fall Family Weekend and Commencement.

“Fortunately, my job does not provide a typical day,” Friend said. “Each day seems to bring new opportunities and challenges. Assisting with student activities and events is a rewarding aspect of my job. I am also fortunate to work directly with many students and managers in my position on a daily basis.”

Friend’s goals include improving the products offered on campus to provide more variety and finding innovative ways to provide students with an excellent dining experience.

“I don’t believe that most students realize the diverse backgrounds and experience that our employees bring to the table,” Friend said. “Many of our chefs have resort, casino and hotel backgrounds prior to working at WVU. We also have numerous managers that have been recruited from commercial restaurants as well as restaurant owners.”

Friend believes the relationship between his department and the students is doing well and repeatedly expressed the department’s willingness for student feedback.

The biggest changes he said he’s noticed have to do with the enormous growth at the University. When he first started to work at WVU, only four residential dining locations accepted meal plan, and they all closed at 6:30 p.m.

“We need to be vigilant in looking for new ideas, menu concepts and suggestions to build on existing programs,” he said. “I expect my direct reports to be passionate about their roles and not accept the status quo.”

People like Friend dedicate most of their days to making sure the University is on task.

Donna Johnson, Eliza’s Café

Donna Johnson is from Lake Lynn, Pa. After trucking her children down to Morgantown, W.Va., for doctor’s visits, she landed a job with dining at WVU. About 30 years ago, she started to work at Evansdale dining.

She moved around within the department over the years. She worked at Bits & Bytes, Brew & Gold, as well as Freshens, which no longer exists. Then, Dining Services was in need of a new lead at Eliza’s Café in the downtown library.

“Oh, man, I’ve been all over,” Johnson said. “I liked Brew & Gold. It was a hard decision (to leave) because at Brew & Gold we didn’t make frozen lattes, we didn’t make smoothies, so I was like ‘Okay, that’s a lot to learn.’”

But she accepted the challenge and transitioned to the lead worker of the morning shift, where her responsibilities span every aspect from opening the cash drawer to inventory. She doesn’t regret it.

“I like working here. This is my favorite place to work,” she said. “I like getting up, getting moving and getting organized, and I like morning shift.”

In addition to the early start, Johnson enjoys meeting different students. She said the students will try to get away with things like typical students do, but “the good outweighs the bad.”

Even so, there is always a down side. Headaches are a part of her job too, when, at times, all her responsibilities get to be too much.

“After 30 years, you kind of get burned out and you’re just looking for retirement,” Johnson said.

Her goal is to retire by January 2017. In order to do so, Johnson must get her financial affairs in order, which look vastly different from when she started. Back then, she received different benefits. Sick time went toward medical expenses, which the University no longer does. In addition, her state teacher’s retirement doesn’t exist anymore, either. It is now managed by TIAA-CREF.

Since her time here began, the University’s dining landscape has changed immensely, too, according to Johnson. There are more dining halls, more coffee shops, more in general. The options, Johnson said, are there to provide faster service due to the increasing lack of time students have to stop.

“I’ll miss it. It will take some time getting used to,” Johnson said. “I’ll get to enjoy catching up on my housework and things like that. Plus, I have a little Yorkie. He’s very rambunctious. His name is Mojo. I’ll have a lot to contend with that.”

She summed up her 30 years in three words: “A great experience. It’s really been an experience.”

Gwen Perrot, Mountainlair

Gwen Perrot is another staff member who didn’t grow up in Morgantown. She spent most of her life in nearby Athens, Ohio. She also lived in Uniontown, Pa., when her husband found work there.

“We decided we didn’t want to stay in Uniontown – no offense to any Uniontownites there,” Perrot said. “But I wanted to stay in a college town. I grew up in one and I liked it. I had kids, and I wanted them to be close to a University.

“I like the young people, the students, culture, sports, the diversity, everything that it brings to a town, to me, makes the town a more positive living area, and that has turned out to be true.”

Perrot started to work for the University in 2007 at Pierpont Apartments when it was a dormitory. She was a front desk secretary there.

“Housing has its own little world,” she said. “We worked with other departments but we were really embedded. I was always in the one dorm the whole time so that was sort of my whole world. Here, I’m a little bit more connected to more of the departments because of all the reservations and events and planning. It’s a lot more of a crossroads here.”

She has been the administrative secretary for the Mountainlair for a year now, working 8:15 – 4:45 every day, doing her part to make sure communication and operations runs smoothly.

“Everything isn’t perfect. But the interesting part of this job is seeing how things are run behind the scenes,” she said. “Seeing the other side of the fabric here at the Mountainlair has been really fascinating.”

Her day-to-day duties are varied and endless: Answer phones, take messages, oversee the lost and found, create lists and Excel sheets, order supplies, contact people to arrange volunteers, research, help plan most of the events in the Mountainlair, and so on. Perrot works as needed to organize events and special programming throughout the year.

“Any given day can have some unusual things in it,” Perrot said. “A lot of answering questions. I’m sitting right here in the front. People are walking by, and if they want to know something, they will tend to look at the first face. That will be mine. I learn a lot as a result of answering everyone’s questions.”

Perrot said her favorite part of the job has always been the students and that most staff here find that to be the most rewarding.

“Students are a blessing and a curse in some ways, but more of a blessing,” she said. “Just because there’s so many people coming from different places, so it’s always changing. My favorite part is getting to know the students and continuing to know them after years go by.

“It’s why we’re here – you guys.”

Gwen passionately described her perspective on the significance of the relationship between students and staff at the University.

“Anytime that a student remembers that we spoke at some point or I delivered their mail, that’s good. I think it’s true that if you come here to college and you never interact with anyone but your fellow students, I mean that’s pretty good, you should be interacting with them. But if you push it a little bit and get to know the people who work here, work downtown or live here, you’re going to feel more like it’s your home.

“Part of the reason you go to college is to expand your horizon. This is a horizon too – Morgantown. That’s why I always like to see all the different groups intersecting and getting along, talking to each other. Because it’s like a microcosm where ideas get cooked up and shared.”

Since Perrot has worked at WVU, there have been a lot of changes. She said since President E. Gordon Gee came in, things feel different. The University has expanded and Morgantown with it. Along with changes like these comes the need for improvements.

“From a student perspective, I’d say they need to do something with tuition,” Perrot said. “Work as closely as they can with the town to deal with the congestion issues that plague both sides. They might look into things that are more community-centered. That’s why events like Family Fun Day are interesting in that they really invite people in. I guess overall, make sure as much as possible to integrate the university into the town because I think it will benefit both.”

Outside of work, Perrot is a wife and mother to three grown children. She likes to garden and bake. She is also part of a local book club and enjoys weekends experiencing the sights and sounds of Morgantown.

Beth Toren, Downtown Library