Service Before Self: Answering The Call
Feb. 24, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
While most Texans hunkered down at home, weathering a dangerous winter storm like no other, Bearkat heroes answered the calls of those in need. Focused on the health and safety of the campus community, staff, faculty, staff and administrators rallied together to assist during very difficult circumstances. In true service spirit, many also found ways to support those in the community seeking aid. Here are just a few examples of how Bearkats are living up to the university’s motto, “The measure of a Life is its Service.”
“Last week was a test of patience and perseverance, and I’m extremely proud of how our team demonstrated a ‘can do’ spirit through it all,” Joellen Tipton, Residence Life executive director said. “We had eight live-in Residence Hall Directors on campus supporting RAs and doing numerous jobs outside their general responsibilities.”
Naturally, the department was inundated with phone calls that had to be addressed immediately. Through it all, she said her team remained calm and composed while speaking with panicked parents, many who weren’t aware of how hard the area was hit.
The team also had four key staff members primarily working from their homes, also without essential utilities at various times, relaying messages to the team from numerous departments on campus.
“It was quite stressful for them, but I am incredibly proud that we all were able to come up with solutions and keep our students as calm and safe as possible,” Tipton said.
Student Health Center
Throughout the week, SHSU’s Student Health Center staff provided services for Bearkats on campus. For Erica Bumpurs, director of the SHC, one of the many challenges was maintaining care and providing for students in quarantine housing.
“Several of our staff were stranded at home, but made daily calls to these students to check on them and make sure they were getting what they needed,” Bumpurs said.
When calls came through from students in need, one staffer made sure no one was left behind, no matter how long that would take.
“Dr. Robert Williams, our medical director, was a hero,” Bumpurs said. “When students lost power, he drove up to the campus after midnight to facilitate and transport them in his vehicle from the isolation/quarantine houses to the Health and Kinesiology Center. One by one, he drove each of them to the HKC and got them settled all while ensuring protocols for health and safety. Dr. Williams did not rest until he knew our students were comfortable and taken care of during the freeze.”
University Police Department
The UPD worked non-stop throughout the week to ensure campus safety, despite their own staff struggling, both at home and in the work environment.
“Our dispatchers and officers worked through many difficulties in maintaining staffing for our department,” said Police Chief Kevin Morris. “Dispatchers, who became stuck at work, slept in an office to maintain the critical function of operating our communications center and several did not go home to their families for a few days.”
Despite the conditions, officers continued their call to serve, even using their personal vehicles to respond.
“Everyone worked through the different situations to help maintain a level of service to the university community,” Morris said. “I am very proud of our staff for stepping up even when they had issues at their own homes and helped maintain a sense of calm and reassurance here at SHSU.”
Dining Services / University Hotel
With roads closed, food suppliers were unable to deliver to campus. Thankfully, dining services prevailed, and the Aramark team was able to use products from on-campus locations to compensate the shortage. With limited staff and circumstances changing hour by hour, Aramark powered through to open on time and serve hot meals to thousands of students and members of the community.
"The biggest focus was making sure our students were still taken care of regardless of the weather. Staff pulled together in typical Bearkat ‘get it done’ fashion and made it happen,” Kristy Vienne, assistant VP of Auxiliary Services, said.
Utilizing partnerships, they secured large quantities of water to support residents and the Food Pantry. Distribution was achieved thanks to the hard work of Facilities Management, especially landscaping staff who used Gator vehicles across campus because of road conditions.
Throughout the storm, essential staff in dining services (along with many others) were housed in the University Hotel to ensure they were on campus to access facilities and provide services.
“The hotel served as a hub for essential personnel on campus. General manager, Amy Payne, and her student team handled full occupancy and managed to maintain operations and provide a clean place to stay for many hard-working individuals,” Vienne said.
When Rodney Runyan, dean of SHSU’s College of Health Sciences, began hearing of students needing food during the storm he immediately contacted administrative coordinator Kathleen Gilbert, who oversees the Food Pantry, to see what could possibly be done with the campus closed.
“Kathleen quickly drove to campus to open the pantry. Within 30 minutes, 45 students needing food had come to the pantry. Several student workers, who also faced the same challenges as others, weathered the storm to help. By 4 p.m., they had served 147 students,” Runyan said.
“The students were exhausted from dealing with their own hardships, but that didn’t stop them from assisting others with the energy needed to maintain a positive spirit, and reassuring all who entered our doors we would get through this together,” Gilbert said.
While they could have easily said they couldn’t come in, Gilbert and the students placed their personal needs aside to help students. Over three days, they managed to serve 212 people.
“The Food Pantry team has been at the frontlines working throughout this pandemic and now a major weather event serving the Bearkat and Huntsville communities. These students continue to place others before themselves during difficult times and always answer the call to serve,” Gilbert said.
SHSU Medical Students
“People who are homeless are still homeless when the weather is bad, so we had to be there,” said Shannon Jimenez, Chair of primary care and clinical medicine at the College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The storm didn’t stop the university’s medical students in keeping with the mission of SHSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Students and faculty hosted a free community medical outreach day in partnership with the Montgomery County homeless coalition and the Conroe Salvation Army on Feb. 13.
People experiencing homelessness were able to have their vitals, cholesterol, blood sugar and vision checked by students for free at the event.
“I think it has definitely been eye-opening, but really great to have the experience to offer this to one of our most vulnerable communities,” SHSU first-year medical student Alwyn Mathew, said.
Student Legal & Mediation Services
Remaining open through remote communication, the Student Legal & Mediation Services office continued to function using social media to let students know that they could schedule appointments and advising with them over Zoom.
Once the storm concluded, the team started handling a large number of student consultations, most concerning problems like insurance, lease agreements, lack of electricity and damaged property.
“Some of our students have rental insurance, so we’ve been analyzing those policies to see what is covered. Then, we help students formulate strategies for speaking with their insurance company. These are critical issues for our students because many of them are on strict budgets, and any financial loss can have tremendous negative consequences,” Director Gene Roberts said. “Many of them continue to live in suboptimal conditions (that’s putting it nicely) that weigh on them and can influence their academic performance. I’m really proud of our students, and I’m thankful that the university has resources that can help them in this type of situation.”
Senior Eric Webster
For SHSU Senior Eric Webster, a sociology major and Army ROTC cadet, serving others is second nature. In addition to his responsibilities as a student and member of the Bearkat Battalion, Webster also serves full-time as a Houston Firefighter.
During the historic winter freeze, the city of Houston’s situation deteriorated rapidly which required Webster and his crew to respond quickly. After working a 102-hour shift with no relief, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association reported their final call volume for the freeze, which averaged to around 980 calls a day of non-stop emergencies.
Despite his heroic efforts, Webster remains humble.
“Service toward the wellbeing of others is not a switch that can be turned on or off. It is something one must choose to embrace. It is during disastrous times and experiences such as these, that the meaning of, "The measure of a Life is its Service" is truly understood,” Webster said. “I witnessed the combined efforts of the citizens of Houston while responding during my shift as a Houston firefighter, I returned to Sam Houston State and witnessed the combined efforts of both my fellow students and the citizens of Huntsville. It was clear that one person working alone was not the cause for these communities to persevere during such a crisis. The cause was instead the totality of each individual's act of service, from people who chose to embrace service for the sake of others, that allowed each of these communities to measure up and display their strength as a whole to the world.”
Upon his simultaneous graduation from SHSU and the ROTC program in May ‘21, Webster will commission within the US Army Aviation Branch and begin his journey to becoming a Black Hawk Helicopter pilot.
Do you know of a Bearkat hero? Share their story on the university’s Facebook page so everyone in our Bearkat community can thank them!
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