Classified employees view biggest changes at WSU

Combine the service of five particular Washington State University classified employees, and you get more than a century of experience and a look at how things have changed over the years.

• Topping the list of state classified staff with the most longevity at each of the WSU campuses is Jacqueline Knight, Facilities Operation Center supervisor for the Pullman campus. Knight started as a key punch operator in Pullman in 1961 and has been punching in for duty ever since.

“I started out as a key punch operator, then key punch supervisor, then to schedule and control doing payroll and helping with registration,” she said.

In 1977, Knight moved to Facilities Operations, eventually working up to the supervisor position. The Facilities Operations Center in Pullman serves as the dispatch center for campus maintenance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Knight said the biggest change she has seen in her time at WSU is the construction and growth on the Pullman campus.

“We have built so many buildings, and the college has grown so big,” she said.

Knight stays busy coordinating the maintenance of those new buildings, but it is a job she loves.

“There is something new every day,” she said. “There is always a challenge, always something going on.”

• Office supervisor Kathy Thistle works at the Intercollegiate College of Nursing in Spokane and has since 1969. During her 35 years in the department she has seen thousands of students get their nursing degrees, worked for many outstanding faculty, served under five deans, and collaborated with many wonderful co-workers, she said.

The largest change she has experienced while at WSU has been technology.

“When I started working here, office equipment consisted of a (noncorrecting) electric typewriter, a ditto machine and a telephone,” she said. “If we wanted a copy of something, we either typed it again, used carbon paper or found an office with a thermafax machine.”

Mimeograph machines and offset presses made way for memory typewriters, then computers and fax machines. Thistle said even something as simple as using the telephone has changed dramatically.

“When I started, we phoned Pullman long distance using a scan authorization code. Today we punch in five digits and can call any WSU office across the state.”

She said working for WSU has been a tremendous opportunity that has given her job security, income, excellent benefits and the opportunity to work for a school that trains nurses to serve anywhere in the world.

Brian Todd, custodian at the Health Science building at WSU Spokane, views attitudes toward safety as one of the biggest changes he has seen since starting as classified staff at Seattle Central Community College in 1978. He transferred to WSU’s Spokane campus three years ago.

In 1978, safety was not the priority that it is now. In fact, he said he remembers times when a fire alarm did not even get students out of a test.

“They tested anyway” and ignored the alarm, he said.

Todd’s favorite thing about working on a college campus is the students, and he still is in contact with several from his days in Seattle.

“Students see me as a nonthreatening authority,” he said of his position as a custodian. “They can talk to me and not worry about getting graded.”

Because he grew up with epilepsy and had a tough time in school, Todd said he feels like he can make a contribution by encouraging students when they are facing difficulties.

“I know what it’s like to have problems,” he explained.

• The Tri-Cities’ Dennis Findlay, maintenance mechanic lead, has seen many changes in his time with WSU. In fact, when he started working at the Tri-Cities campus in 1980, it was not even run by WSU. It was the Joint Center for Graduate Studies, he said. It was under the University of Washington, but there were classes offered by WSU and Eastern Washington University.

“I think even Oregon and Idaho might have been in there,” he said.

Started as a graduate night school, the campus consisted of one building. Findlay’s duties included mowing the lawn and taking care of the outside of the building, as well as all the maintenance chores inside. After he had been there about 10 years, WSU Tri-Cities was established and the campus began to change in a big way.

“I think it was around 1990 when it switched over to a four-year college,” he said. “Since then there have been other buildings added.”

While there had been just a few dozen students before, now there are many more. Another person was hired for outside maintenance duties, and a heating and ventilation maintenance person was hired as well.

Findlay said the best part of his job is the stability. He appreciates that after spending years in the construction business, where employment is based on the season and a sometimes fickle work load.

Myrna Howard, WSU Vancouver, has spent 21 years working for WSU, with 16 of those as a classified employee. Parallel to Findlay’s experience, Howard said the WSU Vancouver campus was quite different when she began.

“It started out as a Clark College consortium with only five or six people running the whole thing,” she said. “The growth since then has been tremendous.”

Howard started there in 1983 as a classified employee. In 1991 she changed to an administrative position working as the assistant to the dean, doing payroll, human resources and numerous other duties. She came back to a classified position in 1996 when she took on the role of Facility Operations Center supervisor.

Because the campus is smaller than Pullman’s, the center is not open 24 hours a day, but is in operation from 6:30 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Like Knight, Howard is responsible for coordination of facility maintenance.

The growth of the Vancouver campus and the university as a whole has been the biggest change, Howard said. Throughout the changes, though, she said one thing has been constant.

“The people. My favorite thing is the people.”

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