Congenial coworkers, healthy careers

(Maxine Andrews)

They are vibrant, engaged and enjoying themselves. With no plans to retire, the three employees being honored for their 45-year contributions to the WSU community at this year’s Employee Recognition Reception seem to credit congenial working conditions as one of the reasons for their successful careers.

“The people in this college are some of the best — and that’s the reason I’ve stayed here,” said Maxine Andrews, assistant to the dean in the Department of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.

(Jackie Knight)

“Retirement?” asked Jackie Knight, operations center supervisor in Facilities Operations Maintenance. “My job offers a challenge every day — there is always something new going on. There are a lot of good people here.”

(Robert Ackerman)

That sentiment is echoed in College Hall where Robert Ackerman, archeology professor in the department of anthropology, has worked and taught since 1961. “Retirement? Who knows? I may cut back a little, but as long as things are interesting I plan to keep going.”

All three have had remarkable and rewarding careers — from Ackerman’s adventures surveying Eskimo prehistory from a walrus-hide canoe in Alaska; to Knight’s development of a full-time computer dispatch unit in Facilities Operations; to Andrews’ support for nine deans in CAHNRS and being presented with the President’s Employee Excellence Award in 2004.

Yet when asked to reflect on the most memorable events during their time at WSU, they each touched on a similar theme — the events that most impacted their sense of community. 

For Ackerman, that highlight came in 1984: “Our faculty — archeologists, cultural anthropologists, etc. — had been housed in different nooks and crannies all over campus, which made it difficult to communicate and collaborate on classes and projects. In 1984 we got the approval to move into College Hall. It was great to finally have everybody together in one place as a department — and we’ve enjoyed it ever since.”

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was memorable for Knight, who manages environmental control systems across campus.

“With all the volcanic ash fall, working at Facilities Operations was pretty intense during that time — trying to keep all the buildings clean,” she said. “We had to bring in air filters by the semi-truck load instead of just a few at a time. But it brought everyone together — managers, supervisors, staff — everyone got out there and swept. We all worked together as a unit.”

Andrews feels that in an increasingly digital world we may have lost some of the human touch along the way.  Looking back over the years since she was first hired as a secretarial stenographer for the engineering wood materials lab, she recalls student demonstrations in the 1970s and the development of the regional campuses.

“Computers — and the inherent changes in communication — were probably the biggest changes we’ve seen overall,” she said. “Despite the benefits of their speed and efficiency, I don’t think we have the time to develop the kinds of relationships and friendships that we did before e-mail. I feel we’re missing something by not getting to know our colleagues as well anymore.”

These reactions may not be a coincidence, according to Monica Johnson, associate professor in the Department of Sociology. In a society of growing autonomy and individualism, she agreed that people are lamenting the loss of a sense of community — and are looking for new places to create these connections in their lives.

“As Americans spend more hours at work, one might speculate that interpersonal work relationships will take on more importance,” she said. “In many ways our work relationships extend beyond the hours actually spent at work.

“In the end, as we get older and think back over our lives, the importance of the people we’ve loved increases. Those relationships that have been important to us, whether at home or at work, increase in value.”

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