Cheesemaker, mentor, agent for change

Christina Alexandre-Zeoli is passionate about her work, and understandably so. She has worked as the principal cheesemaker for the WSU creamery, making the famous Cougar Gold, American cheddars and Viking cheeses.

“I love what I do; it’s my passion,” she said. “To see all the cheese lined up in the cooler, I think, ‘I’m part of a proud tradition that brings people joy.’ ”

Alexandre-Zeoli started out in shipping in 2002 before becoming the cheesemaker in 2004. Once there, she quickly became an advocate for the student employees. At times she spent her off hours considering how to accommodate students’ needs, training goals and how to make their jobs better. Under her tenure as cheesemaker, diversity was encouraged, focusing on the individual needs of each student.

“I love working with students. I find them engaging and it makes me think in terms of younger generations,” she said. “Besides, how bad could your day be if you make cheese every day?”

Her tenure as cheesemaker brought an increase in production of 25 percent.

“I am motivated by a job well done,” she said. “When I close my eyes at night, I want to know that I was fair and did the right thing.” 

In July 2006, Alexandre-Zeoli did the right thing. She raised a red flag that the work environment at the creamery was not the best. Putting it all on the line, she came forward with examples that did not represent the creamery in a positive light. 

With her input, changes have been made that more truly reflect the high standards and collaborative work environment that WSU seeks to foster.

She is a passionate person who brings energy and emotion to everything she does, said Russ Salvadalena, WSU creamery manager. She genuinely cares about the student employees she directs and does her best to mentor them.
“I feel like the President’s Employee Excellence Award validates me at the highest level. My voice, concerns and contributions have been heard and supported,” said Alexandre-Zeoli. “There is integrity in doing what needs to be done in the face of difficulty, even when it requires personal sacrifice.

“Be an advocate for equality, and for our people and students. Speak out for what you believe in. Change is hard, but change is good.” 

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