Fall semester is chugging along. Seeing students in classrooms, residence halls, playing fields, dining halls, laboratories, and everywhere else just feels right. As I visit our university and college partners across the country, there is a sense of joy and resilience. There is fatigue, too. New routines and the overarching set of logistics involved in mitigating the effects of a pandemic on a college or university campus can be overwhelming. Nearly everyone these days continues to balance their regular work with a never-ending stream of COVID-related worries and duties.

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining auxiliary services leaders in a roundtable forum sponsored by NACAS, which was a welcome time to take a breath. Like just about everything else, moments to reflect are in short supply these days. During our wide-ranging discussion, available on the NACAS recorded events page, we considered how auxiliary services have evolved throughout the pandemic. We centered our dialogue on changing student needs. Our Sodexo team anticipated two significant trends in student life this fall: (1) more interest and reliance on digital and convenience solutions and (2) readiness to reconnect and socialize. Already, we have seen these patterns play out in our partner campuses. Our roundtable participants highlighted some of the challenges of student enthusiasm and participation—even things as simple as queueing space and logistics—when students come together during COVID-19 but still want things in a hurry.

Regardless of the challenges, your teams plan and do; refine and pivot. You are accustomed to making it work, no matter what. Let us not forget that your work is essential for both student satisfaction and budget stability. When students were not on campus during earlier stages of the pandemic, your colleagues outside of auxiliary services saw and felt the impacts  – a glaring reminder of the importance of campus services and student life. Beyond the budget, the pandemic has spotlighted the way you and your teams work – logistics, cross-campus coordination, partnerships, strategic sourcing, and creative problem-solving. In many cases, your solutions are the only reason students, faculty, and staff are safely back on campus.

And your colleagues have noticed: during our recent roundtable, participants shared that they perceived that auxiliary services not only had a seat at the table to share ideas and solutions, but that administration and academic leadership were actively seeking out your operational mindsets. Auxiliary leaders recovered campus communities, standing up contact tracing, testing, vaccination, PPE distribution, community supports, and revamped cleaning, transportation, and dining protocols. Your work was visible and significant. It reassured hesitant parents, Boards of Trustees, alumni donors, and students themselves. At several of our partner campuses, record numbers of students are opting to board and engage fully in student life because they trust in the transparent protocols and communication you implemented

This is a big deal – not just for the profession of auxiliary services, but for the viability of higher education post-pandemic. When everyone has a seat at the table to share best practices across divisions, we lighten the mental toll and the physical workload. Being “in it together” dilutes the exhaustion and enhances campus camaraderie. I have seen this real-time innovation and process streamlining happening at our partner campuses, large and small. At Sodexo, we embrace inclusion as a business imperative, recognizing that we create better solutions when we actively encourage dialogue from everyone involved in the work. Any opportunity for administration to bring together the academic and auxiliary creates the atmosphere for holistic solutions that support student recruitment, retention, and engagement from the classroom to the residence hall and beyond.  

What have your experiences been? Has the pandemic helped amplify the voice of auxiliary services on your campus? How are you winning for students these days and managing fatigue?

I look forward to continuing to share some thoughts over the coming weeks and months as we evolve together for students and enhance the student experience. I hope this blog can be a collaborative space where we all have a seat to share thoughts and best practices.

--Cal Thetford

Chief Operating Officer, Sodexo Universities

October 12, 2021