COVID-19 Staff Heroes – Yale Housing Team

Lorenzo Byam, George Longyear. Photo taken Summer 2019

While many members of the Yale community transitioned to teaching, learning, working, and studying from home, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a challenge for some graduate students who had nowhere else to shelter-in-place other than Yale. Fortunately, many dedicated and determined Yale employees continued to work on campus to provide these students with safe distancing and the ability to continue living on campus.

To accomplish this, the University made the swift decision to move approximately 160 graduate students living in Helen Hadley and E.S. Harkness Halls into freshman dormitory rooms on Old Campus. Both buildings typically house about 350 students. 

The team who made this happen is Yale Housing, led by George Longyear, Jr., Director of Yale Housing and Fleet. George and his team coordinated and moved the graduate students and their belongings into dormitory rooms on Old Campus. The move happened during the midst of spring break, under tremendous time constraints, and stressful circumstances. This tight-knit group was steadfast in their dedication and determination to get the job done in less than a week. “I have a fantastic team of people who worked together to accomplish this task and did it flawlessly. I always tell everyone I’ve got the best team on campus, and this proved it once again,” said George.

The move was not without a few interesting glitches along the way. As the moves began, it was discovered that the Old Campus dorm rooms do not have overhead lights. So, if a student didn’t have a lamp, the room was completely dark. Emergency Management was able to step in and find 50 pole lights to borrow from West Campus. Also, since there are no kitchens in the dorms, arrangements were made with Hospitality to have meals provided.  

After everyone was moved and safe, the team began contacting the remaining students who had gone on spring break or not returning to campus. This meant visiting all 350 rooms in Helen Hadley and Harkness Halls, inventorying items left behind, and contacting those students to make arrangements. During this process, 24 student unaccounted for were found living in those buildings. A second move date was added for this group and more rooms were secured to accommodate them. Thanks to the Provost, three of the students are staying temporarily in the Provost’s House.

Now that the student moves are over and George has settled into a new routine, he spent a few minutes answering some questions via Zoom.

What was the most difficult challenge you faced with the moves?

Our team is a touchy-feely group. We work closely with the students. They come to us with their problems and joys. It was tough dealing with all the emotions, the tears, and even anguish that some students displayed when we told them they had to move. It was an enormous challenge for all of us making difficult decisions during a very stressful time. While our hearts went out to the students, many here alone and away from family, we had to put our emotions aside and get this done. Once I knew we accomplished that, it felt good for all of us. The upside is that most of the students were happy that we made this effort on their behalf and provided them the distance, safety, and the ability to continue living on campus.

What positive changes do you see coming out of all of this?

The biggest short-term positive is we reduced their risk of exposure, and those students can safely continue their studies. I think in general, this has forced everyone to slow down. As a result, families have become closer or more connected. Though at the same time, it’s awkward being away from our communities. Maybe being away from our communities will make us appreciate them even more.

What are you doing to stay positive and to keep your staff positive?

We have a weekly staff Zoom meeting to check-in and see each other. We touch base day-to-day and even had a Zoom happy hour, which was fun. For me, I’m trying to keep a regular schedule, waking up at the same time and getting dressed (no sweats or PJs). My wife and I go for daily walks, and she is a gourmet cook, so we are having wonderful meals.

Any special thanks?

On behalf of my team, we would like to thank Kimberly Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President of University Life and John Mayes, Associate Vice President for Administration for their guidance during the relocation of our students, Yale College and Facilities Operations for preparing rooms on Old Campus for our students, and Hospitality for providing meals to our students.

Besides my Housing and Fleet staff, I want to thank Tom Schmidt from Yale’s Relocation and Logistics Management Team. Tom who volunteered his time along with Ronald Gitelman, was in the middle of all the moves coordinating things between our staff and the moving companies. He put teams together, kept everyone moving and on task. Without him it would not have gone as smoothly as it did.

Special thanks to Yale Housing and Fleet Team:

  • Beth Bishop, Student Services Officer
  • Laura Bertolini, Senior Administrative Assistant
  • Lorenzo Byam, Office Assistant
  • Nicole Copeland, Office Assistant Harkness Hall
  • Francesca D’Amato, Administrative Assistant
  • Ron Gitelman, Senior Administrator, Yale Fleet
  • Monique Moore, Administrative Assistant
  • Kate St. Marie, Student Services Officer
  • Chris Taylor, Student Services Officer

By Lisa Maloney, Internal Communications | April 4, 2020