When Alexandra “Lex” Gilbert retired in July after seven years in the Emory Campus Life Office of Health Promotion, she left her indelible mark on dozens of OHP initiatives and bequeathed a generous portion of her indefatigable “can do” spirit to the office’s students, staff, and faculty.
When Gilbert joined Emory in 2008 as OHP’s administrative assistant, she brought with her the entrepreneurial drive that had inspired her and her husband Bruce to launch and manage for 25 years an advertising sales firm that counted Hewlett Packard, Disney, and other notable businesses among its clients.
“This administrative assistant job can be as powerful and influential as you want it to be,” says Gilbert, explaining that she often spoke out on issues ranging from parking, signage, and restroom repairs to health care promotions and policy decisions. “You can do what is on the job description and no more, or you can behave like a business owner and make things happen.”
With her background in marketing, Gilbert was very much at home in an organization that partners with other organizations to promote a healthier campus and encourage individuals to practice healthier lifestyles.
“A department that reaches out to students, staff, and faculty is very much like a marketing firm that builds market share among consumers,” she points out.
From the start, Gilbert recognized that there was much to do in addition to traditional administrative support for a staff of seven employees and a team of as many as 15 student interns. OHP director Heather Zesiger agrees that the organization offered a wealth of opportunities for Gilbert to engage her energy and entrepreneurial spirit, and she happily afforded her colleague the freedom to do so.
“Our pilot version of a new initiative, So You Want to be a Sexpert, would not have happened without Lex working with the graduate student assistant to help design and order engaging materials for trainers and participants,” says Zesiger. She described the resulting document as a 300-page train-the-trainer manual to prepare graduate students to teach a noncredit sex education course.
According to Zesiger, Gilbert also assumed responsibility for animating OHP’s mascot, Flo the Hippo, depicting the stuffed toy busily enjoying a variety of healthy behaviors, from playing tennis to meditating quietly and even drinking a kale smoothie.
Similarly, the office’s Student Health 101 e-magazine benefited from Gilbert’s creative talents as she designed custom content and recruited student and staff writers from other Emory Campus Life offices to give the publication a broader appeal. Meanwhile, she found time to serve the division as one of its 12 Strategic Planning Champions.
“Lex was also an essential team member in developing Flourish Emory and getting it off the ground,” says Marc Cordon, OHP’s associate director/health promotion specialist, who manages the program. He describes the initiative as helping students to achieve an optimal stage of well being that enhances their chances to succeed while challenging them to rethink what success at Emory and beyond actually means to them.
Cordon praised Gilbert’s professionalism and experience, but says those are not the only reasons she is a model coworker. “Lex is a gem,” he adds. “She is simply one of the most interesting people I've ever met.”
Zesiger acknowledges that a person with Gilbert’s broad skillset will not be easy to replace. “But I think the greatest gift that Lex brought to us is her seemingly unlimited capacity to genuinely care about the people she works with,” says Zesiger. “We miss her.”
However, Zesiger and her colleagues are pleased to know that their former coworker will continue to serve the larger Emory community. Gilbert is the incoming chair for the Parent Family Advisory Council of the Winship Cancer Institute, where she has volunteered during the past three years since her own cancer recovery.
The Office of Health Promotion – part of the Student Health and Counseling Services department in the Emory Campus Life division – partners with students, staff, and faculty to encourage healthy skill development and build community. Through a range of initiatives, OHP embraces a positive, holistic, social justice-oriented definition of health, recognizing that health and learning are inextricably linked.
Emory Campus Life is the catalyst for advancing academic education into action through an array of programs and services that enhance the Emory experience for the university’s polycultural community. The division serves nearly 15,000 students and thousands of faculty, staff, and campus visitors. Emory Campus Life encompasses more than 20 departments and employs approximately 300 professional, 300 contract, and 700 student staff members.