August 2, 2010

Profile: Readying campus for back to school

Dee Sneed

When gunk, grime and the occasional bodily fluid invade the areas where students live and learn, Deitrich “Dee” Sneed ’92C and her custodial staff put the gloves on.

As assistant director of building and residential services in Campus Services, Sneed is responsible for keeping more than 50 Emory residence halls, classroom buildings and fraternities and sororities, along with all of Oxford’s facilities, spick-and-span.

During the summer, her staff can clean the same dorm room 10 times. The season is her department’s busiest time, when they are given a  two-week window from when the last students leave to when the first conference attendees arrive to wash walls, shampoo carpets, sanitize mattresses and essentially scrub every surface. Recently, Sneed was found hauling trash after a missed pickup at Candler School of Theology.

“Many hands make light work,” she explains. “It’s important for me to help out when I can. My employees make me look so good.”

An Oxford and Emory alum, Sneed enjoys interacting with faculty and staff who remember her as an inquisitive political science major and Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar. During her junior year, Sneed took a job as a student assistant for Camellia Flanigan, then-director of interior and custodial services for Emory’s Office of Residence Life & Housing.

Flanigan encouraged Sneed to get her hands dirty, dispatching her to vacuum carpets and move furniture (she carried one headboard for every four toted by another member of the crew).

After graduation, Sneed worked briefly as a law firm receptionist and employment data collector. She returned to Emory in 1996 to accept a position reporting to Flanigan as assistant director of custodial services in housing. She eventually earned her MBA from Mercer University.

In 2003, Sneed’s employees presented her with a Distinguished Service Honor Award, recognizing her empathetic approach to management. Aware that the stressors of home life can impact worker productivity, Sneed helped her staff locate childcare, set up doctors’ appointments and educated them about campus resources.

“You see things in black and white and the staff opened my eyes to shades of gray,” says Sneed, who serves on the campus-wide WorkLife Advisory Group.

She assumed more responsibility when her department merged with Building Services in 2007, adding academic and clinic buildings to her housing roster.

While on the job, Sneed met her husband, Patrick, an assistant supervisor in the same department. With a 2-year-old daughter at home, the couple adopts a divide-and-conquer strategy to handle personal custodial chores.

“Sometimes you walk into my house and it looks lived in,” she admits.

In her spare time, Sneed enjoys getting together with her large family every fifth Sunday for potluck dinners, and playing piano for Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Covington, where she grew up.

But these days she has her hands full with a deadline looming to prepare all main campus residences for back to school by Aug. 8. Students generally are appreciative, sending the staff thank-you notes and gift cards during the holidays.

“I’m always amazed at what the students leave behind,” Sneed says, adding that custodians have found laptop computers and flat-screen televisions, which can turn the department into a lost-and-found.

Her biggest challenge  was responding to last year’s H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak on campus. Sneed outfitted her team with protective suits, gloves and high-tech masks to clean Turman South, where the sick students were housed. She visited the residence hall herself to reassure her staff that she would not put them in harm’s way.

“No one got sick,” she says, beaming.

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