Facilities staff constructing screened animal enclosurea

UR crews help faculty and students innovate new ways of learning

March 19, 2023

Campus Life

Last spring, English professor Elizabeth Outka wanted to highlight the intersection of literature and nature for one of her courses. For help, she turned to some nature experts on campus from University Facilities.

“Working with the fabulous landscape team, we sowed wildflowers and planted other plants using compost in the form of tiny fragments of 100% unbleached recycled paper that we wrote some of our favorite poems on,” Outka said.

The class, held in the Eco-Corridor, was a way to enrich the conservation area while connecting with others. Staff, students, and faculty worked alongside each other to dig, plant, and mulch the area for Outka’s course, called Art (and Nature) Amidst Adversity.

“Our gardeners have planted all kinds of things on this campus, but I can’t say we’ve ever planted a poem,” said Allison Moyer, associate director of landscape services and horticulture. “Since we don’t work with students daily, these opportunities help remind our landscape staff why we are ultimately here.”

The project is one example of how facilites staff lend their experience to help improve the student experience.

The Department of Latin American, Latino & Iberian Studies and University Museums called on custodial services staff for help with an exhibition by Latinx artist Jay Lynn Gomez focusing on the value of workers’ domestic and care work. Custodial staff shared their impressions on the art and its layout and provided comments and opinions that were integrated into the exhibition’s educational initiatives, catalog, and informational panels. 

The exibition’s co-curators Martha Wright and Karina Vázquez pointed out the importance of incorporating UR custodial staff employees’ views on the art as a “way to honor both the art and campus workers by creating an exhibition that opens paths for dialogue, curiosity, reflection, and recognition.”

Facilities employees use many talents to assist UR faculty. In the wooded area just outside of the Gottwald Center for the Sciences, a research space built by facilities supports work on certain species of interest to UR science faculty.

Biology professor Kristine Grayson studies the ecological impacts of the invasive European spongy moth. She partnered with design and construction teams to build a custom insect research pavilion to raise and study the caterpillars. 

“When studying an invasive species spreading into new areas, it is important to run experiments under natural environmental conditions but in secure locations safe from accidental escape or disturbance,” Grayson said. “The research pavilion has supported numerous projects to understand how this species will grow under the hot Richmond climate, and several student projects have been possible because we have a protected space on campus for outdoor experiments.”

Facilities also built an addition to the enclosure this past summer to support another research project involving animals of the four-legged variety.

“When Kelly Lambert in psychology and I wanted to team up to combine our wild and lab rat research into a new project, we needed a space on campus that was outside of typical indoor lab facilities but still close enough that we could work with students to conduct observations of natural behaviors,” said biology professor Jonathan Richardson. “The Facilities team was great about thinking through options that would meet our research needs.”

Paul Lozo, director of facilities operations, said his team enjoys tackling academic projects, which is outside the norm of the day to day. 

“The team really does like to do it, and it breaks up some of the more routine tasks that we are also responsible for, like fixing a sticking door or repairing a leaking faucet,” Lozo said. “What makes it really enjoyable is the students are charged with a project, and they know the end goal, but they don’t know how to get there. We help with that part. Our team loves to think through their ideas and help them achieve their goals.”