Across campus, there are numerous jobs to be done, and many of those who do them go unseen. The only evidence they were ever there is the product of their work. Whether it is preparing meals for students, maintaining the grounds or arranging student housing, these jobs are a vital part of keeping the University running. Harding magazine sought out five behind-the-scenes staff members to better know them and recognize the jobs they do and the difference they make.
The holiday handyman
If you ask BOB BARNETT, working in physical resources means wearing a lot of different hats. Depending on the day or season, Barnett takes on jobs as plumber, decorator, electrician, artist or animal control — just to name a few.
Barnett, a right-away maintenance technician, describes his year-round responsibilities as a first responder to odd calls regarding campus problems. When phone calls come in about raccoons in the American Studies Building or water dripping from ceiling tiles in the Pryor-England Science Building, Barnett is often the first one to assess the situation.
“I get all the weird stuff,” Barnett says. “Someone needs to see what they are talking about and determine what the problem actually is. I can do a little bit of everything. If I can do something about it right away, I do. If not, I know whether to call a plumber, carpenter, electrician or whomever.”
Because of his background as a graphic artist and designer, Barnett is occasionally called upon for special projects such as glass etchings in the Swaid Center for Health Sciences or displaying banners and signage in the Rhodes-Reaves Field House. However, Barnett says the best part of his job comes every fall when he executes a majority of the annual Christmas display in the Heritage lobby and on the front lawn.
“It’s one of the things here that I’m the proudest of,” Barnett says. “We try to make it bigger and better every year, both inside the Heritage and out on the lawn.”
Part of the reason Barnett says he loves the Christmas lights display is because it is what brought him to work at Harding in the first place.
“I came here quite by accident to do Christmas lights for six to eight weeks,” Barnett says. “It didn’t take long being around here to see there was something very, very different about this place and what goes on here. It didn’t take much longer to decide that I wanted to be a part of it. That was eight Christmases ago. I wouldn’t leave for anything now. If they tried to run me off, I’d keep coming back because this has become my home and my mission.”
Starting after Homecoming, Barnett and other members of physical resources begin hanging more than 2,000 strings of lights in campus trees. As the semester closes in on Thanksgiving break, the pace quickens to finish decorating lamp posts and the Heritage lobby. Barnett says it is necessary to call in faculty, staff, and even local garden club volunteers to get the job done.
“They pull out greenery to put on the sidewalk lampposts,” Barnett says. “They’ll put new bows on and fluff them and get them ready to hang. As fast as they get the stuff ready, we’re getting it out the other door to hang it. It’s a great time but a lot of work.”
The light display was in its third year when Barnett began working at Harding. He says that his contributions every year — such as perfecting the method of lighting a large tree and its surrounding bushes in the center of the lawn — are all in efforts to improve the final product. He says it’s something he enjoys being known for.
“I’m known all over town as the guy that does the Christmas lights,” Barnett says. “People come from all over to see it. We have people who don’t come to Spring Sing and don’t come to Homecoming, but they come to Christmas at Harding. It’s gratifying to us that it is so widely enjoyed.”
A well-seasoned chef
A native of Belgrade, Serbia, executive chef SEBASTIAN JAKUPOVIC brings an innovative style that showcases the international nature of Harding in the cuisine he creates. Initially interested in architecture, Jakupovic now builds flavors and menus for campus dining and catering.
“I like to fuse the cuisines,” Jakupovic says. “I like to invent things. Culinary is all about invention. Doing something for catering, reinventing the menu for the cafeteria, this is something that I enjoy doing. When you have open hands, then your creativity gets a chance.”
Although he was a neurosurgeon, Jakupovic’s father was the one who inspired him to start cooking.
“He said every man needs to know how to cook,” he says. “I was a bit of a comedian, so I thought I’d just go for it and surprised [my parents] with dinner when they got home.”
Jakupovic moved from Belgrade to Germany and, after five years there, decided to move to the United States. The long process required some waiting and a little luck.
“[My wife and I] tried to find the best way to come to the United States. There were only a few ways to get here: one was if I were a preacher, which I’m not; another was if I were an actor, which I’m not; third was if I had about $10-15 million, which I don’t; and the fourth was to play the visa lottery.”
After submitting the paperwork, Jakupovic forgot all about it. More than a year and a half went by before the couple got a response. When they got the call that they were approved, Jakupovic didn’t believe it.
“I decided I’d call the United States consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, and see if it was true. And it was. It took another year or so to get all of the paperwork done.”
Jakupovic had met an American staying at the hotel in Germany where he worked. Since he was one of the few who knew English, he gave the man advice on where to visit around town. A businessman from Arkansas, the man suggested Jakupovic move his family there, and that’s what he and his wife did, moving from Germany directly to Searcy.
He started as a cook at Harding in 2000. In 2001, he was promoted to production manager for Aramark at University of Central Arkansas and then promoted to food service director at Falcon Jet in Little Rock. He returned to Harding in 2013 as executive chef.
One of the largest hurdles Jakupovic faces is creating a menu that pleases students while also keeping the food offerings diverse enough so that they don’t tire of them. He emphasizes to students that the best way to influence change in the cafeteria is to voice their opinions.
“Each year, we have several meetings with the Student Association committee, and I always encourage them if they see me or any of our managers to pull us aside and tell us what they like and don’t like. Our students are fortunate because they have the opportunity to try anything offered in the cafeteria. So I would tell them not to disregard something just because they don’t know what it is. Get a little sample of it and try. You may be surprised.”
On the other side of his job, Jakupovic is also responsible for catering events. Whether weddings, special University events, or even the 2013 inauguration, he creates and executes the menu.
“What I like so much about catering is that my hands are much more open than with anything else.”
For President Bruce McLarty’s inauguration, the menu focused on the worldwide reach of the University and the numerous countries that make up Harding.
“We did foods from around the world,” Jakupovic says. “We always have students from all over, so the menu that was designed for Dr. McLarty’s inauguration was pretty much from every corner of the world. We wanted to show that Harding is an international college. That was the goal, and I think we succeeded with the menu.”
With each meal, there is a new problem to face, but for Jakupovic, that is just a part of the job.
“I’m not an inside-the-box guy, so when I get to experiment and be creative, that’s part of the fun. It can be tough at times, but I like challenges.”
From dial tones to DormNet
Technology on campus is always changing. No one knows this better than LORA FLEENER, manager of student support and communication, who has spent the last 35 years as a University employee. Fleener has worked in several offices on campus but is still known by some as the “telephone lady,” a title referring to her work with Harding telephone services beginning in 1989.
When Fleener was a student at Harding, students shared a phone in the hall or had to contact the local phone company to get a phone line installed in their room. By the late 80s, most students had individual phone lines in the dorm.
“Schools all over the U.S. were getting their own phone systems,” Fleener says. “So we upgraded our phone switch to accommodate the changing expectations.”
With a larger switchboard, campus employees no longer had to share extensions, and all dorm rooms could be wired for student use. To pay for the upgraded switchboard, Harding telephone services offered students long-distance calling at a much-reduced rate compared to outside companies.
“It was a great deal for them, and it was a great deal for us because it helped pay for the enhanced phone system supporting the University,” Fleener says. “As cell phones became more popular, the use of dorm phones started to fade away. By then the switch had been paid for a long time, and technologies were changing. We eventually pulled the phones from the dorm, and no one even noticed they were gone.”
Although the dorm room phone is no longer a necessity, and Fleener hasn’t worked in phone services since 1998, she is still the voicemail administrator and pays all the phone bills for the University.
Besides those duties, Fleener works with a different sort of technology these days; she oversees the DormNet student help desk. She manages 15 student workers who assist their peers with things like maintenance and troubleshooting on personal computers, tablets or phones. At the beginning of each school year, Fleener and her team help incoming freshmen connect to Harding’s network or set up printers in dorm rooms. The rest of the year they man the help desk in the Administration Building.
According to Fleener, her student workers are what she loves most about her job. She relies on a detailed hiring process to select the best candidates, and she doesn’t lean on technological skills as the most important job requirement.
“I look more for customer service qualities, and I can train them in other things if they have an aptitude for learning,” Fleener says. “You have to have a special kind of student to work with customers and with other students.”
Good customer service skills come in handy when trying to help students with malfunctioning computers who are facing assignment deadlines. Fleener described computer troubles as an immediate need for anyone, and she said DormNet provides an essential service for students by meeting that need. Helping students in this way is another reason Fleener loves her job.
“This was not my career goal, but I’ve worked here for 35 years,” Fleener says. “I graduated and started working at Harding, and now I’m still here. I’ve often said that God moves in mysterious ways, and I’m very thankful for that because I feel like this is where I’ve needed to be. I feel like I can serve in my small way while doing a job I love and hope-fully helping kids along the way.”
The Benson’s bright spot
When the spotlight hits performers on the Benson stage, all eyes focus on them, and that undivided attention is thanks to STEVE MARTIN, director of Benson Auditorium technical services. His work lighting the Benson has illuminated nearly all of the auditorium’s events for more than 25 years.
Martin first got involved with show productions as a student, working the sound for many events and becoming the first student to create the sound for Spring Sing. He was hired after he graduated.
“When I first started out, I was in charge of chapel and any shows that came through,” Martin says. “Now, the bulk of my job is lighting and staging nontheatrical events, like ASI speakers and graduation. I do lighting design for Spring Sing, the Homecoming musical and some concerts.”
During the planning process, Martin helps translate what groups want their event to look like into what is feasible.
“I have a program where I can draw things in 3D, and you can view the stage design from different angles,” Martin says. “That gives them the chance to see what it will look like. Everything in the program is to scale, so I know exactly how all of the elements will play out on stage. It’s much better than before when I had to draw it all out on paper and hope it worked as planned.”
One of the biggest logistical challenges was the inauguration in 2013.
“When Dr. [Bruce] McLarty was inaugurated, I made lots of drawings. It was a pretty big deal. I planned where the chorus would be, and it was huge. Physical resources did a good job of getting that set up because it was not expected to work.”
Even though the job involves lighting, most of Martin’s work happens after dark. To do what he needs to, he must have a cleared stage, and the Benson can be a crowded place.
“People don’t get that because they think not much happens in [the Benson], but there are two chapels, so from the time we get here at 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. basically, we can’t do anything in there. Then there’s custodial, set building and rehearsals, which will go until 10 or 11 p.m. A lot of what I do goes on in the middle of the stage, so you can’t do anything else. At times I come in at 3 a.m. to start my day so I can work on the lights when no one is here.”
Martin devotes much of his time to lighting the University’s two biggest productions: the Homecoming musical and Spring Sing. Collaborating with set designers and directors, he again creates 3D renderings of how the stage will look in order to see where the lights need to be and when. While the musical and Spring Sing may seem similar, they each require a different execution.
“With the musical, you’re trying to tell a story straight through. You want the audience to feel the emotion or laugh at the joke or look over here or look over there simply by changing the lighting. Spring Sing is more like a concert; it’s more like an awards show.”
Through lighting and planning, Martin is able to bridge the artistic side of production to the technical side.
“The artistic people give me ideas and say, let’s make that work. I couldn’t create what they do, but I can do the technical parts. I’ve got to make sure that the light fixture is plugged into the right dimmer which is plugged into the correct channel. There are a lot of numbers that lead up to that, and a lot rides on that going well. Otherwise, you could burn the building down.”
When each performance is completed, Martin takes pride in knowing he’s played a part in entertaining the audience.
“I’m happy to have been able to aid in their enjoyment and to have been part of something for others.”
Home sweet Harding
A defining piece of the Harding experience comes from life in the dorm, and for many, those memories have their start with KATHY ALLEN and her work as director of housing. Whether students have a roommate already selected or opt to have housing choose one for them, the office plays a large role in placing each student in their University home. It’s a job in which Allen takes pride.
“It is, in my opinion, the best job on campus,” she says. “There are not many offices that I think would be as fun as this one. We get so much student contact, and you get to know them a little better and build a trust with them.”
Having worked with men’s housing for nearly 10 years before becoming director, Allen continually found herself in the role of mom for students leaving home for the first time. Students could be found eating dinner around her kitchen table or watching Kentucky basketball in her living room.
“God tends to put people in my path who need a mom or need help,” Allen says. “I think that’s true of the whole Harding community. It gives students a nicer experience rather than a cold, institutional feel. It’s a God thing.”
While many universities have moved to an automated housing assignment system where students go online to select their dorm room, the University housing office still uses a hands-on approach because the housing component is a vital part of the student’s experience.
“It gives students a person to connect with,” Allen says. “They have a name and a face that, when they have a problem, they know they can go talk to that person. I get emails and phone calls all the time from students with questions or problems. It’s a constant stream of communication. They feel like their needs are being met, and we know when they’re not. [Assistant Director of Residence Life Loretta Gregersen] and I have the tendency to do a little more because we want that student to start out as a freshman and be happy and stay all four years.”
That hands-on touch is evident in the midst of the selection process for students who choose to go potluck and let the housing office choose their roommate. During the summer, it’s not unusual for the office floor to be covered with stacks of forms grouping similar personalities together.
“We ask for certain personality components on their housing forms for a reason,” Allen says. “We know that they’re outgoing or if they’re reserved. This is how that student tells us who they are. Until this year, the most common responses were outgoing, studious and athletic. This year we’re seeing a lot more artistic and musical students. The population does morph from year to year.”
Allen’s job also requires a great deal of problem solving because sometimes the pairings do not always work out. When that happens, she is quick to find a solution.
“We let them know we can help them if they have a problem. I had a girl call me the other day and say that she saw where her potential roommate’s political views are completely opposite of hers, so I did my best to place them somewhere else. You don’t want to create a hostile environment to start with. And I think our track record has been pretty good.”
Over the years, Allen has built relationships with students and found herself blessed by them in the work she gets to do.
“Whoever sits here, I think they really need to have a heart for it. I love what I do. I think I’m a good listener. I want them to feel comfortable with me. I put myself out there. You have a lot of interesting experiences when you do that.”
Leave a Reply