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Commitment to Our People: Emory staff 'make everything possible'

By Susan M. Carini 04G March 15, 2023

Each week, Emory Report is featuring one of the six focus areas of One Emory: Ambition and Heart, the reimagined strategic framework announced by President Fenves during the Feb. 7 Charter Week gathering.

Staff make everything at Emory possible.

With those words, President Gregory L. Fenves introduced a new focus area to the reimagined One Emory strategic framework — one he characterized as “crucial.” Acknowledging the university’s status as the region’s largest private employer, the president set the goal of making Emory “the employer of choice” for staff, especially given the competitive nature of the current job market. 

Fenves outlined several steps to help ensure that talented staff choose Emory and then, once here, have the ability to thrive and build a fulfilling career while contributing fully to the university’s mission.

  • Cultivating an environment of respect, inclusion and well-being that allows each staff member to excel in their job. 
  • Striving to provide competitive, equitable compensation and benefits, which includes planning for a 4% merit pool for Emory University employees in fiscal year 2024, pending final approval of the university budget.
  • Recruiting diverse and talented staff members who represent a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. 
  • Recognizing and supporting staff members’ lives outside of their Emory jobs. An example of this is the recent doubling of paid parental leave for Emory University employees from three to six weeks.
  • Offering opportunities across the university for staff members who want to advance in their careers at Emory.
  • Encouraging new ideas and creativity and celebrating staff achievements and successes.

“Staff power our mission and Emory’s partnerships with institutions and organizations across the Atlanta metro area,” the president said. “I want them to know they are valued and there are opportunities for growth here.”

Commitment to Our People: Three questions with Bob Crowder, assistant director for facilities, Campus Life

Bob Crowder, assistant director for facilities, Campus Life

When Ben Perlman, then-director of Emory Student Center operations and events, called Bob Crowder to seal the deal on Crowder’s joining Emory’s facilities staff, Crowder was a bit nonplussed, having earlier received a rejection letter.

That correspondence had been sent in error, it turns out. Thankfully, neither man let it hinder what quickly became a productive relationship as they worked together toward readying the Emory Student Center for its grand opening on Sept. 11, 2019.

Crowder has enjoyed several successful career paths. An Army veteran of the Vietnam War, he earned a Bronze Star as a helicopter crew chief. He also worked as a police officer in DeKalb County with the ambition “to work my way up the ranks to police chief.” However, he learned that, in law enforcement, “you can make it to a certain rank with your talent and education; after that, it becomes political.” 

Crowder earned an LLM and JD from Atlanta Law School, taught law-related courses part-time at DeVry University and Keller Graduate School of Management, and then was employed as a facilities superintendent for Georgia State University’s Student Center and the University Center, which housed the CineFest Film Theatre.

At Emory, being responsible for the Alumni Memorial University Center (AMUC) and Cox Hall as well as the Student Center, Crowder quickly developed a reputation for an unwavering commitment to two things: bringing Emory’s facilities into the 21st century and ensuring a great student experience.

He was, he confesses, incredulous at seeing bulletin boards in the AMUC when he first arrived. “That is an element from my own elementary school,” he says. “I helped Emory make the needed turn to digital signage.”

Currently, Crowder is liaising with the staff of Planning, Design and Construction to ready the Cox Hall identity spaces by the time of students’ return for the fall semester.

Three questions with Bob Crowder

Q: You feel a deep commitment to Emory students in the work you do. Describe how you interact with them.

All of us serving with Enku Gelaye, senior vice president for Campus Life, approach our jobs the way she does. You won’t find her in her office. She is engaging students every day. I do the same. 

It gave me so much joy to have students who graduated before the opening of the Student Center make trips back to campus just to see the facility. By creating what we called a “student-centered Student Center,” we have provided a space that answers their diverse needs — whether they are there to relax, eat, play games, study, attend an event or catch up with friends.

Every day, I am in listening mode. Students let me know about things they want and elements that might not be working for them. I receive so much from them, having the chance to learn about the communities they come from. 

Q:  You run toward challenges. Why?

Simply put, I love knowledge, and challenges give me the opportunity to learn new things and apply them for the good of our community. I admire the thinking of philosopher Eric Hoffer, who says, “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the Earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” 

I often am here on the weekend — not because anyone expects it of me but because I love my job and have a thirst to learn more and do more. When Ben Perlman was here, he supported me in making things happen. Whatever your expertise, he allowed you to work that space. And it is no different now. The spirit remains the same. I am grateful for the progressive leadership at Emory. The many partners I work with are pulling in the same direction. 

Q: What is next for facilities at Emory and your own professional development?

I derive so much from being a leader in a variety of professional associations, where I push for innovation and bring back ideas for better facilities for community members, especially our students. A degree program for facilities might take shape soon. I would love to be part of that as a teacher. Remember, in Hoffer’s terms, I am a learner, and for me, teaching is learning.

In Campus Life, we understand that word of mouth, from satisfied current students, goes a long way in terms of alerting future students to what is good here. As much success as we have had in upgrading our facilities and being a leader among peer institutions, we don’t let ourselves get complacent. Right now, I would give Emory an A for the work it’s doing. But here’s the catch: that is just for this semester. We have to keep it up.

Commitment to Our People: Three questions with Valerie Molyneaux, associate dean for academic affairs at Oxford College

Valerie Molyneaux, associate dean for academic affairs at Oxford College

In many ways, Valerie Molyneaux’s career at Emory is a testament to the vision the president has espoused for staff. After discovering her passion for student affairs while an undergraduate at Case Western Reserve University, Molyneaux has carried out this work at Emory in a variety of roles, both on the Atlanta campus and at Oxford.

Molyneaux jokingly describes her dream job as “being a don at the University of Oxford, looking out a window of the Radcliffe Camera and taking advantage of one of the best libraries in the world.” Until that offer comes, she is deeply engaged here, where “I am in a position to hear things, to listen, to make connections and hopefully to make changes that benefit our whole community.”

Intellectual to her core, Molyneaux could have envisioned a faculty role for herself. She was not, however, “willing to brave the grueling humanities job market. I wanted to do something that kept me connected to a university community. I am a deeply curious person, and I cannot tell you how enriching it has been to work at a university where you can learn almost anything.”

Having earned a doctorate in student affairs administration from the University of Georgia, Molyneaux began at Emory in Campus Life as area director and then assistant dean for student conduct. Moving to Goizueta Business School in 2008, she directed the school’s international programs for nine years and then transitioned to academic advising. Since 2018, she has been at Oxford College, serving as associate dean for academic affairs. 

At each stop, she has been there, with understanding and resources, for students who are struggling and with shared enthusiasm for their victories. The latter has included, as part of Goizueta’s international program, sending a Questbridge student from Idaho to study language in Beijing. “He was so brave to give it a shot; it was so different from anything he had experienced,” Molyneaux recalls.

Three questions with Valerie Molyneaux

Q: What is your reaction to the emphasis on supporting and valuing staff that has become part of One Emory? 

I was thrilled. Our primary function as an institution is academic, but I am so aware of the extent to which staff, working alongside faculty, bring that mission to fruition. I am glad that Emory is acknowledging that it is not just classroom teaching that is changing our students’ lives and our community; it’s the whole experience.

Q: How do you describe the work of academic advising and how do you carry it out? 

Done correctly, academic advising is more than graduation requirements. It is about what matters to a student, what they value and, in many cases, what their families or communities value. For some of our students, it is a question of shoring up missing skills or deepening ones they already have. I applaud Emory for keeping faculty in their mentoring roles while also investing in more professional advisers whose full-time job is to figure out how to use the power of Emory’s resources to shape a student’s path. 

Our students come from many places with deep experience and haven’t always seen themselves reflected in our curriculum, which is why I am proud that Emory has a race-and-ethnicity requirement now. This is not some inaccessible, bookshelf topic; it is one that matters to our students. 

As far as how I seek to have an impact, I encourage students to bring concerns or questions to me, but I also go to them. Before an academic deadline, I will go to the dining hall and ask students, “Do you know what is coming up? Do you have any questions about it?” I learn a lot from that. It begins with me talking, but on the most successful days, I am able to stimulate conversation.

I thank every student who brings something to my attention. We can’t do everything they want or do everything as fast as they would like, but we really do depend on them for their input.

Q: What should be next for Emory and what is next for you in terms of how you are evolving your role?

When we talk about “courageous inquiry” at Emory, I think we have further to go and am confident that the president and provost will push us to get there. With initiatives like student flourishing, we are asking students to move out of their comfort zones; as an institution, we need to do the same. 

For my part, I am pushing myself to help students and their families explore other outcomes besides the well-known, prestigious careers that many of them focus on when they think of an institution of Emory’s prominence. We have an opportunity and an obligation to help students define what it is that may let them share their unique talents with the world.