FM employees marking service anniversaries credit colleagues and the community for their longevity
To say that Chris Kopach's 25th year at the University was eventful would be an understatement.
He spent his silver anniversary year leading the transformation of the Mall into a county, and later a state, COVID-19 vaccination site – an effort that has earned high praise for its efficiency, student and volunteer engagement, and overall welcoming atmosphere.
For Kopach, assistant vice president of facilities management, it's all in a day's work.
"People see us running incident command during COVID, but we run incident command every day, whether it's a utility outage issue, whether it's a building function issue, whether we have a major event or special guest visiting campus – our employees don't know the word 'no,'" Kopach said.
Kopach is one of 1,122 employees marking milestone service anniversaries this year, including six who are marking 50 years. In past years, employees were recognized at the annual Service Awards luncheon. This year, they are being celebrated with a webpage specially designed by Human Resources. In addition to a list of all the awardees, the page has a video message from President Robert C. Robbins that highlights memorable moments that occurred the year that the awardees began their University careers. (The video can be viewed below.)
"Service awards are an opportunity for celebration within units and teams," said Helena A. Rodrigues, vice president and chief human resources officer. "Certainly, they are meaningful achievements for awardees, signifying that they have found rewarding careers and communities here at the University. But colleges and divisions should see these awards as evidence of our ability to retain quality employees and the strength and stability of our in-house talent. I invite departments across the University to take this time to recognize and celebrate their honorees."
Kopach says his greatest contribution has been cultivating an atmosphere of teamwork, determination and compassion at Facilities Management.
He worked his way through college as a custodian in Michigan. In 1996, he started at the University as a custodial services manager. He rose through the ranks, becoming assistant director of custodial services, associate director of custodial and grounds services, and associate director of Facilities Management. In 2010, he was promoted to his current position.
Other Facilities Management employees who are celebrating work milestones agree with Kopach that, when it comes to staying with the University and FM for so long, it's all about the people.
"We've got a really amazing team in Facilities Management," says Mark St. Onge, director of utility services, who also is marking 25 years of service. "The best part of my job is when we have a new employee come in and I get to take them around and introduce them to all the people they get to work with."
St. Onge was drawn from Connecticut to Tucson thanks to one of the city's greatest assets.
"We were looking to get away from the cold winters," St. Onge said. "During my 10 years in the military, I had lived in warm places like North Carolina and Hawaii, so I didn't really appreciate the cold, long winters of the Northeast."
He was hired as the lead in the HVAC Mechanical Shop. He later moved to positions overseeing refrigeration and control, then the University's central utility plants, before taking on his current position in 2013. St. Onge says he is proud of the progress the University has made in its energy consumption on campus over the last two decades, thanks in large part to new building technology like digital monitoring systems.
"If you look at the cost per square foot, we are spending less today per square foot to heat and cool and power our buildings than we did 20 years ago."
Sonia Hernandez began her career at the University 30 years ago as a part-time office specialist with Facilities Management. After three years working in the maintenance division with Housing and Residential Life, she returned to FM, where she worked as a senior office specialist and administrative assistant before taking on her current role as senior program coordinator in FM's Fire Safety unit. Hernandez also credits the people around her for her longevity at the University.
"Honestly, for me it has been the community of staff, students and professionals – the ones who make things happen, the ones who go unnoticed but still make you feel like you are part of the family instantly," Hernandez said.
She says resources offered by the University at the time she was hired, including professional development programs, put her on an early path to success.
"It helped me set and stick to personal goals – something I used to think was useless. But it really helped me move toward positions I wanted within the University," Hernandez said. "I still use those tools today."
The Service Awards honorees will receive gifts in recognition of their years of service. HR will email employees who marked milestones in 2020 and 2021 with information on how to pick up their gifts.