In his new role as provost and dean of the faculty, Michael Thurston says he hopes to be an advocate for “a vision of liberal education where people develop their capacities through exploring their passions.”
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Jim Gray: Caring for Smith’s Landscape and Hardscape
Jim Gray is a busy man.
Gray—who became Smith’s associate vice president for facilities and operations in April, after five years in a similar position at Brandeis—oversees an area with more than 300 employees in jobs related to facilities maintenance, grounds, capital projects, the power plant, heating and cooling, campus police, dining services, housekeeping services and the mailroom.
Here’s what Gray had to say about his work at Smith.
What drew you to Smith?
“I’ve been an admirer of Smith for many years—primarily because of the quality of education Smith provides. I’ve enjoyed visiting the campus and the Northampton area many times. The beauty of the campus appeals to me, as someone whose career is based on managing and improving campus settings, so the opportunity to ply my trade in this setting was very enticing.
Additionally, Smith takes great pride and care around its physical plant. There are a lot of old buildings on this campus, but the college has shown them lots of love over the years. And there is also a nice collection of more modern architecture at the college, like the Campus Center and the new Maya Lin-designed library project.”
This is a big job. How will you approach it?
“I plan to spend the next several months getting to know people, asking lots of questions and learning how we do our business here at Smith. Since arriving, I’ve been meeting lots of people. Everyone has been warm and welcoming. I want to work with our entire community, but especially the management team and outstanding union staff in the areas for which I am directly responsible.”
What are your major work projects right now?
“We’re involved with a number of major initiatives. One of these is the Residential Experience Working Group, which is, among other things, piloting a two-year affinity housing program and encouraging the study of ways to improve the campus dining experience for our students.
We’re working with the Botanic Garden and Campus Planning on a campus landscape master plan—a big project that may well result in interesting additions to our landscape and our hardscape. And we’re developing a new structure and a new vision for campus policing and emergency preparedness at Smith. There will be a number of community conversations about that in the coming months, and I’m very much looking forward to that.
We’re also engaged with [Sustainabilty Director] Dano Weisbord and others in a major energy master-planning effort that will lay out a detailed pathway to meeting our carbon neutrality goals by 2030. This is a challenging but important project.”
Could you tell us more about the Neilson Library project?
“This is a transformative project for Smith—and we’re aware that it can also be a disruptive one. But once the construction goes away, we’ll have a wonderful, 21st-century library with an absolutely gorgeous, functional design by Maya Lin and Shepley Bulfinch—one that allows Smith students, faculty and other scholars to do their best work. It’s a challenging project that’s moving along apace—and we intend to deliver an excellent project in late 2020.”
Who are your partners?
“They’re limitless! We touch everything every day. We clean every building on campus, feed every person on campus, we help make people feel safe, and we’re here to respond when people don’t feel safe.
Within that, our teams and I work very closely with Dano Weisbord and his group on sustainability issues and campus planning issues, and with Dean Julie Ohotnicky and her team in Student Life, since so much of the work we do affects students. We also have an important close working relationship with the faculty through the Provost’s Office and directly with departments and individual faculty members.
Because of Smith’s location, we work closely with the city of Northampton on community engagement issues, in partnership with College Relations. And we collaborate with the other area colleges on issues including energy management.”
Closing thoughts?“I’m excited about the work we’re doing and the positive differences we have the opportunity to make! As I tell my friends all the time, a college campus is a great place to come to work every morning—especially if that college is Smith.”