Wake Forest prides itself on being a vibrant residential campus, and on-campus living plays a huge role in that. Today I am pleased to introduce you to Zach Blackmon of Residence Life and Housing.
Full disclosure, Zach: you and I were in grad school together and are friends. That said, let’s get to it!
Tell me your title and how long you’ve worked at Wake. I’m the Associate Director of Operations in the Office of Residence Life and Housing. I started at Wake in July 2013. It is crazy how time has flown! I started in Residence Life and Housing as a Residence Life Coordinator and served in that role for 4 years before transitioning to help establish an operations area within our office. That area has continued to grow and bloom.
I already know some of your educational background, but walk me through the full picture. My undergrad degree was in business and corporate communications from Queens University of Charlotte, and I have an MBA from Wingate University (which is just outside of Charlotte). I have a Masters of Education from Clemson University, and I completed my doctoral work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, earning my Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a focus on Higher Education [same program I did!]
What do you do at Wake (in layperson’s terms?) Within the Office of Residence Life and Housing, I oversee our assignments team (working with where students live), marketing/communications (i.e., telling the story of our residential experience), our office operations (the email@example.com email), and help coordinate departmental processes (e.g., Opening, Closing, etc.).
How has the pandemic impacted your work? Oh my…. COVID has changed much of my day to day work. I have been heavily involved in COVID response since last February. Our team was integral in managing the closure of campus back in March 2020. This academic year, much of my time has been spent ensuring our quarantine and isolation processes are effective and efficient. That project has been a massive undertaking, but our wonderful partners have shown the way this community comes together to support our students. Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to put my technology and data skills to work helping various campus partners with the vast amounts of data associated with navigating COVID. Many of my roles have helped make sure the institutional goals and processes are interfacing with our office in thoughtful ways as it relates to our students’ housing.
What has been your biggest COVID challenge? I know there have been so many. I’d say these two: one, the pace of the work. While this has been a marathon, at times it has felt like a series of wind sprints. And two: navigating the unknown. None of us have navigated a global pandemic of this scale before. There is no manual, there are no “best practices” from professional associations. We are collectively learning as we go, and while in some ways that is exciting, it’s also been mentally exhausting.
What is the best thing about working at Wake, in your opinion? The campus partners I get to work with every day are among the best! Not only are they experts in their respective areas, but they are also amazing people and so committed to providing the best student experience possible. Additionally, our students are incredibly passionate and driven. It’s exciting to work with students who are literally changing the world quite frequently.
Speaking of students, what advice would you offer them if you could? Make the most of their time on campus! Engage inside the classroom and outside the classroom. Focus on learning, not grades. And let go of the need for perfection!
And advice for parents and families..? Trust your students! You’ve raised strong, smart individuals who can navigate just about anything that college throws at them. They will ask for advice and/or help when needed, but otherwise let them use this space as a time to learn how to navigate life independently. Many of the challenges and issues they may face are crucial learning lessons for life after college.
What do you miss about normal times on campus? I’ve been working remotely since March. I simply miss being in our office. I miss the energy and fun that comes from my colleagues. I also miss the energy that comes from a highly residential campus; the few times I have been on campus this year, just seeing students moving about (masked and distanced) brings me such joy. In terms of the work, I miss being able to spend time on improving our student experience, versus simply keeping our students well and safe.
Now it’s time for my favorite part: the lightning round bonus questions!
Book you are reading now: So having just finished up my Ph.D. about 18 months ago, I took a long hiatus from reading so I’m just getting back into it. [Amen, friend!] I’m reading a great book called Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I’ve got a book titled Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath on deck; it’s about change management. I had actually planned to start it pre-COVID and then COVID came. For those days when my eyes are tired from my computer screens, I always love listening to Brene Brown’s various podcasts. Her voice is just so soothing and her take on the world is a delicate balance of care and critique.
Favorite music: So I am not a big favorites person! I enjoy all kinds of music.
TV, movies, Netflix: Some of my favorites (you’ll see the breadth of what I appreciate): Movies – Rent, Breach, Mean Girls, The Greatest Showman; TV Shows – Jane the Virgin, The West Wing, Shameless, Mom, and of course, The Golden Girls.
Websites you frequent: Oh geez… the usuals for work. NPR, The Atlantic, and CNN for news. Facebook and Instagram to stay connected with the world. Outside of that, I am trying to reduce the amount of time I spend behind a screen!
Guilty pleasures: I have a serious sweet tooth, which presents unique opportunities since I’m also diabetic. Many sugar-free baking adventures have been had and I’ve had to learn which grocery stores carry which sugar-free products here in Winston. Must admit, I’m also a sucker for a nice hot bath after a long day of work!
Introvert or extrovert? So this one is complicated. I am a textbook extrovert in that I love being around people and get my energy from that. That said, I tend to find that energy from small groups of people or individual time with those who matter to me, so in that way, I identify as more introverted.
What will be the first thing you do post-pandemic? Hit some of my favorite cocktail spots in Winston! And take some time off and travel!
Many thanks for being our Meet A Deac this week, Zach! And thank you for all you do for our students; I’ve seen so much of that behind-the-scenes work, and it is a lot!