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Spirit of Connectivity

November 2, 2020 Jim Warner
Thomas Teague, Melanie Higgs, and Serena Hodges

Like many of us, the shift from office to remote work meant adjusting not only how we do our job but how we interact with one another. For Thomas Teague, that transition directly impacted his productivity. “I’m fueled by engaging with others,” says Thomas. “When I work with people, it jumpstarts my passion for what I do.” Staying connected in the face of a new work dynamic was not just a matter of productivity. It was essential to his well-being, both on a professional and personal level. “If I’m feeling this way, I’m sure that others [in the College] are also feeling it, too.”

Thomas has been instrumental in helping the College stay connected in the virtual workplace by providing opportunities to elevate, celebrate, and support our community. This spirit of connectedness and compassion, which resonates with Thomas, has made him a foundational part of the College of Business and the staff selection for this fall’s Cardinal Spirit Award. He was honored in October alongside faculty selection José Fernandez, PhD.

“ One of the Cardinal Principles is for us to be a Community of Care. The 2020 Fall Cardinal Spirit Awards are shining examples of how members of the College of Business family show care for one another,” says Chief of Staff Joe Neary. “Thomas and José are what make the University of Louisville and the College of Business a great place to learn and work.”

Thomas joined the College of Business last year as a Career Coach in the Ulmer Career Management Center. Shortly after his arrival, he joined the Culture and Celebrations committee within the FUMM unit (Family Business/Ulmer/Marketing/MBA recruiting).

“When I was looking for new work, I wanted to be a part of a work environment that was empowering and where people care about one another,” says Thomas. “I’m grateful that our leadership both in the Dean’s office and within FUMM understand and value a positive work culture.” That value translated into weekly Friday coffee chats and monthly birthday/milestone celebrations with the FUMM team.

Then came the pandemic and the challenge to reinvent connection and celebration in our virtual spaces.

“I know for myself that I need to check-in with my coworkers and the FUMM family. I need that interaction and those moments to help lift us out of these times of crisis.” In response to working remotely, Thomas worked to hold these spaces open. “The coffee chat meets online now. That’s all.”

From weekly coffee chats, Thomas began a weekly FUMM email that included articles ranging from Virtual Museum trips to professional development opportunities to cultural awareness content. “These emails help to educate and share. I would be looking and reading up on these things myself, so why not share them with my coworkers?”

What started as a unit-centric celebration ultimately became a much-needed space within College Open Forums and Staff Meetings. At each event, Thomas made sure that time was taken to recognize both staff and faculty celebrating personal and professional milestones. In many ways, these moments of recognition are genuinely at the heart of any caring community. These small windows into each other’s lives in no small way help keep the College connected at a time when physical distance could very quickly become isolating.

This connectivity also helps to reinforce the value of a life/work balance. In Thomas’ case, this balance between his responsibilities at Ulmer with his own professional pursuit — he is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education from the University of Kentucky. “Both of my parents were [involved in K-12] education for over 30 years. They taught generations of families… I’d run into folks at home, and they would talk about having my mom in class or being taught by my dad. All those years later, [my parent’s classes] were fond memories for them.” Thomas believes this keen interest in others and the capacity to positively impact others’ lives lies at the heart of what he does and how he moves through the world. Those values are at the heart of the Cardinal Spirit award. “Our lives are enriched by other people,” says Thomas. “When we invest in each other, we invest in ourselves.”

Mention Thomas’s name, and several words become a steady refrain: genuine, caring, positive, leader. The number of nominations on Thomas’ behalf made his selection as the staff recipient of the fall Cardinal Spirit award as resounding as his commitment to the College’s mission. Endemic of those nominations can be encapsulated by Ulmer Center Director, Eileen Davis. “Thomas has been instrumental in providing opportunities for connection and fellowship for College of Business staff and faculty… Thomas always elevates others, sharing and promoting others’ successes. It was through Thomas that I learned about Elijah Humble’s weekly radio shows, for example. You know when you speak with Thomas that he cares about people, and his students know it, too. Thomas exemplifies the ‘Cardinal Spirit’ at the College of Business.”

“To be honest, receiving this award means so much to me,” says Thomas. “To think that my coworkers/work-family believe in and value my small contributions is very humbling. I also consider it not just recognition for me, but recognition for the community as a whole and the people who contribute to it/help build it. This award symbolizes our values and our ongoing desire to make our community better than we found it. [The Cardinal Spirit] represents part of our College’s efforts to raise the collective tide of those whom it serves and reinforce/highlight goodness, especially during a time of challenge with the pandemic.”

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