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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities

Telling Our Stories

We are strongly moved by and informed by stories.
Stories unify communities.
Stories reveal who we are.

- Avery Alder

I heard a lot of great stories about our flood response. So many of us went above and beyond to keep the campus safe last month, and the one I’m about to tell you is one example out of hundreds.

While the most visible danger was the water flowing over streets and sidewalks, the flood waters underground were a threat as well. They seeped into the new racquetball courts in IM West, warping the wood floors. They entered buried conduit, and traveled far from the immediate area around the river.

On Thursday morning, Feb. 22, Chris Smith was checking the utility spaces for buildings near the river, and decided to branch out a little farther, just to make sure all the electrical vaults were dry and secure. He went into the underground corridor between the Music and Music Practice buildings. When he approached the door to the vault, he could hear something like a fan going inside.

Opening the door, he recognized the sound: running water. Flipping on the light, he saw six or seven inches of water on the floor below and more pouring in through a conduit. Chris immediately called the high-voltage crew for safety, got a pump in place and prevented significant damage to equipment and loss of power to nearby buildings.

When I heard about this, it reminded me of a presentation Adam Lawver shared at our strategy retreat in January. He reminded us that our goal is to be the most high-performing facilities organization in the nation – and to get there, we should also become the best place to work among our peers in the nation. MSU is already one of the best employers headquartered in Michigan, according to Forbes - one of only 3 in the top 100 nationwide.

How will we get to the top? One way is by telling the story of IPF. We tell stories when a new person comes on board and when we get together to debrief after a busy week or month. We tell stories about our great achievements and also about the things we wish had gone differently. Our culture is framed by our stories: the time we built a flood barrier, the time we cleared almost a foot of snow in 36 hours before a home basketball game, the time we quit burning coal. The time we helped the College of Music design a bold addition to their building. These are stories of decisive action in emergencies, and also of steady perseverance over months or years.

Adam challenged us: how do you frame the story? What approaches have worked, or could work, to build the story for your department? Which stories are most meaningful, to recognize and celebrate the best of what we do?

As one of our key values, stewardship can mean many things: long-term care for the billions of dollars in physical assets that make up campus, frugal use of budgeted dollars, or preservation of our environment. Stewardship also requires us to recognize the organizational strengths handed down to us from our predecessors at MSU, and the bonds of commitment that hold us together. Our stories do real work to maintain those strengths for the next generation of IPF.

Stories reveal who we are. They get us through tough times by reinforcing what matters most to us. At a time when the future for Michigan State is shrouded and uncertain, we can remember what makes us proud to be Spartans – and tell our stories.