Steering Committee Member Kimberly Thomas Continues to Support Facilities Employees in Retirement

How were you first introduced to Healthy Green Schools & Colleges? Tell us about your history on the steering committee.

I was introduced to Healthy Green Schools & Colleges through Healthy Schools Campaign. I first heard about Healthy Schools Campaign in 2008 when our custodial team was recognized with an honorable mention at the Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities competition, presented by Healthy Schools Campaign and American School & University magazine. After the competition, we continued to make improvements to our program and subsequently were named as co-grand champion winners.

I was fortunate to be asked to participate in Healthy Schools Campaign’s inaugural Green Clean Schools Steering Committee to provide subject matter expertise on educational facilities operations. This national committee comprised talented professionals across the United States from Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Utah, Washington, and California, to name a few. The committee hosted numerous professional development regional meetings, national industry convention sessions, and small group discussions to advance the need and practicality of K-12 and Higher Education facilities best practices for green cleaning and facility operations.

The Steering Committee judged the national Green Cleaning Award program between 2009 and 2017, provided best practices guidance for green cleaning educational facilities operations for over 50 webinars and industry events, and wrote over 20 industry best practices articles in trade magazines. I feel honored to have provided a substantial amount of content to advance green cleaning operations, created insightful employee training materials and subject guides, and mentored many facilities operations professionals throughout that time.

In 2019, Green Clean Schools became Healthy Green Schools & Colleges. As a member of the Steering Committee and as an Early Adopter, I assisted in designing and developing the new standard and program. Now, UGA is an HGSC program participant and the team is working toward certification.

Tell us about your career, what inspired you to enter facilities management, and what kept you motivated.

I was inspired to join the facilities operations field at UGA when I participated in a management development program hosted by the finance and administration division. I had a rotation in the facilities management division (FMD) and was thoroughly impressed with the type of work being performed, but believed that I could help make a difference. As the Assistant Director of FMD Services, I was able to work closely with a great team within the department and across our campus community to establish healthier and safer work practices based on green cleaning philosophies. This led to substantial cost savings and employee injury reductions and built a greater appreciation for our FMD staff who worked hard to maintain the 300-plus residence instruction buildings across the UGA campus.

I was also recruited to work for our local K-12 school district in top management to lead the facilities operations for 26 buildings in Clarke County School District. I held that role for six years and helped implement green cleaning and improved management operations.

The primary motivators for me were the service aspect of helping our facilities staff work safer, providing healthier educational environments for learning and working, and  believing that all work within the FMD was honorable and necessary. This work culminated in state and national recognition from many industry and facilities management professional organizations at both UGA and Clarke Country School District.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishments in your program during your time?

I would consider my biggest accomplishment to be developing the FMD Building Service Worker Academy at the onset of our new green cleaning program in 2008. Initially, the orientation for new custodial employees consisted of hiring someone,  giving them basic training (i.e.: here’s a mop, broom, vacuum cleaner, and some cleaning chemicals), and telling them to go to a specific area to work. This approach is not effective for developing employees or building customer service appreciation, nor is it safe for the staff or the building stakeholder. Our FMD Building Service Worker Academy was founded on an academic and practical approach: one week of classroom training on soft skills, customer service techniques, chemical safety and handling techniques, and cleaning equipment function and operation. The second week of hands-on training focuses on how to work safely, maintain equipment, and work as a team.

Our FMD Building Service Worker Academy continues today and has been implemented across the campus with other custodial units. It was modeled for our COVID-19 sanitization procedures from our university system to all state universities and has been featured many times in facility operations trade magazines.

How did you decide it was time to retire?

I decided it was time to retire when I could look around my leadership team and really know that they were ready to step into my position. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast – go alone; if you want to go far – go together.”

I am fortunate to have trained, mentored, and hired so many of our top staff into leadership positions here and at other institutions. Our staff is empowered to get advanced training, finish technical or college programs, and to obtain professional certification to advance their careers. As a leader, it is important that I allow them to step into their opportunities. I always told my facility teams that my primary job as the Senior Director for Services was to “work myself out of a job.”

What is your new role at UGA? What else are you looking forward to in retirement?

In my new part-time role as the Special Projects Advisor to the Associate Vice President at FMD, I am blessed to work on the many projects that impact recruitment and  career progression, including developing a career ladder, hosting recruitment fairs, and implementing the FMD apprenticeship program, which increases the knowledgebase for our skilled trades positions and expands their career opportunities. I am looking forward to continuing to support our hard-working facilities employees, so they have every opportunity to advance their careers. I helped create the Kimberly Thomas Education Foundation Fund to support FMD staff advance their technical or collegiate education. This fund is important to me because my mother was not able to attend college, but supported my educational goals, and my mother-in-law was a college graduate who also previously worked in the University of Georgia Facilities Management Division in the warehouse. If you would like to join me in supporting a full-time FMD student worker or facilities employee to complete their degrees, please consider making a charitable donation to the UGA Foundation here.