Recognizing Campus Heroes

The pandemic has underscored the many ways Stanford employees support our community.

March 2022

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Portrait of Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Photo: Toni Bird

The pandemic has forced Stanford employees to adapt to new ways of working, and many have also had to manage additional caregiving responsibilities or cope with the toll of isolation. I am deeply grateful to our employees for their fortitude in the face of these challenges. As we conclude a second year of the pandemic, I want to salute all our employees and illustrate their courage and commitment through the stories of a few individuals who have worked on campus continually in this period. 

In the early days of the pandemic, physicians and nurses went to work in an atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety. Ilana Sacks, an oncology nurse with Stanford Medicine, has cared for immunocompromised cancer patients throughout the pandemic, which has required extra vigilance in keeping them safe from COVID. She described how coming to work in March 2020 felt like “going into battle”—not knowing each day what she would face, but with deep pride in her fellow nurses and practitioners, who were ready and willing to serve.

Researchers have also been on the front lines from the beginning. Ben Pinsky, an associate professor of pathology and of medicine and the medical director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory for Stanford Medicine, leads the team that developed and launched an early COVID diagnostic test. Ben and his team identified the first cases of community spread in the Bay Area, and their efforts made Stanford one of the first labs in the country to offer clinical testing.

Tami has paid close attention to the role of dining services in providing students with comfort during a stressful time. I found this same commitment to care across our entire campus.

As more students were able to return to campus, many employees were focused on supporting their safety and well-being. Robyn Tepper, director of medical services at Vaden Health Services, worked around the clock to provide care and medical consultation to students who tested positive or were exposed to COVID, in addition to developing student-focused programs for testing, vaccine compliance, case tracking, quarantine and isolation. Likewise, Tami Lin, senior executive chef at Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, and her colleagues pivoted repeatedly to meet the evolving needs of students—from takeout only to limited indoor dining to providing meals to hundreds of students in isolation during the Omicron surge. 

Tami has paid close attention to the role of dining services in providing students with comfort during a stressful time. I found this same commitment to care across our entire campus. I’ve been deeply impressed by the ways in which employees have focused on not only delivering services but also providing empathy and support. With visitors barred from the hospital, Ilana, the oncology nurse with Stanford Medicine, found new ways to connect patients with their families and stepped in to provide compassion at critical moments. Elsewhere on campus, grounds crew lead Jose Escañuela not only worked with his colleagues to tame the campus landscape after it was left untouched for six weeks at the start of the pandemic, but also worked with university leadership in his capacity as the president of Service Employees International Union Local 2007 to support pay continuation and enhanced health and safety protocols for workers. 

I want to thank Ben, Ilana, Jose, Robyn, Tami and the many, many others like them whose contributions throughout the pandemic have helped Stanford weather this singular time in our university’s history. Stanford’s employees have adapted and persevered through the darkest days of the pandemic to advance our mission of education, research and health care. Our community owes them all a deep debt of gratitude.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.

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