Campus Life

Chalmet earns plaudits for role on Return to Campus Committee

Wim Chalmet, director of Facility Operations & Maintenance, never imagined how much he’d learn about a worldwide pandemic until he had to do a deep research dive to support his new role as co-lead of the University’s Return to Campus Committee.

Wim Chalmet and Dr. Trushar Patel are co-leads on the Return to Campus Committee.

It was just one of the lessons Chalmet learned as he and fellow co-lead Dr. Trushar Patel took on the daunting task of assisting the repopulation of campus following the COVID-19-induced shift to online teaching and learning. Patel was recognized as winner of the 2022 University of Lethbridge Volunteer Award for his efforts, while Chalmet has earned plaudits from senior administration for his integral role in the relaunch process.

The pandemic was something that none of us had ever experienced and we had to muddle our way through many scenarios and make decisions to the best of our ability and with what knowledge and information we had access to,” Dr. Mike Mahon, president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Erasmus Okine, provost and vice-president (academic) and Nancy Walker, vice-president (finance & administration), said in thanking Chalmet for his service. “Wim’s calm manner and organizational skills in bringing forward issues for discussion was greatly appreciated, especially because he made good suggestions in how to deal with each scenario.”

While Patel’s expertise favoured the medical and academic side of the operation, Chalmet’s contributions focused on the physical logistics of the move back to campus. He said the challenges were many, including the continually changing information they would receive while trying to plan.

“It wasn’t even day-to-day, sometimes it was hour-to-hour,” says Chalmet, who has been with ULethbridge since 2009. “It was very quick moving and always changing. We’d prepare plans and try to get everything in place and just when we were ready to announce, there’d be an announcement from the government, and we’d throw everything away and start again.”

The next logistical challenge was communicating decisions in a timely and effective manner, something that led the relaunch group to working closely with communications. In fact, one of the best aspects of Chalmet’s role, he says, was the ties he developed with all the various units on campus.

“From a personal perspective, it gave me insight into a lot of groups that I did not have a lot of contact with before,” he says. “We were working with communications, President’s Executive, most faculty and Deans, Ancillary Services and on and on, it was a really great learning exercise.”

He admits there were some extremely difficult days and by the nature of the work and the decisions that were being made, people’s lives were affected. Some of the feedback both he and Patel received was hurtful and personal.

“We understood that with the relaunch there would be lots of hesitancy and many questions. Is it the right choice to come back, how are we going to be safe, how can we guarantee a safe environment? That we were prepared for,” he says. “Then there were the confrontational issues and we really saw that come about when institutions started mandating masking and then mandating vaccines. Every time we sent out a relaunch email with some real meat and potatoes in it, we would get hundreds of replies, some supporting and others who were very upset. It made for some challenging days.”

Through it all, Chalmet says he focussed on what the campus community needed to know as they tried to answer questions and communicate decisions in a timely and informed manner. With COVID-19 still a presence and the fall semester looming, the work continues.

“We’ve been meeting and updating our web pages and our procedures and planning for the fall,” he says. “Again, it is mostly a communications issue and as we learned through the relaunch, you need to tell people what the plans are and in a timely fashion with whatever information you have to work off. So, that’s what we’ll do, and we’ll modify plans as needed.”