Frozen Frontline: Vanderbilt staff step up to keep the university running during bitter cold, snowfall

In the face of a historic snowfall on Jan. 15, Vanderbilt University staff worked diligently to ensure necessary university operations continued to run during the week of winter weather. 

Here are just a few examples Vanderbilt staff going above and beyond in challenging—and super chilly—times.  

The Grounds Team 

The Vanderbilt University Operations and Maintenance Grounds Team are the primary responders for winter weather like last week’s snowstorm. In the first four days, the 29-member team: 

  • placed over 24 tons of ice melt and 40 tons of road salt 
  • worked 50 plus hours and over 12-hour days in below-freezing temperatures 
  • did not return home for three nights to ensure that campus was safe for the people who live and work there

Most of the winter-related work for this team is done by hand. In and around responding to the wintry weather, the team still monitors other events on campus such as basketball games and track meets, empties outdoor trash cans and supports other departments so they can continue their work. Grounds is just one part of the dedicated VUMO team serving all the Vanderbilt students, faculty, staff and community.  


  • Hall Whitaker operates a rented skid steer alongside Mike Burrs, Matt Holzmer and Henry James III clearing loading docks. 
  • Erick Wedemeyer, Keyon Dillon and Greg Ornella salt and scrape sidewalks.

Campus Dining 

Vanderbilt’s Auxiliary Services worked swiftly to secure more 100 hotel rooms near campus last weekend to make sure that essential services such as Campus Dining and Mail Services could continue uninterrupted. Most locations remained open with full meal service for students and front-line staff workers, such as those in VUPS and Facilities.  

A standout moment of One Vanderbilt collaboration occurred when a delivery truck could not manage to access the icy, sloped loading dock serving Zeppos and Rothschild dining facilities. Dining management and support staff mobilized to unload more than 200 cases of food by hand—all the way from where the truck was parked on West End Avenue.

Maria Portelli, senior director for campus dining, captured the moment on film. “Hey, we’re getting the food in the units, and we’re going to feed these students, come hell or high water,” she says in the video. “That’s what we do.” 

Simultaneously, Munchie Mart staff deployed a fleet of snow-chain-equipped golf carts to deliver Vandy Provisions meals, Wasabi Sushi and allergen-free meals across campus. 


  • Campus Dining workers bundle up against the cold as they work to deliver food across campus and maintain operations at dining facilities.  
  • Campus Dining workers pause their hard work for a selfie in the snow.

Custodial Team 

The Custodial Team played a pivotal role during the snowstorm, working tirelessly to keep campus clean and safe during this challenging period. The following members are recognized for their exceptional efforts: 

  • Omia Tador 
  • Nermina Karisin 
  • Sabrina Claybrooks 
  • Jusef Karisin 
  • Geoffrey Harbison 
  • Alfred Butler 
  • Basem Gaballa