Student Affairs Shines a Light on Unsung Hero

Student Affairs Shines a Light on Unsung Hero

From Left to Right: Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs; Michael Ross, resident director for Dining Services-Chartwells; Ana M. Alvarez, executive director of Auxiliary Services; and Humbert Speziani, assistant vice president for business services.
By Mike Piacentino

From Left to Right: Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs; Michael Ross, resident director for Dining Services-Chartwells; Ana M. Alvarez, executive director of Auxiliary Services; and Humbert Speziani, assistant vice president for business services.

Student Affairs Shines a Light on Unsung Hero

By Mike Piacentino
Michael Ross of Dining Services-Chartwells named Unsung Hero at Division of Student Affairs 20th annual Laurel Awards celebration

When Hurricane Irma came barreling towards the South Florida region in early September of 2017,  University of Miami leadership was forced to evacuate the Coral Gables campus, including the 4,200 students living in on-campus housing. Most were able to leave the Miami area, but 60 students were unable to evacuate. As the University made plans to set up an evacuation center at a local high school, two critical components were at the top of leadership’s mind: keeping students safe and keeping students fed.

Once plans were put in place to provide a safe place for students and staff volunteers to ride out the storm, attention was turned to how to provide nutritious and balanced meals to those in the evacuation center. The Division of Student Affairs looked no further than UM’s own Dining Services-Chartwells to lend its expertise and resources to the collective effort.

Michael Ross, resident district manager for UM’s Dining Services-Chartwells, rallied his team and secured enough food and water to keep the evacuation center stocked throughout the storm and its immediate aftermath. Ross also brought together 75 of his team members to open the Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall for the cleanup crews who descended on the Coral Gables campus in the days immediately after the storm.

It is for these efforts, as well as his continued mission to better the overall student and staff experience at UM, that the Division of Student Affairs named Ross as this year’s Unsung Hero at the 20th annual Laurel Awards celebration held at the Shalala Student Center on the morning of Thursday, April 5.

Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs, applauded Ross for his continued flexibility and emphasis on ensuring that students are always put first.

“While his year-end goals are to meet the bottom line and insure a high-level of quality and service are attained, Michael continuously goes above and beyond to help our students,” Whitely said from the podium. “When there is an issue, Michael works quickly to address any concerns and is always willing to help a student. And he takes the time to make sure his staff understands their specific needs.”

Since starting his tenure at UM in 2012, Ross has worked with various student groups and campus departments to host and co-sponsor a variety of cultural themed events across campus. Additionally, Ross and his team have held numerous focus groups and feedback sessions with student leaders to continually meet and exceed the ever-changing needs of UM students.

“Michael has been so much more than a business partner to our campus community,” said Ana M. Alvarez, executive director of Auxiliary Services, the department charged with managing UM’s contractual relationship with Chartwells. “He’s a supportive leader to his team, an engaged business professional who always has the University’s best interest in mind, and is a kind and thoughtful administrator who genuinely cares about our students.”

Overall, Ross’s commitment to fostering a culture of belonging at UM makes him an approachable and well respected administer on campus. His passion for creating spaces and opportunities for students to feel at home while at UM have contributed to a palpable sense of community on campus.

“Food is essential to the success of our students, and I believe it should be an event each time our students walk into one of our facilities,” Ross said. “Eating is about more than just nourishment, it is one of those things that brings us together as people and as a community.”

In addition to the Unsung Hero, the Laurel Awards is an annual celebration that recognizes the outstanding contributions of Student Affairs professional and student staff as well as innovative programs implemented within the academic year. Additional information, including the complete list of this year’s award winners, is available on the Laurel Awards website.