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Resilient Pack

‘The Unifier’

When the pandemic forced most NC State employees to work remotely, Shelly English found a way to bring her dispersed colleagues even closer together.

man and woman wearing marathon medals after a race
An avid runner, English (pictured after a race with her husband Lex Benton) has completed four marathons and 48 half marathons in seven states. She says she was on track to break 50 this year but all major races have been canceled due to the pandemic.

As the office administrator in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, Shelly English says she is used to keeping her team on task. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life — and work — as we know it, she’s taking new responsibilities in stride.

According to Extension Professor Mark Megalos, English goes above and beyond to keep their group connected and thriving. And now, he says, they’re closer than ever.

“Shelly created a weekly social hour and check-in that brings staff, grad students and faculty together to talk about non-work-related content, such as updates, highlights from our past, family histories and favorite pastimes,” he says. “Although we have two other weekly check-in calls, this one Zoom call is the unifier. Even children, fur babies and spouses make welcome guest appearances.

“Our office is closer since the quarantine than I have experienced in my three-plus decades at NC State,” Megalos says. “I believe the credit resides with Shelly.”

On top of her regular responsibilities, English also has been actively procuring hand sanitizer, face coverings and other essentials for the team’s safe return to campus.

All in a day’s work, she says.

“Ours is a very tight-knit group and we were used to interacting daily and sharing personal stories and anecdotes,” she says. “I missed those conversations. So during our virtual ‘happy hours’ after work on Fridays, everybody meets via Zoom on their porches or patios and we just talk about what’s going on in our lives.”

Sometimes the sessions have themes, from sharing high school graduation photos to discussing favorite movies. While the group doesn’t meet weekly anymore, they still schedule after-hours Zoom sessions to get together and catch up.

“It’s a nice way to hang on to that personal connection we all miss so much,” English says. “We also have some new folks on our team, and this gives us all a chance to get to know each other beyond our ‘professional personas.’”