Debra Scanland jokes that she skipped straight from elementary school to college.
While her children were going through school, Scanland worked for Montgomery County Public Schools for 14 years as a lunch aide. After her youngest child graduated from high school, it was time for a change.
She came to Virginia Tech Dining Services in the summer of 2012, right as Turner Place at Lavery Hall opened. Now, most of her days are now spent behind the counter at JP’s Chop House in West End Market — home of the university’s famous London broil.
Scanland supervises students as a shift leader. Those who work with her are full of praise: “She’s teaching us.” “She’s an inspiration.” “She’s such a good role model.”
“I’ve worked with Debra for almost three years now, and I don’t think I have ever seen her without a smile,” said Jason Arquette, of Springfield, Virginia, a junior triple-majoring in history, literature, and professional and technical writing, who works in JP’s Chop House with Scanland. “She takes her job very seriously, but in spite of this, she always finds an excuse to smile. Having that kind of mentality, even in the face of stress, is simply not something you can teach in a classroom.”
Scanland started as a wage employee, but just two weeks into her job, she became salaried. Her current position allows her to supervise during normal business hours while preparing JP’s Chop House for dinner hours when student employees are running the shop. In addition, she trains students to be leaders — both in the shop and out of it.
From professors in the classroom and resident advisors in the residence halls, to housekeeping supervisors and shift leaders at West End Market, the Division of Student Affairs is marked by the mission to educate students to be global change agents and leave Virginia Tech better people than when they came.
Scanland recognizes her influence on the students she works with, and she doesn’t want to waste a second of it.
“Making a difference and having an impact on someone, that’s my purpose and my life goal,” said Scanland. “I want to have a lasting impact and for others to pay it forward. I just try to make a difference to the students who choose to dine at West End, even in that one little nanosecond of their day that I’m part of.”
In the summer, Scanland works at D2 at Dietrick Hall during orientation where she finds herself putting parents at ease. She ensures them that they can send their children to JP’s Chop House if they ever get homesick. This compassion epitomizes Scanland’s call to her work.
When asked about the challenges and benefits of working with students, Scanland laughed.
“I’ve got to make sure they pick up after themselves!” said Scanland. “But when I’m with them, they make me feel young again. It makes me reflect on how my life was when I was their age. To see their joy and the excitement that they see in everyday things — I want a time machine to go back and do it all over again.”
Ted Faulkner, director of Dining Services, focuses the department’s efforts on providing excellent service, both to customers and to employees. Full-time employees like Scanland enhance that process by serving as a role model to student employees.
“The role of a Dining Services employee is to provide exceptional service while valuing every individual’s right to have a quality experience,” said Faulkner. “This includes those they provide services to, who they work shoulder-to-shoulder with, and who we have partnerships with. Debra is such an asset to this mission and vision.”
Written by Holly Paulette