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Campus & Community

UMD’s Overnight Workers Come Out of the Dark

Cleaning, Maintenance Crews Share Surprising Stories, Challenges of Post-Sunset Work

By Karen Shih ’09

A man wearing a face mask uses flash light to look at a paper next to a white truck

Yusef Jones ’99, a member of the overnight team in Residential Facilities, starts his shift on a Friday night. He's part of a critical crew of staff members who keep the University of Maryland campus running, 24 hours a day.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

After the parking lots largely clear out, the swarms of students crossing McKeldin Mall vanish, and office and classroom doors lock for the day, a largely unseen crew of overnight staff members at the University of Maryland springs into action.

“Anything can happen at any time,” said Yusef Jones ’99, who has worked night shifts at UMD for more than a decade. “Be prepared for the worst but expect the best.”

They handle everything from power outages to frozen floods, clogged toilets to unwelcome critters—all to ensure that campus operations run smoothly 24/7 for the university community of more than 50,000 people, especially for the students who live in the residence halls.

"The campus community can sleep soundly knowing these dedicated staff are here to ensure our students and environments are safe, secure and comfortable," said Andrea Crabb, director of Residential Facilities. "These people are truly unsung heroes!"

Maryland Today talked to five staff members from Resident Life, Residential Facilities and Facilities Management to get a glimpse into the challenges and benefits of working overnight—as well as some of the just plain strange things they encounter in their jobs.

“Somebody may flush something down a toilet that has no business being there”
I’m kind of a loner. I like working by myself, so night shift work makes sense for me. I also get to live on campus for free in an apartment.

We have a program called “reflex,” which is after hours. We have one guy that covers each night from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Right now, I work Friday nights. It starts out quiet, but by 9 or 10 o’clock, there’s always something. I cover the whole campus, so I might get a call from Oakland, saying ‘I don’t have power in my outlet.’ Or someone in Prince Frederick, saying a toilet is clogged. Then I splash some water on my face, get in the van, and I go. Some things can be rolled over to Monday, but not if the heat is out or there’s a smoke detector going off.

Students are going to be students. They’re usually great—they say, ‘Thank you, I didn’t realize somebody was going to come so quickly.’ But sometimes somebody may flush something down a toilet that has no business being there.

Last year during COVID, the campus set up quarantine and isolation spaces. Those areas still need coverage, and I volunteered. I basically put on a full space suit with the N95 mask, gloves, glasses and everything. Because I knew students still needed service.

We’re a small team. If my coworkers call me at 1 a.m., I pick the phone up. I give them that respect. I want to make sure if someone has a question, I’m not ignoring it, even on Thanksgiving or Christmas. I love my work and this campus.

Yusef Jones ’99
Supervisor, Denton-Ellicott Community Maintenance Staff
Overnight Reflex Team
Residential Facilities

“It looked like Great Falls froze over”
Last year during COVID, when the campus was empty, there was a pipe that burst in Art-Sociology. It was maybe 20 degrees out, and the water ran outside of the building through the windows. It looked like Great Falls froze over. I was the first person there, so I had to go shut off the water and contact the contractors to come in with heavy-duty equipment and get it cleaned up.

There’s 12 of us on the Incident Response Unit team, and usually there’s two of us on duty together. I usually work from midnight until 10:30 a.m. and our other crews work 1:30 p.m. until midnight, seven days a week. There are 260 buildings on campus, and we have to cover all of them. Our job is to assess the situation, fix what we can fix, then call the electrician or whoever. Even during holiday breaks, we each get assigned a day when we have to walk through 20 buildings to make sure nothing’s going wrong.

We do everything. If there’s a water main break, we have to block off the area until workers can come dig up the street. Or if it gets cold suddenly, we have to adjust temperatures to make sure lab animals are OK. Sometimes the steam manhole covers get too hot, so we have to put barricades around them.

Ice storms are the toughest. If the power goes out, we have to go out on the rooftop when it’s dark and icy to access the HVAC units and restart them.

In facilities, we’re cleaning up after everyone. I’d say to the students to be mindful, and not to kick over barricades and trash places after games. This is where you go to school and live—don’t tear it up!

Jo Tyson
Incident Response Unit
Facilities Management

“You have to be assertive but calm”
People call about their AC being broken, or if there’s a cockroach in their room, or if there’s vomit in the hallway. I got a call the other day from a person who said there was a rattling in their wall. Turns out squirrels had burrowed their way in. We also get a lot of calls about birds flying in because people don’t use their insect screens.

I started working for 4Work as a junior. They’re really flexible and I could do schoolwork when things were slow. I took a lot of overnight shifts, 12 a.m. to 6 a.m., because day shifts were when I had my classes. I mostly answer phone calls and input them into an online ticketing system.

Sometimes we get calls when people are stuck in elevators, and they’ll be claustrophobic. You have to be assertive but calm, and can’t ask too many questions if they’re freaking out. You just need enough to get the ticket over to Facilities Management.

We’ll even get parents calling us, which we don’t recommend. We need information they don’t have, like UIDs or room numbers. That’s another thing people don’t understand—they’ll try to call, say their problem, then hang up. We don’t know where you are!

Teddy Rosemond ’21
Service Desk Associate/Trainer, 24/7 Service Center
Residential Facilities

“It’s a privilege to be part of the student experience during a transformational time”
The Resident Director (RD) role is an extension of all the roles I’ve had since I was a freshman. I started as a community assistant, then worked in Off-Campus Housing Services as a graduate assistant in Resident Life. It’s really fun and meaningful to build relationships with all the students.

We have traditional office hours, but also have an on-call structure 365 days of the year. We have an RD on call for each side of campus, about 10 days per semester. On those nights, I work with the 120 South Campus resident assistants, who are the first to respond.

I live in an apartment in Leonardtown. On nights when you’re on call, you don’t know if you’ll sleep, if your dinner will be interrupted, or if I’ll have to leave while helping my daughter with her homework.

Sometimes there will be facilities issues, like an alarm or a sprinkler that’s been tampered with. We also get behavioral concerns, violation of residence halls rules or students in distress or crisis.

When students are having a challenging time, and I interact with them on duty, it’s amazing to be able to see them get back on track and have success. Seeing how resilient, how hard-working they are—I know how much they had to overcome to get to that point. It’s a privilege to be part of the student experience during a transformational time in their life.

Karlena Walker ’06
Resident Director, Leonardtown Community
Department of Resident Life

“We do our part at a time when it’s not comfortable for many people to be up”
Working at night can be a struggle, but after getting used to it, I like it. You can focus on what you do without customers around. I even got a chance to switch to daytime a couple months ago, but I chose to stay.

I oversee about 20 employees with the help of two assistant supervisors. We start at midnight and end at 8:30 a.m. Our main area is Eppley Recreation Center, and we also clean the DOTS office and other RecWell sites, like Ritchie Coliseum and the golf course.

We are also responsible for student residence halls if work orders come in, mostly on weekends. Students will do unexpected things. One day I saw somebody painted a whole banana on the wall in the lounge of a residence hall, so we had to clean that off.

We’re here to assist the mission of the university. We do our part at a time when it’s not comfortable for many people to be up. But our job is to make sure the environment is favorable for whoever is living and working in that area.

Gemechis Feyisa
Housekeeping Supervisor
Residential Facilities

Schools & Departments:

Department of Resident Life

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