Willa Chatman Goes Beyond Green

When you have finished reading this paper, please recycle it — if not for the planet, then for Building Services Operations Manager Willa Chatman.

Chatman is on a personal and professional mission to reduce paper usage — and that’s above and beyond her dedication to Georgia Tech’s green cleaning program. “I talk green all the time to everybody,” she said.

Chatman is quick to stress that she is not a one-person crusade. “There are some people who are better, and everyone in our group has a hand in preserving the environment — it’s not just my ideas,” she said. Still, she is on the alert for any lapses. 

“The best way to get in trouble with me is for me to open a closet and find something that is not department-issued,” she said. “Those who were kind enough to bestow awards on us can withdraw them just by somebody doing the wrong thing.” 

In 2016, Tech joined five other higher education institutions in the nation to have earned the Green Seal Standard for Cleaning Services, and the campus has also earned the Grand Award in Green Cleaning for Schools and Universities.

One of the new cleaning methods Chatman swears by is an “ionator,” which electrifies water so that, when applied to a surface, it breaks down dirt and germ molecules and wipes up without leaving a residue. 

“That actually makes the custodian’s job easier,” Chatman said. “When you use something that has a soapy residue, it attracts dirt. Also, like on our chrome elevators, all that greasy stuff used to require a lot of rubbing to make it look good.”

Chatman had to learn about these new ways of tidying up just like her custodial staff, but no worries — she is always up for learning new things. In the 11 years she has been at Georgia Tech, she has taken well over 50 classes — seminars, workshops, Lunch & Learns, etc. — often on her own time and her own dime. 

She has a big stack of certificates on topics ranging from crime prevention, to management, to defensive driving, to “Survival Spanish.” Most of these she keeps in a file folder, but the bookshelf in her office displays one in particular: her paper for CERT — Campus Emergency Response Team training. 

“Once you become a CERT you can become a student at FEMA,” Chatman pointed out. “I’m currently a student at FEMA online. You never know when there’s going to be a disaster and you’re going to need to help somebody.” 

Chatman paid her dues for many years, working first the swing shift, then the night shift, but since 2014, her typical day has started at 6:15 a.m. She meets with a supervisor from the previous shift to find out if there are any situations she needs to address, then goes on to manage and schedule staff as well as check on buildings and equipment to make sure “things are as they should be.” 

Of course, not every day is typical. The Georgia Tech Police Department has her number and has used it to summon her after hours for messes that could affect campus safety, such as icy patches and water leaks. She’ll also pitch in when special events call for more hands on deck. After a recent wedding in the Klaus Advanced Computing Building, for instance, she went over and helped clean.

“I’ll do a run in a heartbeat if it’s necessary,” she said.

Chatman’s favorite part of her job is quality control. “Knowing it’s done so well that the customer recognizes it — that’s really when I’m so happy,” she said. 

Her least favorite part is having to let someone go, but that’s rare, especially considering she manages around 100 employees. She credits HR for sending over people who share her passion for excellence. “It’s like they know when they look at the applications that this person has that Tech way,” she said. “Occasionally, someone won’t work out, but they’ll leave here on their own, usually. They don’t want all the dedication and goodness you see at Tech.”

There is one place, apparently, where Chatman will tolerate a mess. When she’s
not working or engaged in lifelong learning, she likes to shop for treasures at yard sales, then turn them for a profit. “I have taken over a room in my house with e-Bay stuff,” she said. “My husband’s like, don’t bring anything else in here! But it’s only in my possession for a moment.”

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Margaret Tate
Institute Communications