This summer, we shine the spotlight on members of the University staff. Read our four-part series here.
Tom Becker, associate vice president of operations, has his thumbprint on every square inch of Philadelphia University’s campus. From Paul J. Gutman Library to the Lawrence N. Field Design, Engineering and Commerce (DEC) Center, he has planned, navigated and managed all facility upgrades and maintenance, new construction, capital procurements, activities support, lease fit-outs and renovations for the past 28 years.
Becker began as an assistant vice president in 1989, overseeing new construction and working with Bucky Harris, then-director of facilities and former men’s head basketball coach. Harris was positioned to pass the reigns to Becker and served as a campus mentor, motivator and friend to the new AVP. “Bucky came here in 1953, so between Bucky and me, I guess we were responsible for all the facility ‘mistakes’ ever made on this campus,” Becker joked.
His first major project was the new construction of Gutman Library. His demand for quality, technical expertise and background as a professional mechanical engineer proved invaluable. While Becker personally anticipated only spending five years in the position, he became immersed in the campus culture and embraced the continuous expansion.
Campus improvements gained momentum under his direction: Existing buildings updated and transformed; additional properties purchased; and new facilities built to better meet the needs and expectations of 21st-century students. The Kanbar Campus Center, the historic Arlen Specter Center and the DEC Center are all award-winning buildings that bring quality standards to modern facilities.
“These buildings are not just cookie-cutter construction; they’re unique and cutting-edge,” he said. “The new Health and Applied Science Center, currently under design, is really exciting and will be transformative.”
For Becker, it was imperative to ingrain a facilities culture of customer service and ongoing improvement. Commencing with an APPA (the international association for leadership in educational facilities) self-study and facilities management audit in 2002, the department embarked on a strategic plan. The results led to the association’s highest institutional recognition, the Institutional Award for Excellence in 2009, a five-year recognition that it also achieved in 2014. Additionally, PhilaU received APPA’s Award for Sustainability in 2013. (The University is one of only three institutions to currently hold these collective distinctions.)
In 2010, Becker was tapped to chair APPA’s Maintenance Operational Guideline publication and served on its credentialing board for educational facilities professionals, which he chaired for three years.
Approaching three decades at the facilities helm, Becker is excited about the new opportunities that will result from combining resources and ideas with Thomas Jefferson University. He knows there’s always more to do to bring the best educational experience to the campus community.
“The stars of the show are really the students and faculty,” Becker said. “We’re just here to set the table for them.”