Campus News

Why UK Staff Member Joanna Ashford Has the 'Heart to Step Up'

Joanna Ashford, Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.
Joanna Ashford. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 20, 2021) — What makes UK the university of, for and with Kentucky? 

The answer is our people.  

We are a community full of individuals who sacrifice for the greater good. During the past year, those sacrifices have been magnified as the University of Kentucky continued its missions of teaching, service, research and healing. There are so many people who worked behind the scenes to make the impossible, possible. In this new UKNow series, we hope to honor some of those employees who had the “heart to step up,” despite the many obstacles presented to them while working during a global pandemic.  

This month, UKNow talked to Joanna Ashford, who works as the recycling coordinator in UK Facilities Management.

UKNow: What is your role here at UK? 

Ashford: I am the recycling coordinator for the university. I oversee recycling and waste minimization efforts (like composting, new recycling efforts and campus engagement opportunities).  

UKNow: What’s the best part about your job?  

Ashford: Every day is completely different. Some days are full of meetings with partners all over campus, while other days are spent walking through UK HealthCare placing containers and identifying new material to recycling. I never know what to expect. From waste audits, to tours at our recycling area at Vaughan Warehouse and everything in between. Every day is a new opportunity to push our recycling and waste diversion goals further. 

UKNow: How did your role change due to COVID-19? If you could tell yourself one thing pre-COVID, what would it be? 

Ashford: COVID-19 changed operations for everyone. I was fortunate enough to do my work from the safety of my home during the first year of COVID-19, but my job looked different. Interactions with departments were different, outreach opportunities with faculty, staff and students shifted and our health care system was working nonstop to make sure we stayed safe. I was able to spend time developing new ways to communicate our programs to all of campus — check out WholeSumky.org — and focus on ways to improve our programs when campus life looked more like pre-COVID times. If I could tell myself one thing pre-COVID, it would be to be flexible. Things seem to change so quickly from day to day and a little flexibility goes a long way! Also, invest in Zoom!  

UKNow: What inspired you during this past year?  

Ashford: With a year as crazy and dynamic as 2020, its important to see inspiration in all areas of life. I owe so much gratitude to the health care workers that cared for my family and to the researchers that developed a vaccine to keep my family safe. I think I will always look back on this time and be inspired by their tireless work.   

UKNow: What did you learn about yourself and/or your community this past year? 

Ashford: COVID-19 has taken away a lot from so many, but for me, it gave me perspective. It is so easy for me to get caught up in the daily grind and routine that I forget the important things in life, like my family. This past year has really helped reshape my priorities and focus. 

“Joanna loves what she does at UK and it shows in so many ways. Even during the changes brought about by COVID, Joanna continued to make improvements with her creativity and enthusiasm," said Tim Clark, UK's facilities services director associate. "She is an invaluable member of the facilities team.”

We hope to highlight different employees from across campus in the “Heart to Step Up” series. If you know someone who went above and beyond during this past year, please email us.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.