The women of UT Facilities Services

UT Facility Services Women

Photos taken by Ella Stewart and Sam Ledford

In a heavily male-dominated industry the hardworking women of Facilities Services don’t let anything or anyone hold them back.

Have you ever wondered who changes all the light bulbs on campus, unlocks the classroom doors, or even switches the buildings' air conditioning to heat? That would be the nearly 600 hardworking employees of UT Facilities Services (UTFS). Often, their work is overlooked but it is essential to keep the campus running and looking beautiful throughout the year.

The Facilities Services mission is to support “the University of Tennessee as responsible stewards of state resources by providing the campus with safe, clean, state-of-the-art environments and empowering a campus community with a commitment to the tradition of excellence.”

Throughout the 9 units and the hundreds of employees, there are roughly 120 women on staff, making up around 22% of the UTFS population. 

Building Services Superintendent, Rebecca Cinnamon, has been with UTFS since 2013 when she began as a service aide doing custodial work. Cinnamon credits her foreman at the time for teaching her confidence and giving her the ability to further her career. 

“I think that when you can achieve goals and be able to find that confidence in yourself and be able to give that [to others] is great,” Cinnamon said. 

Cinnamon wishes people would take advantage of the endless opportunities that Facilities Services offers more often. If a certain position isn’t the right fit don’t feel limited, moving units and trying something new is always supported. 

When Cinnamon first started at Facilities Services she felt outnumbered because there were fewer women but has seen that change in the 11 years she has been with the department. 

Working with such a diverse group of employees with different backgrounds, communities and personalities is a good opportunity to grow and connect with others you might not have gotten to know before. Making those personal connections is what Cinnamon enjoys most in her role. 

“To have a coworker is good but to have a coworker that is someone you can communicate with and someone you can trust and understand where they’re coming from on their end is important as well,” Cinnamon said.

UT alumna, Emily Lingerfelt, is a licensed architect and a construction project supervisor with Facilities Services. She supervises a team of construction project managers and estimators who work to evaluate and perform on-campus renovations. The group completes approximately 700 projects each year which means they stay very busy but are there to support and help each other be successful. 

Throughout her career, Lingerfelt has always worked in male-dominated fields. When she first started at UTFS in 2017 she was the only woman in her unit but has seen that change as more women enter the industry. She hopes that as a whole, Facilities Services will continue to become a more diverse and inclusive department in the future.

“There are so many wonderful people in Facilities Services who work hard and do so much for campus that often goes unnoticed. I am proud to be part of it,” Lingerfelt said. 

Exploring different career paths and finding women in leadership positions who are willing to be mentors will provide invaluable experience and insight. Lingerfelt is grateful to have found a few of these women early in her career who showed her so many possibilities. 

“If it is something you are interested in then it is important to find your place in it, despite the fact that there are still barriers for women,” Lingerfelt said. 

Utilities Project Coordinator, Candis Sheehan, has been in the utility industry for 20 years. She started in the trades as a sewer technician before making the switch to project coordination. Now her days consist of coordinating meetings, attending project meetings, and checking on field projects, overall, just making sure everyone has what they need and answering any questions. 

UT Facility Services Women

Sheehan’s dream is to see more women apply for trades. With good organizational skills and attention to detail, she strongly believes that having more women in the trades would be extremely beneficial to the industry.

The relationships she’s built with so many Facilities Services people all around campus is the highlight of her job. 

“I think that the people at Facilities Services are some of the best, hard-working, and [most] genuine people I have ever met in my life and I’m so happy to be here,” Sheehan said.

Val Brooks, Building Services foreman, has been with UTFS for the last 4 years. Throughout her day she is responsible for overseeing and maintaining UT common/public areas such as classrooms, conference rooms, restrooms, offices and labs. 

She was first interested in the position because Facilities Services offers training and opportunities for advancement. Brooks’ experience working for UTFS has been challenging in terms of her work-life balance however she is grateful for everything she has learned and the training she has received. 

Brooks advises other women looking at a similar career path to be curious and innovative and have confidence in their decision-making. She urges everyone to try new things and push themselves through their work. 

“I would love for people to challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zones if they figure [out] that a position/task is not for them,” Brooks said.

Campus Events Coordinator, Alyssa Antal, is part of the Zone Maintenance unit where she works as a liaison between Facilities Services and event coordinators on campus. She organizes all event requests for things like tables, chairs, recycling, custodial support, and electrical/sound equipment. She takes these requests and dispatches them to the appropriate UTFS team members.

Antal chose to work for UTFS because of the university’s great reputation and culture. She also wanted to be at an organization where she could be impactful and make a difference in the surrounding community which she has found at Facilities Services. UT offers a tuition reimbursement program that Antal has taken advantage of and is currently working on the completion of her degree. 

“Don’t assume your first job out of college is what you will do the rest of your life. Be open to trying new things, and pay attention to your strengths…they may have nothing to do with the career path you chose, but you could end up doing something totally different and love it,” Antal said.

She is aware that it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Facilities Services tends to be a more male-dominated field and while there is still a ways to go, UTFS is headed in the right direction. There are several women in leadership positions and many other equally hard-working women in other positions as well. Antal does hope to see more young women enter the Facilities Services workforce as the majority of current employees are getting older, there will soon be tons of “shoes” to fill.

“It would be amazing to see those roles being filled by the next generation of female leaders who are ready to bring a positive change to our field,” Antal said. 

Nicole Davis, maintenance specialist I, first started with UTFS in 2018 after bringing her daughter to campus for a 4-H summer camp where she got to talk to people and realized she wanted to be part of the team. Davis is responsible for the heating and cooling of large buildings (6-12 stories), fixing any leaks, draining air compressors and checking pumps. 

As one of the few women in the Zone Maintenance unit, Davis knows firsthand how challenging it is to be the minority. 

“Men think women can’t do this kind of job…do not let the men bully you into thinking you can’t do this ladies. Show up and show out, we got this,” Davis said.

Her time with Facilities Services has been nothing short of wonderful. Davis credits the training and great leadership that provide her with anything she needs to be successful.

Lauren Fotta, landscape aide I, graduated from UT in 2021 with a geology and environmental studies degree and a forestry minor. Due to the nature of her studies, many career options require outdoor work experience. Being a landscaper with UTFS allows her to gain more experience with outside machinery and equipment while also improving her horticulture skills. Plus, as a UT alumna, she already has the attire for BIG Orange Friday!

During Fotta’s three years and counting with Facilities Services, she has been one of just two full-time female employees in Landscape Services. Being in the minority can make her feel a little lonely at times and like she may not be understood as much as the men.

“I find that I may not share my interests as much, especially if they are typically seen as more feminine. I like listening to Taylor Swift and Lana Del Ray, but I probably don't advertise that as much compared to other artists like the Allman Brothers or Luke Combs,” Fotta said. 

Although not all of Fotta’s interests align with her male counterparts, she has branched out and tried more culturally masculine foods, music and media than ever before. 

“I can feel as if my background isn't up to par with some of the other men here. I wasn't taught how to use a lot of outside equipment and machinery until I showed my own interest and taught myself or found someplace that could teach me when I was older,” Fotta said.

Her message to other women pursuing a similar path in the STEM field? Prove your worth and your knowledge.

“Prove to the men and other workers what you can do and don't shy away from the skills you have and the ones you're not afraid of gaining. Be confident in what you know and physically and figuratively do not hold back,” Fotta said.

It will be challenging but extremely rewarding to see that personal growth. 

Fotta has worked with and in a variety of units at UTFS and is grateful for the various skills she has been able to develop. Due to health issues, Fotta spent time in the main office with the Communication and Information unit as opposed to her regular fieldwork for a short period. This time in the office allowed Fotta to refresh some of her soft skills and make connections with other women of Facilities Services that she otherwise wouldn’t normally see during her regular field hours.

While the Facilities Services industry as a whole is still heavily male-dominated, change is slowly beginning to occur, and as society continues to become more accepting of women in these positions, UTFS will hopefully reflect that as well.