Terrace Views

A Terrace Season Not Taken for Granted: Staff Perspectives on the New Normal

How many times have you been asked the familiar icebreaker question, “What’s your favorite season?” As far as those of us at the Wisconsin Union are concerned, there’s only one correct answer: Terrace season!

Terrace season is almost synonymous with summer in Madison, but it means so much more than just warm weather and sunny skies. Terrace season is when the Memorial Union Terrace transforms into an outdoor hub for entertainment, dining and socializing. It’s also a time when student leaders and staff program hundreds of free and low-cost events for Wisconsin Union members and guests to enjoy, from concerts to film showings to art projects.

We tend to take the seasons for granted, assuming, without a doubt, that each one will return again at the same time next year. Our confidence in Terrace season was no exception, since it’s been an annual tradition ever since the construction of the Terrace in 1928. As surely as the sun rises every morning, all of us Terrace-lovers believed that Terrace season would always be there to welcome us to another fun-filled Madison summer.

But then, 2020 happened. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made us realize that, sometimes, the things we perceive as constant can be taken away by unforeseen circumstances. Thanks to the hard work and creative thinking by our team and your support, the Terrace was able to operate on a reduced scale while following strict health and safety measures in both 2020 and 2021, an incredible feat in itself. But for the past two years, we’ve all been missing a true Terrace season, with programming galore and people filling every colorful sunburst chair. Now, the summer of 2022 is finally the time for which we’ve all waited: Terrace season is back with all of its traditional programming, more chairs than ever and even new programming and activities!

COVID-19 has changed many Terrace operations, just like it has altered the way things work all over the world. But the resilience, teamwork and compassion demonstrated by our students, staff and Wisconsin Union members and guests have never faltered. You and our colleagues have made it possible to restore the best season of the year to the Terrace, to the UW-Madison campus and to the community, as a whole. 

Connor Hansen, Robin Schmoldt and Rob Gretzlock are three of our extraordinary Union employees who have been instrumental in creating the new Terrace normal. Read on to learn about what the return of Terrace season means to them.

The 2022 Terrace season marks the return of a full event lineup, including music, film, art and more. Photo by Andy Manis.

Connor Hansen, operations manager

Connor began working at the Wisconsin Union six years ago, when he was still a UW-Madison student. During his three years as a student employee, he worked in markets and cafes, and later in facilities as a student building manager. For the past three years, he has worked in operation services.

Tell us a bit about your responsibilities as operations manager. How did your job duties change as a result of COVID-19?

I supervise the Union’s team of student building managers, whose responsibilities include supporting the events and programming in our buildings; assisting dining and retail employees in the cash office; enforcing Wisconsin Union policies; and opening and securing our buildings on evenings and weekends. 

Along with the rest of my team, my job duties changed quite drastically with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all of campus, we incorporated many public health protocols into our facilities that had never been required before. I also served as a supervisor during a COVID-19 testing program, supporting the effort across campus alongside other colleagues from the Union. That was a big change from my normal responsibilities of overseeing large events and bustling Union buildings, but it was something I was honored to support.

What does it mean to you to have the Terrace operating in full again after the past two years of unprecedented Terrace seasons?

It’s really exciting and remarkable! For the past two and a half years, the Union has had to operate in the uncharted territory of the pandemic and come up with new, creative ways of doing things. Providing a more normal Terrace season to Wisconsin Union members and guests, the campus community and many students who started at UW-Madison in the midst of the pandemic is really special to me. It definitely feels like a ‘Finally!’ moment.

Was the facilities department able to return to normal, pre-COVID-19 operations this summer? Or did you have to create a new normal?

I won’t speak to all of the facilities department, since so many of our units navigated unique challenges, but for my team of building managers, we certainly had to create a new normal when health and safety guidelines allowed for the relaxing of pandemic protocols. Most of my team started during the pandemic and had never worked a ‘normal’ Terrace season, so the start of this year’s Terrace season was a learning experience for many of them. It’s been rewarding seeing everyone get back to the swing of things and once again experience a full, bustling Terrace season.

What is a lesson you learned coming out of the past two years?

Rainbow Terrace chairs celebrating Pride in June 2022. Photo by Emily Siderits.

It’s important, especially during the unknowns of a pandemic, to be flexible to new ways of doing things and to understand that everyone is dealing with a unique set of unmet challenges. To help each other during difficult times, we must educate ourselves on different situations and perspectives.

What has been your favorite part of Terrace season so far?

The Pride Concert Showcase put on by the UW-Madison Gender and Sexuality Campus Center (GSCC) and the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Music Committee has been my favorite event so far. It created a special space on campus for everyone to come together and celebrate Pride. 

Robin Schmoldt, WUD Film and Publications Committees advisor and visual arts & art collection manager

Robin’s multiple job titles are only the start of the ways in which she goes above and beyond for the Wisconsin Union. In June, she celebrated her 25th anniversary of working for the Union. If you see her around, be sure to congratulate her on this incredible accomplishment!

Tell us a bit about your responsibilities as the WUD Film Committee advisor. How did your job duties change as a result of COVID-19?

As the WUD Film Committee advisor, I work with the team of student leaders and student volunteers who curate and screen film programming in the Marquee Theater at Union South during the academic year and on the Memorial Union Terrace during the summer. I help students learn and refine skills in researching and selecting film titles, developing relationships with film distributors, collaborating with campus and community partners, and learning leadership skills through this programming framework.

As a result of COVID-19, I began working from my home and advising students virtually. WUD Film had to make a hard and immediate shift into virtual programming, where we were all learning the mechanics of technology on the fly and exploring new digital film exhibition platforms as distributors were launching them. I am incredibly proud of how quickly the team regrouped around that programming reality and provided quality events in a format they had never worked in before. In fact, some of their programs were only possible because of virtual technology. As one fantastic example, in November 2020, students offered an evening of discussion with film director Justin Chon via Zoom. Justin was filming on location in Korea at the time, so an in-person event would not have been possible.

What does it mean to you to have the Terrace operating in full again after the past two years of unprecedented Terrace seasons?

It means the world to me that we can bring people together again much more safely than was possible two summers ago. There’s nothing quite like a night on the Terrace when the weather is just right, the food is tasty, and the programming is on point. There is an alchemy to each of those elements coming together on the shores of Lake Mendota with a sunset in the distance. 

Was the WUD Film Committee able to return to normal, pre-COVID-19 operations this summer? Or did you have to create a new normal?

Delightfully, WUD Film was able to return to a full slate of Lakeside Cinema programming this summer, with a ‘Surfing Through Summer’ series running on Mondays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and a ‘Hot Girl Summer’ series running on select Sundays. (To check out the full summer film lineup, click here.)

A free film showing on the Terrace, part of Lakeside Cinema. Photo by Sam Molinaro.

We were also able to once again offer a student leadership opportunity to facilitate the summer series, a position that comes with a stipend. Adriana Guirguis serves as this year’s WUD Film summer coordinator, and she is doing a fantastic job managing details like weather calls, event logistics and marketing. I appreciate every leadership experience we can offer students. 

What is a lesson you learned coming out of the past two years?

Never underestimate the value of working in collaboration with others. Even with the ability to connect over Zoom or Microsoft Teams, I keenly felt the absence of being in the same space as students and colleagues. I missed the generative energy of all the little moments that happened in our workspace. We all missed the communal experience of being in the cinema together, though we understood the paramount need to keep folks safe.

What has been your favorite part of this year’s Terrace season so far?

I’ve loved the process leading up to a full film lineup returning to the Terrace. There is such a robust creative energy in the meetings where WUD Film students deliberate summer season themes and the titles that fit those themes. Working with students is the most important and most energizing part of my job. I love sitting back and listening in, occasionally offering a suggestion where it might be helpful, and supporting students in taking things from their brainstorm list to the big screen. Seeing our community come out to enjoy the result of that creative process is a real treat.

Rob Gretzlock, interim associate director of retail at Memorial Union

Rob has been an integral part of the Wisconsin Union team for nearly a decade. In fact, he officially began his tenth year on July 8, 2022! In that time, he has held multiple important roles, including manager of der Rathskeller, assistant director of restaurants at Memorial Union and, now, interim associate director of retail. 

Tell us a bit about your responsibilities as interim associate director of retail. How did your job duties change as a result of COVID-19?

I’m responsible for the overall operations of the retail division of Memorial Union, including der Rathskeller, the lakefront dining options, the Daily Scoop, Peet’s Coffee and Badger Market. I help create an environment of authentic hospitality, develop strategies for increasing operational efficiency, coordinate staff developmental activities, and create productive working environments. I also set expectations that comply with food service policies at the university, local, state and federal levels. Additionally, I establish relationships within the building to help the Union progress in a forward direction.

With the support of a great team, we learned to be more mobile, nimble and creative than we were prior to COVID-19. As a division and as the Wisconsin Union, we learned to be more understanding of what individuals were going through during the pandemic. Staff within and outside of our dining and hospitality team came to work on the Terrace, even while their units were facing their own struggles. 

Another accomplishment from the past two years was helping lead the Union’s first reservable table system in 2020*. This exciting project was a combined effort of our catering team and retail divisions, along with our talented culinary team in the Memorial Union production kitchen. This partnership birthed a creative food and beverage menu that was a major success with the campus and the community at large.

*Note: this system was temporary and is no longer in place.

What does it mean to you to have the Terrace operating in full again after the past two years of unprecedented Terrace seasons?

I wish I could say that the Terrace was back to full again, but unfortunately, there are several factors that have created obstacles for the Terrace returning to full operation dining-wise. Like most businesses post-pandemic, we’re experiencing a huge staffing shortage with both students and full-time staff. We’re also facing ongoing supply chain issues, which impact our ability to provide all of the menu items that guests are accustomed to at the Terrace. 

Even with these shortages, we are very proud of the experiences that we can once again provide to a pre-pandemic number of guests at the Terrace. This means that we, as a society, are returning to some renewed semblance of normalcy.

Was the dining department able to return to normal, pre-COVID-19 operations this summer? Or did you have to create a new normal?

We definitely have a new normal. Pre-pandemic, our goal was to be open as much as we could by graduation weekend. Post-pandemic, we’ve had to become more creative on how we operate our units. Our new building model has essentially created an environment where each general manager doesn’t work within the vacuum of their own unit, but from a basis of a collective effort to ensure the success of all our units. The ability to move full-time staff and student staff to different units has enabled us to serve guests in a fashion we’ve never experienced before. I’m very proud of the work this group has done to become a cohesive team.

What is a lesson you learned coming out of the past two years?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is nothing that we, at the Wisconsin Union, can’t overcome. The people in Memorial Union’s retail division and dining and hospitality unit, along with the Wisconsin Union, at large, are nothing short of incredible. When we needed help or support, we could always count on those we work with to be there in a time of need. 

It was especially inspiring to work in der Stiftskeller this spring with the Union leadership team of the Union: Director and Associated Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Mark Guthier; Deputy Director Susan Dibbell; Senior Associate Director and Chief Business Officer Ed Janairo; Assistant Director for Facilities Management Paul Broadhead; Associate Director for Social Education Heidi Lang; and Associate Director for Dining and Hospitality Services Carl Korz; and a huge shout out to the Wisconsin Union director’s office Executive Assistant Danielle Brzezinski.

An even bigger thrill for me was that when the call for help went out based on low staffing numbers, Argyle Wade, UW-Madison chief of staff for the vice chancellor for student affairs, came to the Union and supported our operations. I’m not sure if all of these individuals understand what an enormous amount of energy they instilled into our team by being here. It showed our team just how much they mean to the Union by the ability of the leadership staff to pitch in and support the efforts.

I’m in awe as I reflect upon the past two years of all the obstacles that were placed in front of us and how we, as a dining team and as the Wisconsin Union, did not let any of those obstacles stop us from achieving our goal of feeding the campus and the community at large. We continued to move forward and ensured that we kept working, even under trying and scary circumstances.

What has been your favorite part of Terrace season so far?

The crowd went wild during Jazz Fest on the Terrace on June 19, 2022. Photo by Andy Manis.

My favorite part has been seeing the team that I work with come together and create such a wonderful experience for our guests. They love what they do, and they do what they love. To provide those experiences of a lifetime to our guests is nothing short of amazing. It’s been wonderful seeing the return of the things that we enjoy the most about the Terrace, including music and movie programming. It was great experiencing Jazz Fest in its pre-pandemic glory in June.

I really enjoy what I do. But then again, how can you not when you work in such a fantastic environment with such amazing people?

A huge thank you to Connor Hansen, Robin Schmoldt, Rob Gretzlock and every single Wisconsin Union employee, member and guest for your support as we transition back to a new normal. Thank you for continuing to make memories of a lifetime possible, even during unprecedented times.

To view the full Terrace season lineup, visit TerraceSummer.com. And check out our calendar at union.wisc.edu/events for events and activities all year long.

Author: Abby Synnes

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