Essentially CALS: Tom Mease

CALS Advancement’s Business Officer Tom Mease’s list of contributions to NC State University and CALS is long. Mease is a flexible team player who gladly fills in across college units whenever needed, and is launching innovative and forward-thinking protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic that will serve the college for many years to come.

Kathy Kennel, director of business operations for CALS Advancement, says, “loyal and dedicated employees like Tom are imperative to the success of an organization. His willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic will forever be appreciated. Thank you, Tom, for keeping the CALS Advancement wheels rolling!”

Throughout this interview not only does Mease share how his daily activities have changed since March of 2020, but he provides a glimpse into the college’s fundraising operations.

Q: How has your day changed since March 16, 2020?

A: In the fundraising world, we’ve always handled a lot of paper. And we are still getting checks — paper checks. We go pick up the mail and process it, and then deliver it for deposit. So, trying to adjust to being as paperless and as touch free as possible, with the fact that we have pieces of paper that we’re dealing with has been a big change. During my career, I’ve digitized processes, but there was always some paper, and I had a paper rhythm.

Checks are deposited in Gifts and Record Management in the Joyner Building. Until September, they were open certain days, certain hours, and we’d go and we’d have to call the phone number that was on the door, and someone would come down and get them. Now they’re open longer hours and there’s a locked drop box to put them in.

It’s also worth noting, it takes just as much time to process a gift for $25 as it does for $3.5 million. I don’t remember the exact number, but I think on the first day working from home in March 2020, I processed 152 checks. This situation has forced us to think, ‘are there other ways we can improve on how we handle paper?’

Q: How will these digital moves help long term?

A: With endowment agreements, we’ve always needed to print multiple copies. In many cases five or more members of college leadership will need to sign each copy. Then the university treasurer will sign them before they go to the donor. These multiple copies got routed and mailed all over.
Now because of COVID-19, we’re using DocuSign, and it’s all done electronically. You can read everyone’s signature, before sometimes it was difficult to identify signatures.

Q: When you are on campus, what is noticeably different?

A: Overall, the lack of people. Our building is not on main campus, so we’re a little different to begin with. Usually the only students in our building are student workers, but for much of 2020 it was quiet everywhere.

Q: Why is it critical that you continue performing these tasks?

A: One reason is we’re processing scholarship donations. Some scholarships are for NC State students but others are for endowments that the Ag Foundation manages. Altogether it is around 600 student scholarships. The scholarship funds pay for scholarships for CALS students, county scholarships, 4-H scholarships, FFA, etc. We collect those funds and then we disperse them per the terms of the agreements.

Stack of papersQ: In this high pressure situation, how do you remain patient?

A: I have patience but I’ve also lost my patience many times during COVID. I can think of a couple of times I’ve needed to go out and walk in my neighborhood. I can go outside and there’s a half mile loop I walk. I huff and puff and come back in and go back to work.

Q: What challenges are you facing in this new environment?

A: During the first few weeks I had a lot of Zoom challenges. It was new to me and I was working at home from my laptop, and my laptop is a little older than some laptops. Some days it would work well and some days it wouldn’t. I know one day maybe three or four weeks in, Anthony [Buckner] remoted into my laptop and he helped me figure out some things.

Another challenge was what to do with the hard copies of documents. At home I didn’t have a way to scan them in. Kathy [Kennel] and Brent [Constantinides], got me set-up and now I have a printer/copier/scanner at home, so when I need to scan things, I can.

Currently, I have a stack of papers about 15 inches, 18 inches tall, of all the gifts I’ve processed. I keep track of what gifts I process on what day by putting a sticky note between the sets. Because at some point, someone is going to say, “What can you tell me about this gift, Tom?” And then I can go find the date and call them.

Q: What are you doing to stay safe and healthy?

A: I’ve watched the campus videos about mask safety, and how you can reuse your masks. I never got the paper bags, so I have five clothespins on my blinds in the office. This helps me keep track of what mask I wear on what day.

When I go to campus I use hand sanitizer anytime I’m in and out of my office and car. For the most part, there are very few people in our building. Housekeeping is there and there’s usually someone in Extension Information Technology.

In the week prior to virtual Tailgate, there were people in our building putting together all the Tailgate kits. I would say ‘hi’ from afar. I wear masks and try to do takeout from non-national chains.

Q: Are there any other details you would like to share?

A: I’ve gotten better at technology and Zooming, and various ways of conference calling and talking and chatting and phones. There are new hires I’ve never met in person yet. People who have moved on to other jobs, we have a Zoom farewell. It’s not like in person when people can just chat and enjoy one another’s company.

Mease is retiring on March 31, 2021, after his 22 year career.White man holding a large flute

And a few words from the top, Dean Richard Linton says, “Tom is an accomplished musician – he plays the flute in a symphonic band. Tom’s work during this pandemic mimics that of his musical heritage. He has adapted to changes in this pandemic much like the sharp transition from harmony to melody. His dedication parallels the dedication to the consistent practice of his instrument. Most of all, I enjoy the perfection and sound of his work! Thanks Tom for your ensemble of great work and for helping us hum along during this pandemic.”

Thank you for all you do for everyone at CALS.

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