West Campus, lonely no more

Yale Dining service on West Campus has made an impact on the community located at the site of a former pharmaceutical complex.
Yale Dining service on West Campus has made an impact on the community located at the site of a former pharmaceutical complex. Photo by David Walker.

West Campus employees are coming out of isolation.

Yale has been working hard to attract new researchers to West Campus — located seven miles from downtown New Haven — since it bought the 1.6 million-square-foot complex from pharmaceutical company Bayer HealthCare in 2007. Administrators estimate that between 100 and 200 employees regularly utilize the campus’s facilities now, though not all of them work on West Campus full-time.

As more researchers move to the site, the West Campus administration is instituting a series of changes to make them feel more comfortable in their offices and laboratories seven miles from central campus. While some employees said the changes, which include more frequent transportation and regular dining services, make them feel less isolated and allow them to more easily connect with one another, others said the campus’s location is still a drawback for potential researchers and visitors.

“The main discouragement is that people feel left out of the main activity,” said Milind Majahan, a researcher at the Yale Center for Genome Analysis who moved from the Yale School of Medicine to West Campus in January. “But we encourage visitors and they keep on visiting.”

Last year, the Pioneer Council was formed with the objective of building community life and promoting discussion about work conditions on West Campus, Michael Donoghue, vice president for West Campus planning and program development, said.

To promote regular communication across the 136-acre campus, the administration has organized monthly brown bag lunch seminars, where researchers are encouraged to share new discoveries and hear others talk about their work, among other initiatives.

“Because we’re all out here, it’s nice that we’re getting to know each other,” researcher and chair of the Pioneer Council Janie Merkel said.

The council’s monthly meetings allow for communication across unrelated departments on West Campus, Lisa Maloney, operations manager for West Campus, said.

“We try to talk about things that are campuswide so they will communicate it back to their unit and I will communicate it back to Michael [Donoghue],” Maloney explained.

The council has managed to implement a number of improvements in the year it has been meeting, she said, and these improvements could have a large impact on the social and professional lives of the campus’s employees.

IMPROVING EMPLOYEE SERVICES

The most visible improvement to the employee work environment is the transportation system — as of early September, a shuttle bus travels between West Campus and central campus every half hour instead of every hour as in previous semesters, Donoghue said.

Some employees live in West Haven and Orange, but most commute daily from New Haven, he said. Though many commute to the campus by car, the shuttle makes stops at key locations such as the School of Medicine in case researchers want to make a quick trip to their other offices during the day.

“Ridership is way up now. Last month, we had well over 1,000 riders,” Donoghue said.

There are plans to increase the shuttle service’s frequency to every 15 minutes in the spring, when the West Campus administration intends to increase the population of the campus by hiring new researchers, Donoghue said.

Another major improvement for those on West Campus is the implementation of a regular Yale Dining service this fall.

Bayer HealthCare left behind a cafeteria in what is now the administrative building, but the administration never employed a dining service to utilize the space. Employees had to either bring lunch from home or take a break during the day to drive to a store. In March, Yale Dining started selling lunch during a two-hour window every Wednesday to test whether there was any interest in a regular service.

Demand was so high that the cafeteria now serves hot food, salads, sandwiches, soups and snack items every day from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“It was hard to find some time to drive down and pick up lunch,” Majahan said. ”Now I bring lunch from home but in case I don’t, it’s nice to have this service.”

JOINING THE YALE FAMILY

Services are not the only things improving on West Campus.

The administration is also trying to build connections between employees both within West Campus itself and between West Campus and the central campus.

Merkel transferred a year ago from a laboratory in Kline Biology Tower to the Yale Small Molecule Discovery Center located on West Campus.

The new laboratory is much larger than the cramped facilities in Kline — in fact, Merkel and her team are the only group occupying their new building.

To prevent isolating employees based on West Campus, the administration has been encouraging consistent traffic from central campus by regularly hosting symposiums and seminars in the 250-seat Grace Murray Hopper Auditorium in the main administration building, Donoghue said.

“The idea of having some intellectual activity and seminars is one way to integrate people,” he said.

The next brown bag lunch seminar on West Campus will be held Dec. 1 in the cafeteria of the administration building.

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