Firm Foundations – Unlocking Knowledge

Published: Feb 15, 2016

(Unlocking Knowledge cropped)


“What is the main reason you are here?”

That’s the question Stephen Slowe asks at the end of every training session he holds with the UMBC students who work alongside him as maintenance assistants.

Slowe says that he often gets the same answers from his trainees. “I’m here to learn how to fix locks.” Or, “I’m here to earn money.” Each time, however, he corrects them: “Your main job here is to get an education.”

Slowe has worked at UMBC since 1984, and he received his 30th year service award at a ceremony in December. He spent his first year at the university as a contractual groundskeeper, and became a permanent employee in the carpenter shop in 1985.

In 2003, Slowe moved to the university’s lockshop, where he worked until July 1, 2012. Then he joined a new team in the facilities maintenance offices that opened in the residence halls under Chesapeake dormitory. Slowe is one of the few facilities management personnel to work on the maintenance staffs of both academic services and residential life.

Over his 31 years at UMBC, Slowe has seen the university grow and change dramatically. And his work hasn’t all been repairing locks worn out by use. In that time, campus residences have been modernized, with card readers now replacing keys on the doors of many buildings. Along the way, Slowe has enlarged his professional skills and adapted his considerable knowledge of the campus to ensure that students are safe and that everything works as it should.

But while new buildings have sprung up in nearly every part of the campus, and the diversity of UMBC’s population expands, Slowe sees cohesion and community at the heart of the UMBC experience. The university has come a long way, he explains, but he sees UMBC students, faculty, and staff as “one unified community. You have different sections within the community, but one community.”

Stephen Slowe says the UMBC students he trains as maintenance assistants are the university’s “first line of defense” in troubleshooting problems.
Stephen Slowe says the UMBC students he trains
as maintenance assistants are the university’s “first
line of defense” in troubleshooting problems.

Slowe is especially proud of his work with UMBC students, and especially the student employees he trains in facilities management. He says the student maintenance assistants (also known as “MAs”) who provide most of the basic maintenance fixes across campus are the “first line of defense to troubleshoot problems.” They work with Slowe and the rest of the facilities management team to keep the university in proper working order.

Slowe says teaching the MAs to perform basic lock maintenance is only one part of his job. The other part of his work is anchored in that question he always asks his students. He is committed to keeping those with whom he works focused on their education and the real reason they are attending UMBC.

“Power is knowledge,” says Slowe. “When someone wants to show you or teach your something, learn it. I ain’t been around here for 52 years for nothing.”

— Nichole Zang Do ’15


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