“I love teaching students.” A comment more typically associated with professors, this one comes from Ben Stauffer, director of physical plant at Lancaster Bible College. His department manages the school’s housekeeping and facilities, and he oversees the grounds and repair shop.
“I have two managers, one in housekeeping and one in the facilities department, and only five other full-time employees in housekeeping and facilities. Hence, students, who work 40 hours a week in the summer and 28 during the school year, do most of the work,” says Stauffer, who graduated from the school in 2012.
He continues, “Some of the 10 to 12 students who come to work in the grounds department have a background in landscaping and others don’t, but they learn. We teach them not only how to maintain the landscape, but to maintain equipment as well — all valuable skills they can take with them no matter where they go after graduation.”
Stauffer’s attitude about preparing students for life after school mirrors that of an institution named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top colleges in the country to prepare students for their chosen career.
Founded in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1933, Lancaster Bible College has nearly 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students who major in any of 25 academic departments. The school has a 15-to-1 student-faculty ratio at the main 120-acre campus, and fields six men’s and seven women’s varsity and intramural sports. The college also has four other locations throughout the country in Greenbelt, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Boca Raton, Florida; and Memphis, Tennessee.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Stauffer spent two years working as a mechanic. Being raised on a dairy farm, he was well-equipped to fix almost anything—from trucks, tractors and skid-steer loaders to cars. He moved to Florida for a year to work at a camp for troubled kids prior to returning to Lancaster Bible College three years ago as a full-time mechanic. He later became director of grounds before moving into his current position.
“Students start work around 7 a.m., blowing off the walks and getting the campus ready for the day,” Stauffer explains. “At 8 a.m., the rest of the workers arrive, including student crew chief, Devan Turner, and senior grounds worker, Caleb Pollock, who operate our Walker Mowers. The school purchased a model T25i in 2015 for mowing around tight areas and a model H38i with a 64-inch rear-discharge deck last year for mowing wide areas.
“The grounds department has a lot of ground to cover, including mowing 30 acres of turf, so we put a premium on being efficient. With the Walker Mowers, we can cut all of the high-profile areas in a day or two. There’s no scalping and the stripes really stand out on campus.”
He continues, “They are extremely versatile, and can easily be fitted with a GHS, side-discharge or mulching deck during the long mowing season. When outfitted with enclosed cabs, and a brush or snow blower during the winter, they can clear our walks in less than an hour. Previously, it took 30 students to clear all of the walks; now it takes only five. It’s amazing what you can get done with quality equipment.”
When not mowing,Turner and Pollock join other student workers with campus chores. They do anything from helping lay sod and planting 2,000 tulips a year to pruning, trimming and weeding. Students generally work until 4 p.m. Friday afternoons are reserved for washing equipment. In addition to its mowers, a Bobcat skid steer and smaller handheld equipment, Lancaster Bible College has a fleet of 15 vehicles, including three F-250 pickups, several vans and a bus. “Our biggest challenge is getting things done on time. We work around special events, class times and student schedules,” adds Stauffer.
“Our department is all about delivering great service. In addition to keeping the landscape in top condition (mowing starts in late March or early April, and goes well into the fall with leaf pickup), we often receive special and sometimes unusual requests. For example, in the spring, the school sponsors an annual charity 5K Mud Run. We bring the mud in and clean up afterward.”
Students who work throughout the summer get free room and board, plus a salary. “But it’s not just a job,” Stauffer emphasizes. “They work together on solving problems. They share ideas. They learn how to maintain equipment and do basic things like changing the oil and filter on their cars. Some who are mechanically inclined also help me with major repairs.
“As a Bible college, most graduates pursue a career path in the ministry, although a few student workers have chosen to work in the green industry or continue their horticulture education. Either way, the skills they develop working the grounds, the repair shop and even in housekeeping can always come in handy, and even help support themselves until a career opportunity arises.”
One day, who knows? His student workers may receive course credits for their learning experience. In the meantime, they all work toward the same goal, Stauffer emphasizes: “We take care of the grounds and our environment, so students want to come here and train to carry out a biblical world view.