A Lifetime of Learning, Living and Teaching
Aspiring forensic scientist Terri Flint took a chance on the elevator industry, and it ended up being the perfect career choice.
Jobs were scarce in forensic science when Michigan native Terri Flint graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in that field. Needing to bring home a paycheck, she took a job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office but felt unfulfilled. So, when her father, Dave Flint, at the time a branch manager at Millar Elevator, asked if she wanted to give the elevator industry a try, she said, “Yes.” She would begin as a field helper. She recalls:
“He warned me the work would be hard, dirty, heavy and hot most days and that, at work, he would be my boss: work is work, and home is home. I decided the worst thing that could happen was I wouldn’t like it or couldn’t do it, but I wanted to know I had at least tried. I reported to Union Hall the next morning.”
She ended up liking it a lot. The move marked the first step in what has become a very fulfilling career that involves ongoing learning and teaching. As Elevator Program manager for the University of Michigan (UM) in Ann Arbor, Flint oversees approximately 600 vertical-transportation units on its main campus. She also provides assistance as requested on the Flint and Dearborn campuses, which have approximately 25-35 units each.
“The goal of Elevator U is to educate, network and support excellence in design, construction and maintenance of all forms of vertical transportation, while promoting safety in all aspects of the industry.”
Flint has been involved in the nonprofit, volunteer organization Elevator U for many years, serving at various times as president, vice president, educational committee member and conference planning chairwoman. She reflects on how Elevator U has evolved.
“It was the brainchild of Bob Snip and Jeff Cooper from Purdue University about 18 years ago. After some difficulty obtaining parts and after talking with peers at different institutions, they realized everyone was dealing with a lot of the same issues and put together the first conference to network and help everyone with the challenges they faced. After being hired at the University of Michigan, my supervisor handed me a thick file and said, ‘UM is going to be hosting [the Elevator U conference] in June. You need to coordinate it.’ So, I dove in head first. I had a lot of help from Purdue. We continued to bounce the conference back and forth and started to see our numbers grow. In 2006, at Georgia State University, the idea of becoming a nonprofit association was brought before conference attendees and voted on. They decided unanimously in favor of it, a name was selected, and a board was nominated and elected. I was, and still am, honored to have been elected president at that time.
“We still hold one conference a year, which is our main educational opportunity, but we are expanding and hope to soon offer webinars throughout the year. The goal of Elevator U is to educate, network and support excellence in design, construction and maintenance of all forms of vertical transportation, while promoting safety in all aspects of the industry.”
Learning as a Lifelong Pursuit
Flint believes learning is a lifelong pursuit and still plays the role of student. She feels she always will. She advises others, especially those just entering the profession, to do the same. “Pay attention,” she advises. “Listen, watch, read, ask. Learn everything you can and never think you know everything about our industry.”
She holds a class-A elevator journeyman’s license and class-A elevator contractor’s license from the State of Michigan, but much of Flint’s education has been hands on. She spent three years in the field with Millar Elevator in Ann Arbor before moving to Millar’s Lansing, Michigan, office as an inside sales associate. She quickly moved into a full-time sales representative position and was promoted to superintendent for the branch after a couple of years.
“Listen, watch, read, ask. Learn everything you can and never think you know everything about our industry.”
In 1999, Flint accepted a position as elevator contract manager for the University of Michigan Hospital – one of the largest healthcare complexes in the world – dividing her time between the hospital and main campus elevator shop. Over the years, she spent more and more time in the shop. In 2008, a turning point came when the hospital outsourced its elevator contract management, and Flint was called upon to have her duties in the shop expanded.
The university’s Facilities Management department originally housed all trades, including elevators, under one roof, but, in 2010, the department restructured to decentralize the trades and place them in one of five zones. “The goal was/is to have people physically closer to their work at any given time,” Flint states. “Employees’ work is now planned and scheduled by non-trade-specific people or people who specialize in a different trade.”
This has been a challenge, she says, but one that she has overcome with the help of her staff. She elaborates:
“With decentralization of the trades, including elevators, I find my biggest challenge is keeping up with the issues that go on in different areas. Being the contractor of record for elevators for the university, it can be unsettling to have mechanics all over campus reporting to different managers but still being ultimately responsible for everything that happens under my license. I credit the mechanics for keeping a fantastic line of communication open with me and informing me of everything they do throughout the day. I’m lucky to have a knowledgeable group of elevator mechanics who always put safety first.”
Flint has worked with the same staff for nearly 16 years and finds the accumulated knowledge they share helps the team thoroughly take care of the campuses’ vertical-transportation system.
As an elevator professional, Flint most enjoys sharing her insight about elevators and escalators, particularly with those outside the industry. “Not a lot of people have an understanding of elevators and escalators, other than getting in and pushing a button or holding a handrail,” she observes. “I take every opportunity I can to educate people and hope they walk away with a better idea of our world and how to stay safe as a rider.”
Flint has, no doubt, shared safety tips with her two sons, a pair of guitar enthusiasts ages 16 and 14, who are considering careers as engineers. In her spare time, Flint and her boys enjoy camping and kayaking in the wilds of western Michigan. They also enjoy reading, recently passing around the Witch & Wizard series of books by James Patterson. “It’s been hard for them to not give away the plot; by the time I’m reading the book, they’ve already finished,” she says. “It’s been a lot of fun, though!”
Flint’s career in the elevator industry has been rewarding so far. She is a member of NAESA International, APPA: Leadership in Education Facilities and, of course, Elevator U. She regularly attends their events, as well as the National Association of Elevator Contractors’ annual convention. The person she admires most in the industry is her father, about whom she says:
“He truly has always loved the elevator industry. He cares about safety and doing things the right way. He has taught me a lot, and I still have so much to learn from him. He has always encouraged me and gotten me to look toward the bigger picture. He gave me the opportunity to start a career and provide for my family. There is no way to say ‘thank you’ for all of that.”
As much as she loves forensics, Flint has no plans to return to that profession. She doesn’t even watch popular forensics television shows due to their tendency to exaggerate for dramatic effect. “I don’t plan on leaving the elevator industry,” she says.