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Chico State

Celebrating Thomas DuSell: Campus Safety Award Winner, and So Much More

Thomas DuSell stands next to the larger, lighted stop sign he pushed to have installed at the crosswalk along Warner Street and Ivy Street. The science building is in the background.
Jason Halley/University Photographer

One day they appeared. Extra-large, attention-grabbing stop signs bordered with blinking red lights adorning the crosswalk on campus where Big Chico Creek intersects with Warner Street. Except it wasn’t as simple as that. This important safety measure took place because Thomas DuSell relentlessly lobbied folks at Facilities Management Services, Environmental Health and Safety, and the City of Chico until the improvement was made, protecting students and his fellow Chico State employees from drivers who too often failed to stop, and even slow down, for those crossing the street.

DuSell knew that the status quo was not cutting it.

“I had too many close calls, personally. The first time it was startling, but I brushed it off. Then it was happening over and over,” DuSell explained. “Then I started factoring in how many students and staff and faculty are crossing the street at that spot on a daily basis and I just knew that this was a big problem.”

Thanks to his efforts to improve campus safety through the new and improved stop signs, as well as his expertise training fellow facilities management employees how to safely use the department’s heavy machinery, DuSell earned the 2022-23 Chico State Staff Council Safety Award, presented as part of this spring’s Staff Excellence Awards.

Now, DuSell just needs one of those bright, flashing stop signs to be placed next to the whiteboard in his office for his own sake. DuSell doesn’t always act so safely when it comes to making fun and friendly wagers with his coworkers. Such was the case this spring, when Chicoan Aaron Rodgers was traded to the New York Jets. In a moment of excitement, DuSell suggested that Rodgers had five more years of football in him. DuSell’s coworkers were quick to see if he would wager a slice of pizza on it, and DuSell did.

“That one’s gonna bite me,” DuSell laughed. “As soon as I said it, guys were running to the whiteboard.”

It is all in good fun, something DuSell is known for. In fact, “fun” is one of the main words his co-workers use to describe him. But his eye for safety and his passion for his work show that he has a serious side. DuSell is proud of the work he does at Chico State, and it shows.

A garden specialist, DuSell takes immaculate care of the George Petersen Rose Garden, the Albert E. Warren Reception Center, and some of the riparian habitat along the section of Big Chico Creek that runs through campus.

He started at Chico State in 2018 as an equipment operator, mostly working in and around the athletics facilities. But when the garden specialist position opened, DuSell “jumped on it.”

“It’s an opportunity to work in my skillset and provides plenty of challenges,” DuSell said. “And I like to overcome a challenge.”

DuSell also loves sharing facts about the Rose Garden and he is currently in the process of identifying each rose. The job is about 85 percent complete.

What are some of your favorite Rose Garden facts to share with folks?

Probably just the range of varieties. I think the average person, myself included at one point, thinks a rose is a rose. When you look closer you see that there are red roses, white roses, yellow roses, a rose that was orange yesterday but today is white, and a red with a white reverse, which means the petals on the inside are red, but on the outside are white. Some roses smell and some don’t. There’s also a little bit of history where some roses are grafted from parent roses, and that’s how a rose might be made or named. Then you get to know how old some of the roses are.

Thomas DuSell kneels to inspect a pink rose and is surrounded by red and white roses in Chico State's George Peterson Rose Garden.

If you were asked to speak at a new employee orientation, what is something you would want folks to know about working here?

I would remind them that not everybody gets to work in an environment like we do. It’s a beautiful campus and fun to explore. I’ve seen jugglers. The robotics class brought out the car they built, and the outdoor adventures group brought the kayak they built. I got to watch softball go to the championship and baseball do their thing. Working here offers a never-ending variety of experiences. Between the natural environment and the student activities, you are constantly seeing new and interesting things.

What’s one piece of advice that you’ve received that you think about all the time, and who did it come from?

When I told my former employer that I was going to branch out and start my own business, I asked him what advice he had for me. He quickly and bluntly said: “Learn how to say no.” This is someone who’s probably a millionaire, but I didn’t get it. And then as I got going doing my own work, I overwhelmed myself. I found out that learning how to say no is important. Otherwise, you start to stretch yourself out and make empty promises because of your own negligence and lack of management. And that’s one thing I don’t like to do.

It took me about five to seven years to get it. Unfortunately, I didn’t just listen to the person in the first place. That would have saved a lot of heartache. Instead, I had to learn the lesson myself.

If you were asked to give a speech at commencement next year, what message would you want to share with the students?

Don’t second guess yourself. Trust your judgment. Trust your gut. Don’t be afraid to fail. You don’t want any regrets, so take a shot.