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Workers of Duke: Dean Sattelfield

Dean Sattelfield is a worker with the Duke HDRL Office. He is part of the large number of staff on campus who work tirelessly to make the college experience for all Duke students as comfortable as possible. Most students have very short interactions with these people and yet, as fellow human beings, they have so much to offer to us even in those short conversations. Dean is one of those many workers, and as I had a slightly longer conversation with him, I realized that there is so much that people like me could learn from him.

“For you this might be a profile for The Chronicle. For me it’s one for the Rolling Stone Magazine.”

This was one of Dean’s first reactions when I told him that I would be profiling him for an article I was writing. Having gotten to know him over a series of interactions I have had with him this fall semester, I would say that this statement very appropriately sums up Dean’s outlook towards life.

Dean is a worker here at Duke. His official position is that of a Utility Technician with the HDRL Office. His duties include taking out the trash, and vacuuming and cleaning all the floors in Gilbert-Addoms (GA) Dorm on East Campus. His regular day starts off with a 35 minute ride from his home in Burlington to Duke. He then begins his shift at 7 in the morning and works until 4 in the evening before heading back home.

Dean is very new to Duke. In fact, he just started work Oct. 6. And so far, he said it has been a pretty good experience. He loves working with his three co-workers and shares a very friendly relationship with them. He is also on very good terms with his supervisor whom he respects a lot. However, he said his favorite interactions are with the students here.

“My perceptions of Duke have changed a lot since I have started working here,” he said. “You would think that the students in an expensive private university would be stuck up. But people here are really nice. I know quite a few students here by name now. And that Hallingquest kid (an RA in GA)? He makes a mean sweet potato pie.”

And as he spends more time here, he expects to continue meeting and getting to know even more people.

“As I was telling my supervisor the other day, by the end of the day, my face hurts from the amount of smiling I’ve done over that day’s shift.”

Dean is a family man. He is married and is the proud father of four kids. He was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina and has lived in the state all his life. Most of his immediate family, including a brother and a sister, live in the state as well.

“My wife recently got a promotion,” he said proudly. “She is now managing five branches of a hair clipping salon, two of which are here in Durham. And my eldest son? He is 19 years old and is in community college right now.”

But Dean’s life hasn’t always been as stable as it is now.

“A year ago, I didn’t even know if I had a job. It feels good to have a secure job finally. And having that with the support of your family is the best feeling ever.”

Despite all the hardships that Dean has faced, he maintains an extremely positive outlook toward life.

“Nobody dreams of becoming a trash man when they grow up. But you’ve just got to have a positive outlook towards everything in life. And that’s what I do. I just work hard and do my best and try and enjoy what I am doing.”

Dean is an integral part of Duke in his own small way. Not only do his hard work and dedication make the living experience for freshman living in GA a much more comfortable one, but his positive attitude towards life can also become an inspiration for many. His jovial demeanor while at work is something that all of us can learn from. As I followed him around while he was pushing along his trash cart he turned to me and remarked with a grin, “Now I know what Kanye West feels like.”

And he is never one to shy away from giving deep insights on life.

“You can learn so many things from the people you meet. Every day is a learning experience.” And then he suddenly turned to me and said with a smile, “You didn’t expect the trash man to be so profound, did you?”

Sanjeev Dasgupta is a freshman from New Delhi, India. While he loves many things about America, he still does not get the fascination with peanut butter, particularly (in his opinion) the adulteration of chocolate with peanut butter.


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