Editor’s Note — This is part of a Women’s History Month series featuring women who make a positive impact on the campus community through their work as office/service employees. The Women of Service series is organized by the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Stories will run in Nebraska Today through March 30.
At a time when the university was divided by pandemic, Nebraska’s Tracy Oehlerking provided a sense of community for students, faculty and staff in the Schorr Center.
A custodian in the South Memorial Stadium facility, Oehlerking has worked at Dear Old Nebraska U for more than three years. She had previous careers in cosmetology, sales and real estate before finding her passion cleaning on campus.
“At a friend’s suggestion and urging, I applied for custodial work at the university,” Oehlerking said. “I can honestly say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I love keeping things clean for the students, faculty and staff.”
Normally, Oehlerking’s work keeps her away from the campus spotlight. However, her on-campus presence during the COVID-19 pandemic was a welcome site to Huskers in the Schorr Center.
“Traci is a shining light that provided a sense of normalcy in what has been a turbulent some turbulent years,” said Brittany Duncan, associate professor in the School of Computing, “She was regularly at the Schorr Center keeping up with students, staff and faculty. She always goes out of her way to support our mission and make sure that we have a clean, pleasant workspace.”
Along with her Schorr Center duties, Oehlerking worked two times in the university’s isolation housing unit, keeping it clean for students recovering from COVID-19 infections.
Today, with cases declining and the university returning to normal operations, Oehlerking looks forward to working the Huskers’ home football games, handling the day-to-day challenges of her job, and connecting with students, faculty and staff.
“I love being part of such a diverse community and getting to know where many of the students, staff and faculty come from, and learning what their culture is like,” Oehlerking said.
The Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women reached out to get to know Oehlerking and learn more about her dedication to students, faculty and staff at Nebraska U. Her interview follows.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m originally from Scottsbluff and moved to Lincoln in 1985 to attend the College of Hair Design. I earned licenses in cosmetology and barbering. I was a hairstylist until 2010 when some health issues set me back. Needing a change of pace, I took courses to become a real estate agent. While trying my hand at that, I worked at a gas station/convenience store to make ends meet. Realizing that I didn’t care for real estate, I went back into the salon for a couple of years while working at the gas station. After five years of the gas station and not wanting to build a hair clientele again — and at a friend’s suggestion and urging — I applied for custodial work at the university. I can honestly say, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I love keeping things clean, so it’s been a perfect fit.
How long have you been at UNL?
A little over 3 1/2 years
What do you look forward to when you come to work?
More often than not, I know what I will be doing for the day. But, as a custodian working in an academic setting, anything can happen. Being trained and holding a position as a custodial specialist qualifies me to be on call during work hours in case there is a flood, someone becomes ill or has a bloody nose. I’m able to take those calls and do the clean-up that each entails.
I look forward to the challenges that can arise on a moment’s notice. I also love being part of such a diverse community and getting to know where many of the students, staff and faculty come from and learning what their culture is like.
What is your favorite memory at UNL?
This isn’t so much a memory but I’ve had the opportunity to work the football games and really enjoy the excitement surrounding those days. There really is nothing better than being part of game day in Nebraska because the Sea of Red is beyond spectacular. This past season, I had the pleasure of working with a newer custodian that isn’t from Nebraska and who isn’t really a football fan. Let me tell you, she had goosebumps and seemed to really get into it all — but, how could you not!
What is your life like outside of work?
I maintain a 101 year old bungalow that I share with two cats — Neala, who is 18 years old, and CG, 8 years old. Just keeping them fed, their litter scooped and trying to keep my house from becoming a fur ball keeps me busy. I’ve been working on some landscaping projects these last few years and continue to add things to problem spots to make the lawncare easier.
I enjoy cooking when I have the time, and going to the riverboat casinos a couple of times a year with friends. I go to physical therapy two or three days a week due to a leg fracture I suffered last year. It caused me to be off work for three months. It’s been a long road back, but I’m slowly getting there. Looking forward to warm weather again to get together with friends more often for grilling and hanging out.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I have six older siblings. making me the baby of the family. I also have 14 nieces and nephews and 16 great nieces/nephews.