Chemistry Store Storekeeper
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As a research university, it’s essential for Oregon State University to have easy and consistent access to laboratory supplies like chemicals and protective equipment at all times. The OSU Chemistry Store provides those essentials to all Oregon State entities as well as state agencies and Oregon public school districts.
But when COVID-19 struck, there was a major shift in the supply chain, making access to supplies much more difficult. Sierra Hansen has been the storekeeper at the OSU Chemistry Store since 2018, combining her science degree with a decade of retail experience. She said things shifted in the store in February when suddenly items that they normally kept in stock were indefinitely backordered.
“It seemed as we struggled and managed to get one item in, another item would pop up with a nationwide shortage,” she said. “We have been able to adapt and have not been set back too much by these shortages but it has been rough.”
One of the first solutions the Chemstore team came up with was producing sanitizer in-house for Oregon State units to purchase. They created both a surface and a hand sanitizer, made available in spray bottles and with a ‘bring your own bottle’ option. So far, the store has supplied 2,700 gallons of sanitizer, including 2,400 16 ounce bottles of surface sanitizer for University Housing & Dining Services, 4,000 32 ounce bottles of surface cleaner for the resumption team to use in kits handed out to those coming back to work on campus, and more than 200 gallons of hand sanitizer for Facilities to use in their dispensers.
“Overall we have produced 1,968 gallons of surface sanitizer and 733 gallons of hand sanitizer,” Hansen said. “This is the equivalent to filling 64 standard sized bath tubs.”
Chemstores became a central distribution point for the College of Science, including personal protective equipment and technology checkout, and distribution of other materials being handed out by the college. Store staff also received mail and packages for Printing & Mailing Services when their office was not open. This included feed for lab animals and samples on ice.
Meg Larsen, occupational safety and health specialist with U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service said her organization relies heavily on the OSU Chemistry store.
“At any given time we have about 140 federal employees in addition to OSU employees, OSU undergraduate and OSU graduate students,” Larsen said. “Many of these employees are essential and perform critical functions. Their ability to perform their job can be directly related to Sierra’s hard work to see that our ethanol needs have been met. The national shortage of disinfectants, spray bottles, and PPE highlight how critical her efforts have been in allowing us to continue our research during this difficult time.”
Larsen said their scientists, maintenance workers and administrative staff are safer at work because Hansen helped troubleshoot difficulties in the supply chain, and also made sure that they are in compliance with the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard by providing appropriate safety labeling.
For Hansen, the pandemic has reaffirmed how vital her team and her office is to the university.
“I think what has been the most rewarding is seeing firsthand how much of an impact the Chemstores has had for OSU,” said Hansen. “Without our sanitizer and supplies, many of the critical departments and essential research would have had a very hard time staying open and functioning throughout COVID. It is very humbling to be a small part of what has held this campus together through these stressful times.”
~ Theresa Hogue