In January, I got the news that no one living through this pandemic wants to receive. I had tested positive for Covid-19. Despite the fact that I am relatively young, healthy and have no preexisting health conditions, it was still scary. I was still unable to stop the tears from coming once I hung up the phone with the physician. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. 

Would I be able to work? 

What if I got really sick? 

Would I get time off if I was too sick to work? 

Would I have to drain my sick leave to do so?

I work virtually right now which is good because it meant I hadn’t had an opportunity to expose any of my coworkers in the office. However, I was feeling really ill and I wasn’t sure how time off for Covid would work when I didn’t have to physically go into the office every day anyway. More questions. 

For answers to my questions, I called Human Resources and was directed to the person who could help me - Kim McKown. 

Kim McKown

Kim McKown has been an employee at Arkansas Tech since October of 2020. She was hired in the midst of the pandemic. Prior to being hired at ATU, she had 20 years of human resources experience under her belt but found herself working at a grocery store at the time. She was no stranger to the toll the pandemic was taking on people. As a front-line worker, she had witnessed the look of panic and fear on the faces of customers as supplies ran low and ran out since the early days of the virus. Like many of us, Kim has lost people she cares about to Covid. 

Kim didn’t always know she wanted to work in human resources. She obtained a degree in accounting and was en route to take her CPA exam and become an accountant when her love and passion for helping people drew her to the world of HR. This is why working remotely, although necessary to keep her and the rest of her office safe, has been one of the most difficult aspects of this experience for Kim. She misses the interaction and the community that comes with seeing your coworkers day in and day out. 

I was nervous when I made the call that day to HR. I was hired full-time by the university in June of 2020 so I hadn't acquired all that much sick leave yet and I was scared that I was going to drain what little I had accumulated to cover my time off to battle Covid. I don't know if Kim was able to hear the anxiety in my voice or not but from the moment she answered the phone, Kim treated me with respect and empathized with me.

She informed me that, although the university isn't legally obligated to do so any longer, ATU continues to provide Covid leave allowing employees to take the necessary time off to recover if they contract the virus. She reassured me that I didn't need to worry about my paycheck and reminded me that the most important thing was my health and safety. She continued to remind me of this in the emails she sent to check on me over the course of the next few weeks.

Kim oversees various types of leave including maternity, paternity and medical leave. Processing Covid leave is what takes up the majority of her time right now. She works with employees who test positive to ensure they are able to take the necessary time off to recover and to still receive a paycheck. There are many moving parts to this process and Kim has to interact with other offices to ensure the proper paperwork is completed and gets where it needs to go.

Like much of the country, Kim’s job is not easy right now but what gets her through the tough days is knowing that she truly is helping people. Because employees come to her at a time when they are vulnerable and she is able to express compassion and help take at least one burden off their shoulders, once the employees have recovered, they share a special bond with Kim.

I can personally attest to Kim’s kindness, helpfulness and compassion at a time when I felt vulnerable and afraid. When she arrived at ATU, Kim brought with her not only 20 years of HR experience but also the same compassion and empathy she expressed for the stressed-out and scared customers at the grocery store. 

You can make a difference

Throughout this experience and my interaction with Kim, I was reminded that this pandemic truly affects us all. Not only healthcare and the traditional frontline workers who come to mind when we think of those impacted but each of us is facing new challenges and are rising to the occasion.

Kim wasn't the only one to show me kindness and compassion. In addition to covering my responsibilities at work, my coworkers texted me every day throughout the course of my illness to check on me and see if there was anything they could do to help. Kim isn't an outlier at ATU. She is the standard.

There are many Kims out there across our campus and at every organization and business in the country. People who may not be able to change the pandemic, but who, through expressing kindness, compassion and support are able to make life a bit easier for their fellow human beings.

By: Carly Ashlock
Carly is the Digital Media Coordinator for the Arkansas Tech Office of University Marketing and Communication.