For his innovative work and management of staff at California State University, Dominguez Hills, Central Plant Operations Manager Kenny Seeton has been recognized with the university’s 2013 Management Excellence Award.
“Kenny runs our Central Plant HVAC operations, keeping everyone on campus comfortable during their busy work day. But, probably what most people don’t know about Kenny is that he also serves as the campus energy manager,” said Jonathan Scheffler, director of Physical Plant, who nominated Seeton for the award. “I believe that it is in this role that Kenny has truly added value to our university and to the students that we educate. His commitment to sustainable, energy saving projects, and more importantly, in helping to educate students on this important topic, is the main reason that I chose to nominate him for this award.”
Seeton said all the “long hours and the hard work” he has put in was well worth it and being honored with the award “means that somebody recognized that I did something that made a difference and that, in addition to my work, is very rewarding.”
However, if not for a casual conversation with a friend, his contributions might have been made under the hood of automobiles.
Growing up in Bellflower, the Lynwood native loved to tinker with cars, toasters; whatever he could get his hands on that needed fixing. As a kid he thought that becoming an automotive mechanic would make for a good career and he made it his goal.
By the time Seeton was ready to graduate from high school he had saved enough money, made a down payment toward tuition at the Arizona Automotive Institute, and was planning his first step toward his career choice. But before he made the move, a friend who worked for Hostess shared with Seeton details about working at the baking company as a maintenance mechanic.
“Working for Hostess sounded like a lot more fun than being an auto mechanic because it was so different. You get to do everything,” Seeton said in retrospect.
At 19, Seeton landed a job with the famed “Twinkie” snack cake producing plant.
“By going into the bakery, I was able to learn every trade,” he commented.
During his 27 years at Hostess, from 1985-2011, Seeton attended every possible technical seminar that was available to him, including two four-week courses in electrical and refrigeration maintenance, as well as earned a certification in maintenance engineering and another in maintenance management upon the completion of a three-month resident engineering course at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. Seeton also holds boiler and refrigeration licenses from the City of Los Angeles.
When he arrived at CSU Dominguez Hills in 2011 he brought with him myriad maintenance skills. And although these days his core responsibility is to manage projects and staff, he still relies heavily on his knowledge of machinery, equipment and maintenance systems to help ensure his “customers”—students, faculty, and staff—have work and study environments that are maintained at comfortable temperatures and have efficient and effective lighting and energy delivery.
“I really enjoy what I do now. I’m the happiest at my career here,” Seeton said. “I miss the hands on, because I’m a hands-on type of person, but between the energy management side and the central plant side, there’s plenty for me to do, from a management point of view, where I can make a difference.”
Seeton, who describes his management style as supportive, said his main goal is to make sure his staff has the right tools to do their jobs. But he also urges them to try to figure out ways to better serve the university and its faculty, staff, and students.
“I believe that if a manager just turns a blind eye to exceeding expectations then staff members feel the same way,” Seeton said. “I’d like to think that I set an example by always pushing to do more.”
Seeton and his staff have indeed discovered ways to innovate. Over the past three years, Central Plant staff have been working at making the utility systems on campus more efficient and cost effective.
One such project, and perhaps Seeton’s most significant to date, is the installation of an energy efficient lighting system. Seeton partnered with Enlighted Inc. and has completed the first phases of retrofitting lighting fixtures in portions of Welch Hall and South Academic Complex, as well as the Faculty Development Center located in the Library’s Educational Resources Center, the Social and Behavioral Sciences building’s Financial Market Trading and Business Simulation Lab, and Central Plant.
Carrying out the project with the Central Plant staff, Seeton also included students from earth sciences lecturer Judy King’s fall 2012 Natural Resources (GEO420) class, fulfilling a service-learning project as a component of the course.
To read the full story on the lighting retrofit service-learning project, click here.
Students conducted inventories of current lighting usage and researched the energy savings pros and cons of various products on the market, which contributed to the selection of a system manufactured by Enlighted. Because of corporate partnerships that Seeton has developed, Enlighted partially sponsored the project by donating sensors for SAC-2 classrooms and Southern California Edison contributed with rebates on energy costs.
Seeton points out another benefit of the lighting retrofit project.
“One of the things we’re doing now is that we worked with IT to have a server set up so that we can run all of our energy management and building automation through it. We can access the building automation system remotely controlling temperatures and lighting in 75 percent of the zones on campus from an iPad anywhere on campus, anywhere that there’s wi-fi, making troubleshooting more efficient,” he said.
Seeton also engaged students in gathering information from audits on other projects, ranging from measuring drips per hour of a leaky faucet to calculating the savings new solar LED lights could have in a parking lot on campus. He has supported students as they presented their findings on eco-friendly practices at the 2013 Student Research Day held in the Loker Student Union in February 2013.
In evidence of providing students with high-impact hands-on learning experiences, Seeton and King were invited to speak at the May 2013 California State University board meeting during which was announced the establishment of the CSU “Campus as a Living Lab” grant program to fund innovative classroom sustainability projects that merge academics and facilities management.
The bestowment of the 2013 Management Excellence Award is a testament to Seeton’s dedication, which he hopes will be a lasting legacy.
“We’re trying to upgrade the energy systems on campus, so that it could really be viable now and in the future,” Seeton said. “My goal is, years after I’m gone, people will still remember things that I did here. I want to make a positive difference and be remembered in a good way.”
Undoubtedly, he has laid the groundwork for that.