Popoola takes on project to make custodians feel welcomed

Dean Popoola
Dean Popoola

"Namaste" translates as "good morning" in Hindi. "Shokran" is Arabic for "thank you."

Those are just two foreign language phrases Deen Popoola has learned in recognition of UNL's diverse custodial staff — which includes 215 employees speaking nearly 60 different languages. Popoola, director of custodial services, decided to learn how to say "good morning" and "thank you" in the workers' native tongues as a way to make them feel more welcome.

"It is so wonderful when you hear someone speak your language," Popoola said. "It just uplifts your spirits."

That's a lesson he learned growing up an immigrant in the United States. Popoola was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He came to the United States with his brothers and sisters to further their education.

Popoola, who has called the United States home for the past 40 years, knows the custodial department is a starting point for many foreigners who venture to America. He saw his position as an opportunity to uplift his employees' spirits by communicating with them in their native language.

"When the staff performs above and beyond, how do you say thank you? Or, when you go out to a building, how do you say good morning to someone from a different part of the world," Popoola said. "I realized for the director of this department, it is very important to learn how to say little words from different languages being spoken just to show these people that we care."

- Sara Nelson, Facilities, Management and Planning