Cristhian Gonzalez De La Fuente is 2023 Staff Employee of the Year for human relations

UNC Charlotte is known for its beautiful campus and landscaping. As one student noted, “After touring various colleges that offered the programs I was interested in, Charlotte stood out to me the most. My immediate impression was how manicured the landscape was, and I figured if they cared this much about their grass, then they’ll definitely take care of their students.”

The beautiful landscaping on campus is thanks to Cristhian Gonzalez De La Fuente and the hardworking grounds team. Gonzalez De La Fuente is the 2023 Staff Employee of the Year winner in the category of human relations. This award is given to an employee who has made outstanding contributions toward enhancing the quality and morale of the workplace or creating a better public image of the University or State government.

Gonzalez De La Fuente has worked in facilities management as the grounds crew leader for residence life, central campus, parking areas and the Popp Martin Student Union. His team’s tasks include mowing and trimming, planting and maintaining greenery. With nearly 20 years of service at UNC Charlotte, Gonzalez De La Fuente has excelled in leadership, organization and going above and beyond not only working the grounds, but generously serving and building relationships with the UNC Charlotte community.

His day starts at 5:30 a.m., planning for the day, ensuring that all work is coordinated beforehand, checking in with his team regularly and completing a large number of tasks.

His team maintains 60 to 80 acres of campus property. With a shortage of workers, Gonzalez De La Fuente combined two grounds crews into one to more efficiently take care of residence life properties and central campus. Despite the challenge, he helps his team use their resources efficiently. Gonzalez De La Fuente doesn’t sit on the sidelines. He believes in leading with his actions.

“I’m the leader.” said Gonzalez De La Fuente. “I do a little bit in the office, but I’m always out there.”

He also advocates for intentional communication as a key part of leading and building relationships. He’d rather talk to you face-to-face than send an email.

“I’m very sociable,” he said. “I value communication, and it’s the best way to meet people’s needs.”

Dan Baughman, grounds supervisor, nominated Gonzalez De La Fuente, writing about his dedication.

“Cristhian is the first employee in and the last out — literally locking the doors when he departs.” explained Baughman. “He is known for his daily acts of kindness — whether tracking down an individual to return lost items found on our grounds or watching over children waiting on campus for a school bus.”

Gonzalez De La Fuente recalled a time when he and his team trimmed unruly shrubs in front of the Colvard Building. Before doing so, he checked with those in the Colvard office on how much they wanted trimmed, as some people prefer the privacy the shrubs provided. Another instance involved shrub removal where a building employee expressed gratitude as she could see out of her office window for the first time in more than a decade.

“Cristhian cares deeply about his team, his work and the purpose of the University — and he has been an exceptional performer for nearly 20 years,” wrote Baughman. “His supervisors describe how he works incredibly hard through the day until he reaches physical exhaustion — and he still proclaims that he needs to do more.”

Another way he cares for the community is using his Spanish-speaking skills to translate training manuals and other human resources materials from English to Spanish.

Many people have been touched by Gonzalez De La Fuente’s kindness or the beautiful landscaping he and his team maintains. One of Gonzalez De La Fuente’s goals is to make sure the employees behind it are recognized.

“Cristhian expressed a need to leadership to recognize more employees who work behind-the-scenes,” wrote Baughman. “His work to create a beautiful physical environment is a source of pride for our community of 34,000 students and employees. This is how Cristhian serves the community — by creating beauty for all to enjoy.”

His efforts for employees’ work to be seen led to the creation of FM’s Unsung Hero Award, which he received along with Golden Nugget and Customer Service Champion awards.

All winners will be recognized at UNC Charlotte’s Staff Employee of the Year event held Thursday, May 4.