As a graduate student, Marilyn Tyus bustled about between stacks of books as she chipped away at a master’s degree in psychological counseling at Southeast Missouri State University. Between her studies, she worked at the university’s diversity office. Then she received a call. Amid campuswide staff resignations, the dean pleaded with her to switch posts and run a residence hall. As faculty and staff dwindled, dorms were left masterless and underresourced as the incoming semester loomed. Tyus promptly declined. Some students might be eager to start their college experience by plotting secret parties and sneaking in contraband. She wanted no part in it.
Morning after morning, the dean stopped by her office, pleading for her aid. Still, she said no. In an attempt to coax her into taking the position, he went on almost endlessly, listing all the job perks she could have, such as free parking, a rent-free apartment and a complimentary meal plan. Finally, Tyus asked, “Where do I sign up?”
After stints in housing services around the country, she landed at the University of Michigan. During that time, the University of California San Diego rang her daily for recruitment, but she was loyal to her dream of retiring in Michigan and had no desire to live in the Golden State. She reached out to an old friend Hemlata Jhaveri — the former vice president of housing and dining at UT — knowing that she was the right fit for the California job. Once her friend accepted the position, she nudged Tyus to fill the vacancy at UT. Without any expectations, Tyus agreed to the interview.
“I had such a great time when I came here, and you know when you know,” Tyus says. “It just felt right. And while I was planning to retire from Michigan, I just changed. And I haven’t regretted it. I haven’t regretted it one bit.”
Tyus, now associate vice president of University Housing and Dining, has seen every rung of the housing and dining ladder. With 32 years of experience, she’s learned that she loves influencing what students engage in and making a daily impact on their lives. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she recruited Erich Geiger, executive director of residential dining and Longhorn hospitality, and Keith Morrison, director of culinary, to help bring her plans to fruition.
“I loved working with students,” Tyus says. “I fell into it — literally fell into housing — and have been in housing ever since.”
She began working at UT in July 2018. One month later, an eye-opening edition of The Daily Texan hit her desk. In an article, upperclassmen were advising freshmen how to strategically eat so their Dine In Dollars would last all year. The meal plan was previously based on the Dine In Dollars system, which meant each time a student went to a dining hall, the transaction would take money from their pool.
Rushing to her team, Tyus declared within the next year that there would be an all-you-care-to-eat dining operation, ensuring that students will never have to worry about when they would or could eat next.
“I told my staff … (that students) shouldn’t have to worry about am I going to have have enough food? I shouldn’t have to worry about my students skipping breakfast so they can make sure to have dinner and lunch,” she says.
In 2019, Tyus initiated the open access plan at UT, putting all residents on the same unlimited meal plan. The undertaking required a right-hand man and a team of chefs recruited with the same fervor that her old boss showed when he first approached Tyus about the career move that rewrote her life.
The new program eased the stress on students, granting them entrance to J2 Dining, Jester City Limits and Kins Dining with no limits on how often they could visit. They can stop by for just a cup of coffee or a banana without it hurting their dining options later.