Panel discussion provides chance for staff, students to connect

“Working @ Williams 5-2,” a panel featuring five College staff members, took place Thursday morning as one of many Claiming Williams events.

Working @ Williams 5 to 2
“Working @ Williams 5-2” allowed students to learn more about the College’s Facilities staff. Photo by Sevonna Brown.

Lysa Vola ’13, who has worked with Facilities as a Baxter Fellow and as an employee for Dining Services for the past three years, moderated the discussion.

The panel was made up of Lisa Remillard, landscape gardener; Marco Oliva, a lead custodian who has formerly worked in Dining Services; Jimmy Menard, groundskeeper; Pete Haig, foreman of the mechanical trades shop; and Rob Bayly, who started his career at the College in Campus Safety and Security and is now a campus recycler.

The panel was inspired by The Philosopher Kings, a 2008 movie about college campus custodians, according to Vola. She went on to say that the panel was only the beginning of a longer-term project of helping students at the College learn about the perspectives of staff members on campus.

Vola started Thursday’s discussion by asking all panelists to introduce themselves before raising direct questions to begin the discussion.

The first thing the panel members talked about was what they do when they are not working at the College.  Answers ranged from kayaking to watching sports to even, in Oliva’s case, working at local restaurant Desperado’s. Menard and Oliva told a few stories about how they used to be neighbors and how Oliva’s mom taught Menard to speak Spanish. When asked what they wish people at the College knew about them, Haig emphasized that the staff is “a typical cross-section of people.”

Vola then asked the panelists what they liked best about their jobs. “The variety,” Menard said. Oliva agreed, adding that he enjoys interacting with the students.

The question was followed by a discussion of the most difficult aspect of working on a college campus. Haig said that timing is the hardest part: On a college campus, where people both live and work, it is much more difficult to find times when people, mainly students, will not be bothered by some of the work of the staff members.

An audience member pushed further, asking how students can make the staff’s lives easier. Remillard suggested that students smile and say hello, or grab a shovel and help out, she joked. “Slow down and enjoy life a little bit more,” she said.

“When you have a party, clean up!” Oliva said.

Haig turned the question on the audience, and someone called out, “You do a great job!”

The audience also raised questions about the staff’s working schedules. Oliva was asked about whether he disliked how early he has to start work in Facilities. “I like working early in the morning,” he said. ”That way I can get out early in the afternoon.” On the other hand, when Bayly was asked about the 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. Security shift, he used to cover, he called it awful.

An audience member asked the panel to speak on the social dynamics among the staff members. “Most of us know each other,” Menard said. Oliva, having worked in both Facilities and Dining Services, said he knows a number of people on staff. Bayly, on the other hand, as a staff member who did not grow up in Williamstown and has not worked in the more social areas of the staff, said he has not met many of his colleagues.

One of the staff members in the audience volunteered that he plays “a lot of golf” and suggested that staff members should choose activities that get them involved. He said he learned “all the hottest stuff” from the students, which he said has been helpful to him in terms of raising his kids.

Remillard said that as the “only girl among 18 men” in gardening, she spends less time with her coworkers outside of work.

Haig echoed many of his coworkers’ statements regarding personal relationships at work, saying that, “in the electronic age, [there is] less face-to-face contact,” during the workday.

The audience then asked the panelists whether they go to school events, and several said they attend both plays and a variety of sports events. Haig went on to lament the loss of regular concerts in Chapin.

Vola was met with a very positive response when she asked the staff if they ever feel underappreciated. “At least [the students] try,” Oliva said, while an audience staff member said that “this group [of students] has been a lot better than last year” in terms of cleaning up after themselves. In terms of what students could do better, Menard and Remillard asked that students leave their trays in the dining halls and do not leave beer bottles in the shrubs.

Overall, however, the staff expressed that they have a good relationship with the student body. “I’ve never been disrespected by a student since I’ve been here,” Haig said.

When Vola asked for more general comments on panelists’ jobs, the responses were again positive. “I love my job,” Remillard said. “I get to work outside every day.”  Oliva said the worst experience in his job is walking into a bathroom and finding someone got sick.

Menard said his saddest moment was the loss of an alumna during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but otherwise, he “hadn’t really had a bad moment.”

Thursday’s chance to come together and discuss the staff-student relationship was also recognized by participants. “[It is] nice to see us all together,” Bayly noted.

Faculty and students in the audience then went on to praise their own experiences with staff members to the audience. Vola concluded the event with a few remarks of her own, stating that sometimes it seems as though certain staff members know her better than her own family does.