The student screamed. Literally screamed.
Carla Mason was in doing her custodial work in Hooper Hall when she heard the howl of misery and saw the girl run into the restroom.
“I followed her. She went on into the stall and I stood there and I waited for her,” Mason recalls. “She came out and she was still screaming and I just grabbed her and held her. I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘I’ve had a really bad day.’
“I just talked to her and rubbed her back and held her and she finally did calm down. And she said, ‘I needed that. I so needed that. Thank you so much.’”
Call them the “unofficial ambassadors” of UTC. The custodians. The groundskeepers. The maintenance workers. The cashiers and many others. They’re on campus almost every day, out among the students, seeing and being seen, sometimes becoming more familiar to students than anyone else on campus, including faculty. Smiling, waving, chatting and, in cases like Mason, even hugging and comforting.
“We’re all here obviously because of the students. We have no problem taking a minute, two minutes, out of our day if we can direct somebody in the right direction,” says Chris Charland, who has been at UTC for 19 years and is now campus services supervisor in charge of landscaping, the motor pool and general maintenance.
“And we’re not only there for directions,” he continues. “I know that, through the course of the years, there may be a student that’s having a bad day. And I’ve personally talked with my guys (to give students) any bit of comfort or guidance in any way, shape or form. Maybe just listen to them for a minute. We’re here for them.”
Dr. Richard Brown, executive vice chancellor of operations and finance, says campus staff “care so deeply about the campus community.”
“They take great pride in helping to deliver the overall mission of the university,” he says. “They understand that the quality of their work is also a reflection of the academic excellence delivered to our students. They are indeed important members of our UTC family.”
Lauren Croteau, a sophomore in English, has experienced the personal attention of service workers when she was approached by a custodian from Lockmiller housing, where Croteau lives.
The custodian asked, “How are things between you and your roommate?’ because there had been some drama,” Croteau recalls. “They’re really concerned with you as people and I think that’s valuable.”
Eliott Geary, a junior in English, praises UTC’s service workers and the dedication they have to their daily jobs, but his respect goes beyond that.
“They are parts of the community and as crucial a part of the community as anyone else on campus, as the professors, as the students, as anyone,” he says.
Seeing them so often, you develop a connection, he explains. Case in point, the maintenance workers who take care of Lockmiller, where he also lives.
“If there’s someone you need call into your home frequently, there needs to be a certain level of trust,” Geary says. “To walk into our home—often when no one is around—requires someone who is familiar with the campus and who has a reputation on the campus.”
Carla Mason says two of her children went away to college, so she understands the fears and stress that some students feel when they’re away from home, maybe for the first time in their lives.
“You can just see in their faces when they’re lost. That’s like the first thing we say, ‘Can we help you?’
At heart—her heart—she’s a friend and a mother figure.
“I show them a smiling face and whatever else they need. I tell them, ‘Come to me if you just need to get it off your chest, I’m here.’
“We do it from the heart. It’s just something that we do.”