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Navigating cultures Venturing across cultures can be nerve-racking, but Skiddies aren't staying home
Staff of life Meet the staff that students lean on every day


Staff of life

Lost keys, late snacks, club startups… Skidmore’s 470 nonteaching staff members help students through it all, making campus life a little better, day after day.
Photos by Mark McCarty

Associate director, Campus Safety

Years on job: 5

Past life: New York State trooper, 23 years

All in a day’s work: We’re service-oriented. I hesitate to call it “community policing,” but a lot of what we do is education—reminders about fire safety, lock your room, don’t walk at night alone. We provide personal escorts and battery jump-starts, and respond to lockouts.

Time and again: Noise and odor complaints are high on the list of calls we get—they’re pretty prevalent on weekend nights.

Students: It’s rewarding when we can help students—in any way. They come in and ask, “Where’s a good restaurant?” or “Where can I get my car fixed?” I like to work with people and have a successful resolution—that’s what I strive for. I think the students look at us as wet blankets on their fun. They’d like to come here and do whatever they want, without consequences. But they can’t, and they don’t want to listen to that. They don’t quite get the connection between their behavior and liability on the part of the college. We don’t enjoy breaking up parties and giving parking tickets. We try to encourage conversations with the students. We’re making inroads, but it’s tough.

Thumbs up: It’s interesting to watch the students. There’s a real maturity process that takes place from when they arrive as freshmen to when they graduate. You can see a change in their attitude toward life.

Guess what: My daughter Tiffany, a dance and business double-major, graduated from Skidmore in May.

Executive secretary, Student Affairs

Years on job: 25

Past life: Stenographer at the New York State Education Department, 10 years

All in a day’s work: The students are my life, whether it’s student government leaders, or kids who’ve done something wrong, or kids who need help in any way. The only thing I don’t like is having to give bad news. I’ve helped them with the yearbook, the freshman face book, and other projects. A lot of my kids—the ones I work closely with—call me Ma, and we stay in touch after they graduate. I’ve got kids (and now grandkids) in just about every city I can think of. Those sticky notes around my computer screen? They’re mostly phone numbers for alumni.

Time and again: Every summer I work on the freshman pre-orientation in the Adirondacks. I run the program, hire the peer advisors and the student coordinator, set up their training.

Students: I love their diversity—some are loud, some are shy, some are science majors, some write poems; they have every hobby and interest and talent. I love watching them evolve into successful adults. To this day, they are without a doubt some of my best friends.

Thumbs up: I get wonderful hugs—from current students and from alumni who come to see me. Just the other day, I had lunch with an ’87 graduate.

Guess what: I own brother and sister basset hounds, Laurel and Hardy; they recently turned twelve years old.

Bus driver, Transportation

Years on job: 7

Past life: Skidmore groundskeeper, 9 years; framing carpenter, 10 years

All in a day’s work: I go anywhere within a hundred-mile radius—mostly for the teams and for field trips. At Commencement I bring a few students to SPAC, and on Reunion weekend I drive alumni into town, for dinners and tours of the old campus. I do a lot of transportation for the summer programs too, and sometimes drive the shuttle from Case Center to
Moore Hall.

Time and again: People [not from Skidmore] see a white bus at the airport and they just get on, thinking it’s a shuttle. Or a taxi—one woman kept telling me her street address.

Students: I like meeting the students, they’re pretty friendly. And I look out for them when I drop them off, especially at night. The ones who really need the bus—because they don’t have other transportation—they’re usually the ones who say Hi and Thanks. For the Moorebid Ball at Halloween, the kids all take the bus to Moore Hall, wearing their costumes. I’ve also driven them to the Junior Ring dance at the Hall of Springs, when they’re all dressed up—nicely.

Thumbs up: What I drive is a glorified school bus: it’s got air-conditioning, a tape deck, reclining seats, overhead compartments, and storage space in the back for the teams’ equipment. But it still has the same suspension as a school bus!

Guess what: I’ve been a drummer for forty-five years; it’s my alias. I play in two bands: Big Medicine (Celtic, rock) and the Stony Creek Band (folk, country, bluegrass).

Housekeeper, Facilities Services

Years on job: 15

Past life: Seamstress at clothing factory, 14 years

All in a day’s work: I’ve worked in many of the buildings on campus, including the dining-hall kitchen, Palamountain, Dana. I put in a lot of overtime, and I’ve worked different shifts. But mostly I’ve been cleaning the dorms, especially Penfield, for a long time.

Time and again: In the past we used some very strong cleaning chemicals; once I got splashed in the eye. The disinfectants and cleaners are less dangerous lately, but still, I’m very careful.

Students: The best part of my job is meeting people, getting to know the students. They’re interesting, different, and really nice.

Thumbs up: Working overtime pays for my trips abroad. My husband is an adventurer and likes history and antiques. He got me hooked on traveling. We’ve been to Ireland, and to Paris twice… We talked our way into Jordan and Israel… Thailand was beautiful… In St. Kitts we saw plantation ruins and learned about the slave era. I wanted to experience a Muslim culture, so recently we went to Turkey, which I really loved. Argentina, where they’re very politically active, was interesting. One winter we went to Tahiti, and this summer it was Moscow.

Guess what: My husband’s grandmothers—Mrs. Callahan and Mrs. Thompson—were dorm housemothers on Skidmore’s old campus.

Cashier, Skidmore Shop

Years on job: 17

Past life: Elementary-school cafeteria cashier, 10 years

All in a day’s work: I tell new students where they can find a dentist or a hardware store in town. I tell their parents where to eat. I feed the dogs too—a lot of students who live off campus bring in their animals, so I started keeping dog biscuits behind the counter. When they come in, they make a beeline
for the register.

Time and again: There used to be a lot of cash transactions; now the students use debit cards, so it’s much faster and you handle a lot less money.

Students: I bake for them—about fifteen students a year. I make brownies, cinnamon bread, and banana bread. The main purpose is it makes my little apartment smell good and keeps it warm. They love their baked goods. One of them will go to class with a piece of cinnamon bread, and another will say, “Where’d you get that?” Yes, I do get thank-you notes; I even get flowers. They also ask me to go to their soccer games, their theater performances. I had a student who invited me for dinner in Scribner Village—and I made dinner for her. I had another one ask me how to sew his sleeping bag. I said, “You bring in a needle and thread, and I’ll show you. And he did.” I stay in touch with some who have graduated—by telephone or letter.

Thumbs up: I love the students. They’re super. We get along great, and they keep me feeling young.

Guess what: I was 58 when I got brave and got a tattoo: Winnie the Pooh, on my right ankle.

Third cook, Dining Services

Years on job: 6

Past life: Cook on a US Navy communications ship, 6 years

All in a day’s work: I like working in the kitchen, focusing on my cooking skills (I have an associate’s degree in culinary arts); but I’m a people person, so I also like the customer service of cooking to order—say, the omelets. With a bunch of omelets at once, after I fold them up I can’t see what’s inside, so I keep track of them by giving each one a number. You listen for your number and you get the omelet with the right fillings. I cook a lot of other things too, for regular meals and for catering year-round.

Time and again: On a typical Saturday or Sunday we probably make 200 omelets to order. We open at 11, then there’s a surge around noon and another rush just before we close at 3.

Students: I serve the students, but I also work with a lot of them in their work-study jobs. It’s like watching a flower in the bud, the way they develop. When they arrive, they’re just over the threshold from being high-school kids, and they’re giddy. I try to advise them—I joke with them, but sometimes I’m more serious—to keep in mind what high hopes their parents have for them and what they came here for.

Thumbs up: Working with the students is sweet and sour, because you get to know them well and then they leave. (But it’s preparing me for when my fifteen-year-old son moves on.) Then every fall a new group comes in, which is good too.

Guess what: Thanks to the Navy, I’ve been all around the North Atlantic—London, Oslo, Hamburg. It’s a big world, and travel is important.