“I’m most proud of our workers,” said Bill Pecor, Manager of Facilities Operations and Building Services. “Everyone pulled together. Everyone’s done a superb job. We are here to promote safety to our students and staff and we go above and beyond as much as possible. Our workers are the backbone to this Covid response.” Bill, whose job and passion are to make our campus not only safe, but beautiful as well, is proud of his team and their response to the health pandemic of our time. Having spent so many years managing the building operations of the UConn campus in West Hartford, Bill is proud to be in Hartford and embraces the advantages of being there. “Being in Hartford has increased our community services and connections. Our facilities team plays an important part in executing campus events,” said Bill. Dear Bill, thank you for aligning your team with our campus values and supporting our engagement activities while maintaining our campus grounds in pristine shape. We know you love to travel but cannot during this long moment, so we hope your sweet pets and love for hiking and Oculus Quest virtual reality are keeping your spirits high.
Do you know which film won Best Picture at the 1991 Oscars? Or who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948? Don’t ask Google or Alexa, ask Steve Pasternack, our campus security guard. Steve, who is a keen storyteller and cinephile, may be the only face everyone sees on a daily basis when they walk into campus. When asked what he likes most about UConn Hartford, he couldn’t pick just one thing. “I like the building. I enjoy the staff, and most of all, I love the diversity of our students. I’m impressed by their honesty.” Steve is a fascinating individual and storyteller with a tenacious memory. When enrolled at the Yale Graduate School, where he studied theater, he aspired to be a stage director. He was a recipient of the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, which earned him the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center, which he did. When we asked what it’s like being on campus during the pandemic, he answers, “It’s like Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ painting.” Look it up, you’ll understand. Steve, thank you for your support and your stories.
Do you have a piece of advice for the students, staff, and faculty you work with? “Did you try restarting your computer? It is surprising how well it works,” says Josh Forest, Director of Hartford Information Technology Services. Good jokes aside, Josh and his IT team are our emergency response system to all things computers and digital connection. What is your favorite part of the job? “Everything is changing so rapidly and there is so much to learn and we get to learn it on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.” And how has the pandemic affected his role? “We had trouble getting people to buy into the Webex tool, but now most have mastered it and have a new tool in their tool box.” What Josh misses most about the job is grabbing a coffee from a local shop and taking a walk through Bushnell Park or over to the riverfront. Most importantly, Josh’s wife, whom he says is his role model, and who also is a nurse, gave birth to their daughter over the course of the pandemic. Josh, congrats to you and your growing family, and we thank you for responding to our tech needs at the speed of, like, really great internet.
“Disability is another form of diversity,” says Katie Halbruner, Regional Campus Coordinator, Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD). Katie and her partner welcomed a baby girl in April and we would like some life management tips from her! Of the 4,000 students registered with CSD across all campuses, Katie oversees about 300 students across the Hartford and Avery campuses, including graduate students, helping them to identify their disability or condition in order to optimize their access to resources. “My favorite part of my role is seeing that access can be granted.” The CSD has seen an increase in student registrations and the naming of anxiety and depression as conditions, which may have a lot to do with the pandemics of our time. “We typically assume students will need extra time for test-taking, but this semester we’ve worked more on course modifications, especially with asynchronous classes. Creating the environment to be successful at home is difficult. I’m also connecting with students more frequently. Sometimes I meet students whose accommodations don’t make too much of an impact, but through connecting with me, I’m able to connect them with other resources.” That is how access is made and thank you, Katie, for being a gateway, connecting our students to the most critical resources we could offer them.
“Students make connections with the people here, and not with the center. It’s our student coaches, interns, and mentors who keep these students coming back,” says Ada Rivera, Assistant Director of Academic Support, Hartford Academic Achievement Center (AAC). The mission of the AAC is to help students achieve the grades they want! The AAC does this by creating programs that help students with personal and academic goals, developing effective study strategies, and aiding in personal transitions through the university setting. In order to support students in the transition to virtual platforms, “we’ve been taking a more holistic approach to education,” said Ada. “Students are more overwhelmed and isolated and it’s important for them to know that all of our programs are online. More than before we are hearing from students, ‘I don’t belong here,’ and ‘this is too hard,’ and on top of that – Zoom fatigue. The brain is in crisis mode instead of learning mode. At the AAC, we are socially distant, but we want our students to know that they do not need to be isolated or tackle the semester on their own.” In spite of the conditions, what has deeply moved Ada has been the resiliency of students. “Sometimes, as instructors, we forget what it’s like to be a student and how challenging it is to learn in a completely different learning mode. Having one of my students earn a 3.5 GPA and get accepted into law school during a pandemic is a major accomplishment for that student and a reflection of our work here in the AAC.” And when Ada isn’t saving the world, she is enjoying aromatherapy, reading, solving crossword puzzles, and snuggling up to the Hallmark Channel. Thank you and rest up, dear Ada, we’ll need you again come Spring semester.
We have never been more keen to the importance of our essential staff, from the custodial staff who keep our spaces clean and sanitized, to the IT staff who have assuaged our fears about navigating the digital world – from home – to the student support services staff who work tirelessly to keep our students on the path to success. Pictured above are, from left to right – Jan, Victoria, Luz, Yessika, Patricia, Maria, and Ciro – who made sure our campus was ready for all those who would enter it. We would like to also thank the team members not pictured above – Hector, Keyanna, and Richard – who were on a much needed vacation. The work our custodial staff performs to ensure safety and peace of mind for our learning community has been taken for granted, but the unprecedented times have illuminated their importance to our success. Thank you, team, for the daily embraces in too many languages to list and for keeping our campus safe!
Our maintenance staff are true community liaisons. Not only do they ensure that our restored campus that was once the Hartford Times is maintained and preserved for cohorts of students to come, they also work with local businesses and institutions to make sure our campus grounds are accessible for all. From left to right are Dale, Michael, and Mark. These colleagues also help in the revival of the Carol Sing tradition by helping to complete the process of putting up those holiday lights that vine up and across the granite columns and facade of our campus and light up our corner of the city. Dale, Michael, and Mark love having the campus in Hartford and shared with us the many wonderful memories each have experienced growing up in and around the Hartford area and while working here. They do miss the crowds of curious students and the conversations they’d have with them. Needless to say, Dale, Michael, and Scott, we miss them, too, and we cannot wait to return to the glory that is our beautiful campus that you all have kept in the best of condition.
Our dear Nicole Williams’ motto: “Teamwork makes the dream work” and “It’s not ‘me,’ it’s ‘we’.” Nicole, who is the lead on Client Services and Bursar functions, has been a part of the UConn Hartford staff for nearly 17 years. She attended UConn, was a student employee, and has been an anchoring staff member for the Hartford campus when it comes to processing student payments, scholarships, and helping them rectify the holds on their accounts. This semester, unlike any before, Nicole’s job was made more difficult by not interacting with students in person and not being able to process their documents on a daily basis. We know of a freshman student who depended on a scholarship to purchase his books and was having trouble beginning the process. A staff member directed the student to Nicole, who managed to get his scholarship deposited within a week. Nicole’s best advice to students?: “Ask questions,” she said. “No question is a stupid question! I am here to answer all your fee bill questions or at least point you in the right direction.” Having spent most of her life at UConn, we asked her what her favorite memory is. Nicole’s response was: First Nights! “I’ve attended every First Night until my son was born. I remember one of those first nights, they were shooting shirts into the crowd, and girl, I jumped up like I was rebounding a basketball, boxed my friends out, to catch that shirt, which I did.” Nicole, we know you keep all the ‘thank you’ cards you receive from students and their families in your desk drawer. By now, that drawer is overflowing. We, your colleagues, offer you another thank you for relieving students of their fee bill fears.