As students open the front door to their residence hall, letting the cold winter air rush in behind them, they walk past the front desk, scan their ID and head up to the warmth of their dorm.
It can seem simple, but behind the front desk students pass by every day is a staff member who is busy doing more than meets the eye as they check in guests, distribute mail and help resolve a variety of residents’ issues.
Nykasia Williams, junior psychology major, is one student who has worked as a desk staff member at Park Hall for two years. Juggling her school work, social life and extracurriculars, Williams said, she enjoys being a desk staff member because she meets new people and offers residents a helping hand.
“This job can connect you with other students who you probably would never see on a day-to-day basis,” Williams said. “You have the opportunity to put a smile on everyone’s face. It is so rewarding when parents, or even students, let you know how much of a help you have been with whatever they might need. I recommend this job for anyone who loves customer service.”
Williams said she and the other desk staff at Park Hall are “truly like a family.” Williams may not know the answer to every problem that arises, she said, but her team is always there to help her.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, interacting with residents has been a struggle due to the extra precautions put in place. For example, talking to residents and guests through a glass shield has kept Williams from engaging with them as much as she had in the past, she said.
Nevertheless, desk staff members are ready to assist with any issues their residents may have, whether they’re regarding room issues, lost keys or even pest control.
“Someone once asked how I could help them get rid of a spider problem they are having,” Williams said. “Me and spiders don’t work together well, so I kindly directed them to speak with maintenance.”
Whenever Williams works an early morning shift at the Park Hall front desk, she said, she allows herself enough time to get breakfast, and she packs extra snacks to help her stay awake if she needs an extra boost in the morning.
“Sometimes, my schedule doesn’t go exactly how I plan for it, but I am a flexible person, and I adjust accordingly,” Williams said. “Most importantly, I prioritize my time. Some weeks are heavier than others, so I have to make sure that the things that are most important I make a priority to get done before I do any extracurriculars or even go to work.”
Junior English education major Nicole Yount has also felt the pressure of the long hours as a desk staff worker, starting her day at the Studebaker East front desk at 8 a.m. or ending it working the closing midnight shifts.
To stay awake, Yount said she keeps herself as busy as possible and speaks to residents as they enter and leave the building. Her most meaningful conversations, she said, happened when international students were staying in Studebaker East, and they would ask her questions about the English language or the United States in general.
“Because of this, I became close with a few of them,” Yount said. “One evening when I was working, we were holding an event in the [multi-purpose room], and [a group of international students] had asked me what snacks and drinks I had liked that the event had. A few minutes later, they had come out with one of the drinks that I had mentioned and thanked me for helping them with their English and for being welcoming to them when they didn't know anyone."
When she completes her tasks, Yount said, she is allowed to work on her homework — while continuing to pay attention to residents walking in and out of the building — which has helped her stay on top of her school work even with her campus job.
However, Yount’s daily routine has also shifted due to the pandemic, as one of the main focuses of her job is ensuring everyone’s health is protected and the university’s rules regarding COVID-19 precautions are followed.
“We can no longer check out all of the things we could before, such as dishes and games,” Yount said. “Before the pandemic, the billiards and ping pong equipment would always be checked out. There was never a day that someone did not have them. As for what had never left, that would have to be board games like Ticket to Ride and Checkers.
“We have to stay on top of those who come in and out to ensure that all guests are checked in properly and that each person is wearing their masks. We also can no longer have our coworkers at the desk to talk, like we have previously, in order to maintain social distancing.”
As Yount comes up on working nearly two years as a desk staff worker, she said having this position has changed her life for the better, as she has learned to be more attentive to her surroundings.
“Before working at Studebaker East, I was very quiet and had a tendency to stick to myself,” Yount said. “Now, I have made some great friends from those that I work with currently, those in the past or those that live in the building.”
Contact Grace Duerksen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gracie_duerk.