Rafael Espinal cleans a campus office as one of many college workers who provide essential services.

SUFFERN — Walk across the quad or through the academic buildings at Rockland Community College (RCC) and you’ll notice the same campus atmosphere you might experience at a four-year institution, from faculty and staff chatting with students to various festivals and special events.

That’s exactly the environment CSEA members working at the college strive to create. Whether students are looking to complete a two-year associate degree or move onto a four-year program, RCC workers take pride in helping students achieve their ultimate goals.

“We try to act as a bridge to the four-year programs and give students the ability and skills to be successful,” said Rockland County Unit President Sonny Reyes, who works in the college’s Student Accounts Department.

That dedication has been on display throughout the pandemic, as workers have gone the extra mile to accommodate students already facing challenges including illness, child care issues and unemployment. Though many staff worked remotely, Reyes noted that workers in public safety, housekeeping, plant facilities, and receiving and shipping were on the job continuously.

Reyes said RCC’s information technology team worked quickly to assist students needing help shifting to online learning. Not only did workers issue Chromebooks to students who didn’t have their own laptops, they also provided mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for those without home internet access.

“It’s easy to take something like internet access for granted, but it became a necessity overnight in order for students to continue their classes,” said Reyes.

Janine Paredes helps students process financial aid and other important information.

Janine Paredes, who works with Reyes in Student Accounts, said workers continued processing financial aid and other information while still taking precautions.

“Students would pull up in the parking lot and we would run out to grab documents for processing,” said Paredes.

With RCC now having a mix of online and in-person classes, workers said that some of the adaptations are here to stay, but they’re happy to see the campus coming alive again.

“I’ve missed the hustle and bustle, the buzz of activity the students create, and listening to the professors in their intellectual exchanges trying to generate new ideas and solutions,” said Joan Asch, a Rockland County Unit grievance representative and shop steward who supports the dean and faculty as part of her job in RCC’s School of Education and Social Sciences. “I think the most positive aspect [to come out of the pandemic]has been that workers across the institution honed their technology skills out of necessity and learned new skill sets.”

Joan Asch works hard to ensure that students feel comfortable with their adjustment to college.

Noting that RCC students are a mix of recent high school graduates and working adults juggling many responsibilities, Asch said she strives to eliminate the hurdles that many students may find overwhelming.

“If students come in with a question, I don’t let them leave until they have an answer,” said Asch. “College is enough of an adjustment, so I don’t want students feeling stranded.”

While some CSEA members’ jobs are more visible on campus, Asch said everyone plays a vital role and behind-the-scenes workers deserve recognition.

“There is a CSEA employee working across campus every shift on every day,” said Asch. “Our union base is a unified effort that keeps the college running.”

— Jessica Ladlee

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Jessica Ladlee

Jessica Ladlee is the communications specialist for CSEA's Southern Region. A graduate of Boston University, Ladlee is an award-winning journalist who worked as a newspaper editor before joining the CSEA communications team in 2004. She is passionate about the opportunities unions provide for people to join the middle class, something her grandmother did as a Rockland County CSEA member over 50 years ago.

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