Tech support staff far too underappreciated

There is an invisible force at work at Tech. This force makes our campus beautiful through its actions: our floors clean, our lawns trim, our bellies full, our meetings organized and our paperwork processed. I speak not of Google, nor the administration in the Tech Tower nor of any supreme being but of a gentle, numerous, and largely underappreciated part of the Tech community: our support staff. Everyday, they toil tirelessly and ceaselessly to make Tech beautiful.

Sadly, we take this staff for granted and as largely invisible, almost like a lamp fixture on the wall; it’s there, but not worth noting until it burns out. However, it is this very staff that serves as the heart and backbone of the institution. Their actions are the most poignant representation of the institution’s ethos. Their actions, however seemingly minor, improve our days and remind us that Tech cares about its students and the beauty of its campus.

It is easy to remember countless instances when Tech’s support staff went out of their way to help you. Remember the time you waited in line for your hamburger with extra bacon in the food court and the server went out of her way to grab you one fresh off the griddle? How about the care shown by the library staff in helping locate a missing book? Or remember the time a secretary was willing to look the other way regarding some arcane institute policy or deadline?

These small acts of kindness put a smile on your face and brightened your outlook on your day. However, did you stop to thank the staff member who helped you? Do you remember their name? Or even their face? Or did they recede back into the oblivion?

Imagine a world without a support staff. The lawns would go wild and reach six feet in height, trash would pile up in empty corners of buildings and hot lunch would no longer be served, forcing everyone to pack their own food. In the library, books would never be shelved; in Tech Tower, transcripts would not be printed and mailed and in the student center, no one would be present to sort packages from parents. In short order, the university would rapidly begin to decay and descend into chaos. Yet we do not think of these dire consequences.

The other day I watched a student callously pouring the remains of his soda into a recycled paper basket. There was no look of malevolence on his face nor furtive glances to ensure he was unnoticed. Indeed his visage captured nothing unusual, just indifference. Did he not care that the cleaning staff would now be forced to haul this formerly recyclable paper to the dumpster? Did he not think of the sloppy wet paper dripping its sticky mess on the floor, necessitating further work with a mop? No, none of these things went through this student’s head.

A few moments later, while en queue for lunch, I observed how many students did not thank the cashier for taking their order. They grumbled their orders, didn’t make eye contact and in general did not look thrilled to be there. In comparison, the cashier had a radiant smile, a twinkle in her eyes and enthusiasm in her voice. Imagine trying to radiate positive energy all day in the face of indifference. This seemingly Sisyphean task slowly grinds down even the most resilient of personalities.

So, the next time you see a member of Tech’s support staff, take a moment to introduce yourself. Spend a few minutes to learn where they come from and thank them for their help. It’s the least you can do to express your gratitude for their unwavering attention to detail and service.

I remember the day I introduced myself to Ruth, the Tech housekeeper assigned to help keep my lab space clean. Ruth was walking through my shared office space emptying the wastepaper baskets into her cart. I walked up to her, said, “My name is Eric. What’s your’s?” I extended my hand. Her face broadened with a smile, eyes brightened and she said, “I’m Ruth, pleased to meet you.” Over the months I have been in my lab, I have gotten to know Ruth better, and I’m glad for it. Her smile and pleasant chit-chat always brighten my day and her’s.

It never fails to impress me the smiles I elicit when I offer my hand in friendship towards Tech’s support staff, whether it is in the library, Student Center or Campus Recreation Center. Please don’t be a stranger towards the support staff and pretend you don’t see them. Say “Hi”, or “How are you today?” or “Thanks for helping me out.” Together, through small actions, we can forge a more unified and positive Tech community.

Thank you.