Saddleback College staff talk about working on campus since start of COVID-19

Saddleback College staff talk about working on campus since start of COVID-19

A student on their laptop and taking notes. Studio32/Pixabay/courtesy

COVID-19 has made working from home a challenge for employees in the educational system, but what has work-life been for staff and faculty who never left campus for work?

The COVID-19 pandemic left many people to change their routine from going into an office for work to working remotely. And unfortunately, some people were left unemployed. The past year and a half have been very trying on employees, especially those who work with the education system.

Students at Saddleback have also had difficulties obtaining classes and keeping up with transfer processes to four-year universities – myself included.

As discouraging as it might have been and still be for students, one thing is for certain that Saddleback would not be kept afloat if it weren’t for the hard-working staff and faculty that not only have sacrificed so much by transitioning to working from home but especially for those who have stayed on campus.

It may not occur to some student that even though the campus has stayed almost completely uninhabited for over a year, it still requires a great deal of upkeep and work to keep up-to-date with the constantly changing COVID-19 protocols and for staff and faculty to be ready at a moment’s notice to possibly welcome students back to campus.

Not only have staff been working physically on the campus, but other faculty such as the Saddleback Police and ground maintenance has also been keeping the campus safe and clean.

Patrick Higa, Saddleback’s College Chief of Police Officer, shares his main duties on campus since the start of the pandemic.

“Primary duties are obviously safety and security of the campus, and we’ve actually been busier at times during this emergency situation than a regular year,” Higa said. “It’s shifted from what we normally do in the day, which is patrol the area and calls for service, things like that. Calls for service have dropped down to very low.”

Higa also mentions that employees from groundskeeping and technical services have stayed on campus and the campus police.

“We’ve always had people other than us like facilities and Maintenance Operations as well as I.T., they’ve always been on campus also,” Higa said.

There has also been a need for employees such as Higa to assist with distributions of supplies such as computers and art supplies that students have been able to come to campus to pick up for their classes.

“During this period, online classes or distance education continued, and students needed certain supplies,” Higa said. “They had to either pick up supplies or needed a laptop or whatever the issue was, or they were returning things. So we had to set up a distribution system for the various disciplines on campus. So we were charged with making sure that that was completed and that it was done in a safe manner. We’ve done well over 150 distributions on our campus.”

And those were just for on campus. Higa worked for other distributions on campus, such as the COVID-19 testing center from UCI that wanted to do a public survey on the campus because outside agencies saw the campus and saw lots of real estate and parking lots for their events. So that provided money given to the college to host some of these events as well.

Lieutenant Michael Betzler, with the Saddleback police department, also shares what his duties were on campus.

“I’ve worked on campus this entire time, and one of the main duties of mine and other police officers was to make sure things were modified and met for the changing COVID-19 protocols for the school,” Betzler said. “Some of my duties were to assist with community management, and I also wrote plans for the meetings. I also sat in policy and emergency meetings for COVID-19.”

Inevitably along the way, there have been some setbacks and challenges staff and faculty such as Betzler and Higa had to face.

“Early on, we were short-staffed, and we had to close the entire campus except to authorized personnel,” Betzler said. “So, it was really a challenge to meet college and district protocols at first.”

Even the work hours Betzler had for his shifts were much different than he has been used to.

“There was a point in time where I worked 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., and sometimes I worked from 2:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.,” Betzler said.

There are also employees and volunteers working at the student health screening center, which is the tent set up in the main parking lot of the campus. This screening center has been open for most of the pandemic, and since students have been allowed to come on campus according to what classes they take or if they are in sports.

Jennie McCue, Saddleback’s Director of Marketing and Communications, and Ali Dorri, a lab technician for the Journalism Department, have worked from home or remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic and have also worked on campus a handful of times.

“I have been working remotely, but I’ve been to campus maybe three or four times since March 2020,” McCue said. “I helped at the student health screening center.”

“It’s been strange,” Dorri said. “I’ve been accustomed to calling my home my office since this is where I’ve been mostly working for about fifteen months.”

He is the only full-time staff in the department and has only been to campus a couple of times since the start of the pandemic.

“I’ve been to campus a couple of times,” Dorri said. “I helped staff and students and have checked out cameras for them. I also went to campus to help work on a project where my help was needed mounting a TV on a display board for journalism content. I’ve also come to campus to pick up flash drives and stuff.”

He also shared the protocol he had to go through to enter campus, along with students who needed to get on campus as well.

“I had to notify campus police, then you had to be masked, and your I.D. was checked,” Dorri said. “You also need a confirmed receipt and email for entry.”

Not only has it been a strange and different adjustment for employees, but students as well. Current Saddleback communications students Brandon Chavez and Alyssa Gervacio shared their experiences about coming on to campus to take pictures and footage for the Lariat News and video journalism classes.

“I went to go on to campus on Feb. 18, 2021. They really weren’t letting people in and when I got there, they wanted me to verify with people why I was there and I told them I was here to meet with an instructor and I gave them Ali’s name and after that they let me in,” Chavez says.

Chavez then elaborated on how different his experience was back in February compared to when he went back to campus to return borrowed equipment in early May. In early May there wasn’t any need to contact the campus police like Dorri had to back in February, just an Assumption of Risk release and a basic health screening.

“They did the whole screening process. They took my temperature and they gave me masks. Ali also gave me this form for going on campus where I had to explain that we were just going on campus just to take pictures,” Chavez says.

Freshmen Gervacio shared that she had never actually been on campus since her starting Saddleback, so she had no previous experience going on to campus during a normal circumstances pre-pandemic.

“It was so weird because I was the only car parked there,” Gervacio says. “It was so empty. It’s weird because they have like, a tent there and before you can walk on campus they have to talk to you and take your temperature. A good word I would say to describe it is ‘eerie’.”

With California’s COVID-19 protocols easing up, it is almost time for students to go back to school nearly full-time. Hopefully soon there will be a sense of normalcy on campus so staff can get back to a normal schedule and students can continue to succeed.