By Rebekah Schroeder
Barry Friedman was hired to support audiovisual events on and off The College of New Jersey campus, his talent honed from years of corporate venue experience and lending his expertise to national theatrical tours. Joining the Media and Technology Support Services (MTSS) a little over four years ago, he had no idea his position would change drastically because of a global pandemic.
All of a sudden, there were no events or faculty members, and barely any students on the grounds. The campus immediately pivoted to a world of remote instruction.
So, like technology often does when times change, Friedman adapted, and the returning professors were nothing short of astonished.
“Every single faculty member has been absolutely amazed at what we’ve done and the potential behind it,” he said. “And they’ve learned it’s like a toolbox. We gave them a box full of tools, and now that they understand how the tools work, now they manipulate those tools to work best for their teaching style.”
Alongside his colleagues from varying departments, who worked as the campus became deserted, Friedman helped ensure that the spring 2021 semester could be accomplished in a partially remote, flex environment. MTSS equipped 184 classrooms with modern technology for the faculty, many of whom had already surpassed Zoom levels of expertise during the pandemic.
The teamwork goes beyond just the MTSS workers who spent half a day setting up each classroom — using seven miles of cable to connect instructors to their virtual students. While they took on the hardware components, others took to the background to digitally unite the student body through virtual events.
The Director of Student Involvement from the Division of Student Affairs, Dave Conner, admitted that while his daily tasks have been slightly altered in the pandemic, the bulk of his work always entails aiding those enrolled at the College.
“Day to day, I’m working to find ways to adapt programs, policies, and procedures to help students and student groups engage with each other,” he said. “While I still work with the same group of students, the way we do that has completely shifted.”
With few people to see them, Conner does not worry about posting flyers to advertise events and activities. Instead, ThisWeek@TCNJ newsletters are delivered via email each week. They also use Instagram to get the word out on Zoom occasions, helping student organizations adapt to the technological challenges and societal limitations of computer networking.
As the Director of Building Services in the Department of Facilities Operations, Salomé Sedares has worked to ensure that professors enter a clean room — whether with physical students or not.
“We’ve had to add protocols and come up with protocols,” she said. “There were no CDC guidelines, so we had to establish our own safety guidelines from before there were guidelines to even guide us.”
With the additional help of external cleaning service ABM, the maintenance crews and other frontline workers have been addressing the high-touch points on campus, cleaning every door knob, stair rail, etc. twice daily.
While cleaning at the College felt like a ghost town, Sedares’ supervisors and employees have continued to show exemplary conduct.
There has not been a single case of on-campus transmission between the staff.
“I’m particularly proud of the lack of no staff to staff transmission. That speaks to crews that are out there, doing their job, just taking those precautions and taking it seriously,” she said. “In turn, that leads to the students, and the faculty and the staff, and the whole community, just taking it so seriously and them showing up when nobody else was going to work.”
At first, on the empty grounds, Sedares’ staff felt disconnected from the College. But, like the sense of community that keeps the campus strong, that changed when the students and faculty arrived in person to show their appreciation.
“What’s interesting to see over the year, and it’s really sad that it’s been a year and I have to say it that way, but it’s been amazing to watch how genuine people are to the institution,” said Jon Bannon, the associate director of MTSS.
As the father of a student at the College, he understands how hard the professors worked to maintain “that personal touch that the college is known for.”
Also sharing a personal connection is Jack Meredith, a Media Technician who started as a student in 1997. He joined the MTSS department as a student technician before being offered a full-time position. Now, as his own daughter is set to attend in the fall, his expectations are optimistic.
“I want her to have the college experience and not be stuck in the dorm,” he said. “I’m hoping it just goes back to normal.”