Every year we like to take the time to dedicate the bLAb to welcoming the students and families of the incoming class. Siena College is a community with strong and adaptive individuals who learn from each other and use this safe environment to grow into their own people. I am excited that I will get the opportunity to watch this new class come onto campus and find their way, just as everyone before them has done. That being said, I understand that the last couple of years have not been easy for anyone, but I feel this has aided in our school shaping such resilient and independent students.
As a Junior, I was lucky enough (if you can call it that) to only experience the pandemic during my college years and not have high school opportunities taken away from me. I can’t imagine the dreams and expectations that some of you have had to change as rules and regulations influenced how your school functioned. Although I will never fully understand what you went through, I can tell you that Siena has made the most out of the pandemic and the campus continues working hard to try and have opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to participate in social and academic events.
Siena College is a community built on respect and hard work. Here, we value integrity and compassion as we push one another to be the best versions of ourselves in and outside the classroom. Our Franciscan roots influence and guide us to work with one another as we find our voices and discover our passions. However, this doesn’t happen overnight, so remember to be patient with yourself as you begin your journey here at Siena. You will have so much time and countless opportunities to take in the lessons that will be shared, and not just the ones given by your professors.
I personally think it’s the little things about Siena that make this college so enticing. The tour guides don’t lie; everyone will hold doors here. When it first snows, you will find students running around the quad in a giant snowball fight, and at the first sign of warm weather, they are in the exact same place, laying on blankets or throwing a frisbee. We have food trucks and lawn games on Wednesdays and a line out the door to the dining hall for chicken nuggets on Fridays. Your Saint orientation leaders will continue to be friendly faces in the crowd as you navigate through your freshman year, and the friars are always there to wish you a good day.
I know this class will be willing to run with the punches and make the most of your time here, just as you have been doing through high school, but I want you to know that it’s okay to be nervous. This is the time you have all been waiting for, and it will be a big step. I’m not going to lie; there will be long nights of studying and longing for home-cooked meals. However, there will also be club meetings filled with laughter and games and memories made with new friends that will last a lifetime. Siena College is here to support you as you navigate through this new chapter in your lives, knowing that you will accomplish amazing things in your own way.
Have a great summer Saints; congratulations to the Class of 2022 and I can’t wait to see the rest of you in the Fall!
Happy Sienafest Saints! I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am looking forward to a couple days of fun and festivities before our final stretch of the academic year. That being said, when the last event ends finals will quickly be upon us and the stress of the end of the semester is going to infiltrate our lives – if it hasn’t done so already. This is why I am dedicating this bLAb to techniques for working through possible burnout and finishing strong so the summer break is just as satisfying as we all deserve it to be.
Set reasonable goals:
I am a chronic procrastinator, so I know about unfinished to-do lists and packed google calendars all too well. That’s why I am so aware of the importance of setting reasonable goals. When you outline a couple of things to get done during a time period instead of a never-ending laundry list of tasks, it helps motivate you to keep going. My suggestion is to make a to-do list for the day and list assignments or tasks that take no more than 3 hours to complete in all. Then, under these, start a new list of “extra” things that you can move on to ONLY if you finish the ones above. Keeping the initial list small makes you feel accomplished when you complete one and are ready to start the next instead of dreading beginning because you can’t see the end. Burnout is all about perspective, don’t set yourself up for failure when you can just as easily set yourself up for success.
Switch up your routine:
It can be easy to find yourself trapped in the same schedule and routine every day, and sometimes this is the only way to guarantee that you find time to eat or get to sleep on time. Although routines can be comforting and helpful in many ways, it’s also just as important to keep your brain willing to follow through with these schedules and not dread doing the same thing over and over again. This is why switching up your routine can be helpful. I’m not telling you to throw caution to the wind and have a day of random activities and tasks totally skew your priorities. All I’m suggesting is to maybe switching where you go to eat on a particular day or if you usually study by yourself, maybe ask some friends to join you in your dorm and all do homework together. A switch can even be as simple as swapping when you do what assignment. Switching up your routine helps your brain stay active and feel like it is necessary to keep functioning instead of shutting down out of boredom.
Do something fun:
Hopefully, you all take advantage of Sienafest, and it serves as a helpful reminder that doing something fun every once in a while is necessary. It’s easy to get trapped in the cycle of academic and work responsibilities and push aside social events. However, these low-stake activities are exactly what your brain needs to keep going strong. If you just sat down and studied for multiple hours in a row, I know you probably want to go back to your dorm and take a nap or scroll through your phone. As enticing as this sounds, maybe consider grabbing some food with a couple of friends, going on a walk with your roommate, or even studying some more but this time in the bottom level of the library, where you can joke and laugh without getting shushed. The point is that socialization and bringing a little joy into your day in any capacity will strengthen your mind and prevent burnout from settling in.
Learn to say no:
I’m going to be honest – I’m really, really bad at this. When you’re a college student, you sometimes think you’re invincible, meaning you tend to bite off way more than you can chew. I know it may feel like you always have to be doing something and staying productive, but it truly is okay just to be a student to take some time and only focus on your studies. This is why saying no is a crucial skill that I feel everyone should know exists. As long as you are kind, polite, and the world will not end if you don’t get involved, then it is okay to say no when someone asks for your help or participation. Extracurriculars are supposed to be fun, but there’s no way that’s possible when you’re a part of so many that you can’t even find time to breathe. Saying no is not a sign of weakness; it shows great strength and proves that you have your priorities set and are willing to establish boundaries.
Sometimes burnout is just too strong, and it’s going to take more than a couple of quick tricks to help you to make it through the end of the semester successfully. That’s okay. This is exactly why Siena College has resources in place and at the ready – to help its students when they need a little extra support. Advisors and Professors are always great people to go to for advice, as well as CAs and the Friars. In addition, the campus has a very active office of Health Promotion where students can seek resources for counseling and any wellness and health concerns. No matter your question, there is someone on campus who can assist and support you as you find your way back to stability.
School is stressful but that doesn’t mean we should let this stress take away and ruin all the hard work we have put into this semester. Let’s finish strong Saints!
Chris Gibson has been the President of Siena College since July 2020. He has navigated our campus through a pandemic, out of debt, and into an optimistic community looking forward to planned advancements that will benefit everyone involved. Since President Gibson has been announced as the 12th President of Siena College, countless interviews and profiles have been done by both participants of the school and outside sources.
When I thought of the idea to interview him, I knew I would have to do something different from the basic interview or question and answer piece he had already participated in. This is where the idea of “Ask the President” stemmed from. I wanted to create an opportunity for Siena students to use their voices and have their questions answered by the President. Below is a summary of the interview I held with President Gibson, separated by topics formulated by common questions sent in.
Plans to improve Siena’s campus:
Despite this current freshman class being well over one thousand students, the goal is to return the class size back down to the 900s. This is to keep the “liberal arts feel” of the campus while also allowing Siena the opportunity to become more selective to match the obvious growing interest. There are also plans for substantial Wellness Center updates to help promote positive life habits among all members of Siena College. This will come in the form of help with nutrition, yoga, meditation, and mental health support to aid in finding happiness and stability while learning coping techniques for stress.
Graduate and accelerated program plans:
Students seek out undergraduate schools with strong graduate programs so Siena is actively working to fulfill this demand. The Masters of Social Work (MSW) program is currently in the process of being established thanks to a very generous sponsor who is helping to fund the initiative. There are also plans to expand the current nursing program so the students and faculty can increase in size and gain more opportunities. The MBA program here at Siena is very popular and seeing as it falls under the growing interests of students, the decision has been made to add a concentration in health administration.
Future remote class opportunities:
Before the pandemic, colleges and universities had a national baseline of 10% of their classes being asynchronous. Siena College was slightly below this with having only 6-7% of asynchronous class options. The goal after the pandemic is to return to a normal in-person class schedule with the asynchronous class availability now reflecting the national baseline by falling around 10%. This will hopefully provide for more flexibility among both students and faculty, in addition to introducing variations in Siena’s pedagogy. There is also an intention to allow for many online class options in graduate programs so students can share their time between coming to campus and working to gain experience in their desired field.
Most challenging part of budgeting:
The President has a responsibility to acknowledge and be empathetic to all stakeholders of the budget. This includes three main subsections – the trustees, the students, and the alumni. The trustees have the goal for the college to be fiscally stable and uphold its values. The students want an inclusive community where they can get the best education at the cheapest price. The Alumni simply want their beloved college to flourish. There can be challenges with this because not all priorities can be addressed to the same degree. That being said, the school is doing phenomenal in multiple areas. This is the second year of a balanced budget plus a surplus of funds, enrollment is strong, and the college is scoring very high nationally.
Thoughts on the pandemic:
There has been controversy over how Siena decided to proceed into this academic year regarding masks. This decision was not made lightly and consisted of heavy consultation to evaluate policies that reflected data. This data demonstrates risk management and how best to proceed as a community. Fortunately, it was shown that our case numbers were the same, if not better, than surrounding schools that were either mask mandated or completely locked down. By remaining mask optional and increasing social interaction, there was a noticeable improvement in the mental health of all community members, which is something to be celebrated.
Mental health support:
Mary Jo Gibson, President Gibson’s wife, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a strong mental health advocate. She has played a prominent role in influencing President Gibson’s perspective of how important a community’s mental health truly is. This view has changed to a holistic lens, with mental and physical health being of equal importance. Needing support during the pandemic has been increasing here on campus, which is why more resources are becoming available. Kate Kauffman Burns and the Wellness Center, the Counseling Center, Peer Mentors, Saints, and CA’s can all provide advice and support if individuals are struggling.
Diversity on Campus:
It should be noted that the current freshman class has the largest percentage of people of color in the School’s history. This number has doubled from last year and is expected to increase in the following years. To support these students in their success, there needs to be resources readily available such as financial, academic, and emotional support. Every single student at Siena should have the opportunity to flourish regardless of what they look like. This is why a campaign to strengthen the bonds of racial justice is forming. The core of this campaign is rooted in St. Francis’s lifestyle seeing as he is a strong representation of celebrating all life without biases.
Most pressing concerns on campus:
There needs to be a stronger focus on everyone’s experience here at Siena. One of the best ways to learn how to do this is simply by listening to students. The students have some of the most important opinions on campus, and this is why they have intellectual insight into what should stay consistent and what needs to change or adapt. This can be done by conducting surveys, attending and listening in on senate meetings, and bringing up discussions during clubs and student activities. Siena College is not made up of individuals who are comfortable sitting still. The school is open to change – it just needs to know where it is necessary.
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with President Gibson and share some of the students’ most pressing questions with him. Siena College is lucky to have a president dedicated to all members of the community and who will continue to support us during these difficult times.
As always, please feel free to interact with and share the bLAb to your friends and family. Here in the School of Liberal Arts we are excited to be involved and learn about how we can best help you use your voice so it is always encouraged to reach out with suggestions or ideas for the bLAb, which can be done by emailing email@example.com.
Have a great Spring Break and I look forward to hearing from all of you!
In 2014 Christopher Donato graduated from Siena College with an American Studies Major and minors in Broadcasting and Creative Arts. Today, he is an Emmy winning ABC News Field Producer and is currently reporting on the crisis in Ukraine from the Poland/Ukraine border. Donato has graciously taken the time to answer our questions and provide both his own pictures and insight into the tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine, as well as how Siena has prepared him to be successful in this line of work.
What is your current role/title, and what does it entail?
I am a Field Producer at ABC News, mainly covering breaking news. Wherever the story is, I get sent (and there are plenty of middle-of-the-night wake up calls). I work with a correspondent/anchor to pitch stories, to find elements for pieces (video, interviews, etc.), scout locations for us to be live from, and get the corresponde/guest on tv.
How long have you been in Poland?
I arrived Sunday, Feb 27. I was actually supposed to head to London to fill in our office there, but was asked to change my plans at the last minute and reroute to Poland.
How long do you plan to stay in Poland?
Great question! We’ll be here for as long as we’re needed to be here.
Do you have any safety concerns for yourself?
No – everyone in Poland has been extremely welcoming.
How has what you learned and the skills you developed at Siena helped you in your current work?
One of the main things I learned at Siena was to listen and show empathy. When we’re talking to the refugees, it’s so important to listen to them and show them empathy. Some of the people have told us their homes have been bombed – so they really only have what few possessions they carried with them to Poland. Some have told us about their husbands/brothers/fathers/sons staying back in Ukraine to fight and protect their homeland.
Is there anything that we can do to help the Ukrainian people?
The head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has asked that people donate to big organizations instead of donating small items; he said that by sending money to the organizations, they can purchase what is actually needed and have it brought to the locations easier than private donors can. We’ve seen several aid organizations here helping – the Polish Red Cross has been at several of the refugee reception centers and we’ve seen World Central Kitchen (a non-profit that sets up kitchens and distributes food at disasters) at the border crossings and reception centers at all hours of the day handing out tons of warm meals. For many of the refugees, this is the first warm meal they’ve had during their journey…which for some people, has lasted 5+ days.
What has been the most challenging thing for you to witness while in Poland?
The second night we were here, we went to the border crossing in Medyka and we watched as refugees came across the border into Poland from Ukraine. There’s no way to really describe it…some people were just so exhausted from their journeys, that they could barely walk. It wasn’t a limp. It wasn’t a walk. There really is no way of describing how their exhausted strides looked. Some told us they walked 20, 30, 50+ kilometers (12, 19, 30 miles) to get to the border. They had a look of confusion on their faces too. Greeting them in Poland were all these volunteers with hot meals and donated clothing, but they didn’t realize it was all free for them. The other challenging moment to witness was just last night; we went to the Ukrainian House – it’s typically a cultural and arts center in a town near the border that puts on programs introducing people to Ukrainian culture. It’s been turned into a temporary housing shelter for refugees. They brought us to one room where kids are in the back playing and laughing, but in front of them were their mothers/grandmothers/aunts sitting at a table with a total look of despair on their faces. They brought us to their auditorium which, just 2 weeks ago, would be home to plays and shows. Well, now it’s filled with cots for refugees to spend a night sleeping. One of the organizers almost started to cry when she told us about the refugees and her fears: she said during the first wave at the beginning of the fighting, refugees came with several large bags and their pets, but over the two weeks refugees have been coming with less and less. Those who arrived yesterday came with just a backpack each. She said she was really worried about those coming from Eastern Ukraine in cities like Mariupol where the fighting is very strong. She worries that those refugees are going to have absolutely nothing with them.
While you were at Siena did you ever expect to see yourself working on a job like this?
No – I actually had no idea I wanted to go into journalism when I got to Siena. I wanted to either become a pediatrician or a high school history teacher (I know, they are so similar!). Once I realized I wanted to become a journalist, I thought I would be at the local level in a large city in the United States. I never thought I would be working at a news network traveling to big stories around the world.
Do you think that by being at Siena and learning about Social Justice, you are better equipped with an understanding of these kinds of situations?
*The social justice courses were instituted into the core curriculum after Christopher graduated*
It’s important to learn about social justice through Franciscan lens because you really never know when you’ll be faced with a situation like this. I never thought I’d be across the world talking to refugees fleeing war in their homeland and having the empathy to understand them and help them.
Anything else you would like to add?
We cannot undersell how amazing the Polish people have been. I would say 98% of all the work we see being done for the refugees has been from volunteers. Usually you would expect a majority of the work to be from the government with a small fraction from volunteers. Totally opposite here. And people are coming from all over Europe to help. Yesterday we met three volunteers who filled a truck full of donations in Germany and drove 10+ hours to drop it off here. People hold signs at refugee reception centers (large areas where refugees are brought to by bus once they are processed at the border) with cities listed on their sign. That’s where they are offering a free ride to refugees…some as far as Sweden, Amsterdam, cities across Germany, Poland…I think the furthest we’ve seen is about a 15-20 hour drive. It’s really incredible seeing the best of humanity in the worst of circumstances.
We appreciate everything Donato is doing over in Poland and are very proud that he is a member of Siena’s wonderful Alumni community!
To donate and aid in help for the Ukraine crisis click here.
You can follow Christopher Donato’s experience in Poland @chrisdonato04
The bLAb is back after taking a short break over the fall semester. Before I introduce myself as the new voice behind the bLAb I would like to thank our previous writer Kiera Mitru, who graduated last May and did wonderful work in the School of Liberal Arts.
So who am I? My name is Jillian Fiddler and I am a Junior here at Siena. I am studying Social Work with a minor in Criminal Justice while also filling my time on campus with clubs and work. I’m not going to bore you with an entire biography of who I am and all of my interests because most of that information will naturally come to light through these bLAb posts.
My plan for the bLAb this semester is to create a place for students and faculty to share their experiences on campus as well as an opportunity to get information on upcoming events – and the review of them afterwards. I would love for this to be a platform where everyone is heard and respected and the Siena community can thrive by sharing stories.
I know the semester is nearing midterms and between the unpredictable weather and the impending doom of upcoming assignments no one wants more on their plate but I do have a favor to ask. I have two big plans for the bLAb that need your help with input and participation.
Ask The President:
If you follow the Siena Liberal Arts Instagram (@sienaliberalarts) then you have seen the information being posted about an upcoming Q&A with President Gibson. This is a chance for the President to answer direct questions from the students on Siena’s campus. You still have time to send in your questions and can do so by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Siena Student Shoutout:
Siena does a wonderful job at showcasing students who go above and beyond academically and within the community. I love reading about my peers and all they have accomplished and it inspired me to create a platform where students can shout out their friends for absolutely anything. Do they have a great sense of humor? Are they always the one driving you to Walmart? It could even be that you know they had a tough week and want to cheer them up. If there is a student on Siena’s campus that you would like to give a shoutout to, email the bLAb and I will showcase them in the next post!
I hope everyone has a fantastic rest of the week and are enjoying the first signs of spring. Any interaction with the bLAb is greatly appreciated and I look forward to hearing from all of you.
If you have suggestions or ideas for the bLAb they are always encouraged and can be done by emailing email@example.com
Each year, a special introduction is written for our blog to extend a warm welcome to the incoming class and your families as you enter not only a new school but also a new chapter of your lives. There’s a certain quality that attracts students to become Siena Saints, and in four years, you may know exactly what I mean. As I recognize the impact of my time here and all of the knowledge I have gathered, I think what makes a Saint a Saint is resilience.
My senior year unfolded in the midst of a pandemic. Each of us is uniquely aware of the uncertainty, loneliness, challenge, and loss of this past year. During my final year at Siena, I watched the school I have grown to love struggle socially, having to skip many major events in order to prioritize the health and safety of our close community. It is during the Spring 2021 semester that I watched and played a role in the resurgence of our living and breathing campus with the onset of spring and New York’s swift rollout of the COVID-19 Vaccine. In this way, I witnessed and practiced Siena’s resilience; a school that rose from a long and dark winter stronger than it was when it entered it.
As you become a Saint, you will recognize that Siena’s resilience will find a home in you, just as you will find a home in it. In light of our school’s Franciscan heritage, we glean an important and formative example of resilience in the Prayer of Saint Francis, in which we ask to become instruments of peace. Surrounded by the noise and indifference of the world, Saints strive to be voices of peace with and for others. We seek to sow love where there is hate, planting acts of kindness in the places and in the hearts of those who have been dulled by the world. Where there is darkness, Saints bring light, our optimism and commitment to change remaining unshaken. While observing Francis’ example, we come to know that it is in giving that we receive and in our resilience that we continue to grow stronger.
Saint Francis is the patron saint of ecology and an integral aspect of the Franciscan tradition is reverence for nature. At this point, you may or may not know that Siena’s campus has recently been named one of the top 50 Most Beautiful in the country by Conde Nast Traveler, and while this rings true, I am delighted to share that at Siena, you will encounter beauty in more than just your surroundings.
You’ll find beauty in the little things. Like the way your fellow Saints will hold doors open for one another, the way the light shines off the dome of Siena Hall, the way the leaves are tracked throughout your residence hall during the fall, the way you forget how you met your closest friends but are forever grateful for them anyway, the ways you will come to serve others, the way you’ll get to know the friars and their stories, the way everything will take shape for you over the course of your time here, and so many more small details that will hold a big place in your heart.
In sharing intentions for you as you enter the Siena Community, I hope that you find all of the ways to love this school. Afterall, through all of the peaks and valleys that you have encountered in the past year alone, you found your way here. We couldn’t be happier to have you. This is what makes you resilient. This is what makes you a Saint. As you set your sights on the future, I hope that you carry this inherent courage while you continue to pave your path here on Loudon Road and beyond.
The phrase “go green, live gold” become more and more common around campus. Its bold letters are printed on the new Ozzi machine, on the free canvas bags sponsored by the Franciscan Center and the Environmental Club, and lived through the actions of Siena’s community. Through campus cleanups and outreach to students and faculty, Saints have started to adopt more sustainable habits and take steps toward climate justice. During Earth Week, April 19th-April 24th, students and faculty alike rallied in support of Earth Day, the momentum of which is intended to be carried forward for years to come. With joined efforts from the Environmental Club, the Franciscan Center, Habitat for Humanity, Student Senate, and more, each event was a resounding success.
“Lend a hand to save the land” was the theme of the Environmental Club’s 2021 Earth Week events, thoughtfully scheduled throughout the week to bring climate justice awareness and activism to students campuswide. Some of the activities included chalk drawing, outdoor yoga with Dr. K, a free succulent giveaway, a free canvas bag and Fair Trade product sample table, a virtual movie night, and a fashion show highlighting students’ sustainable steez.
For those that have adopted plant-based lifestyles in honor of the Earth, the Lonnstrom dining hall featured vegan and vegetarian options throughout the week, including quinoa veggie burgers, kale, beet, and sweet potato chips, as well as “worms n’ dirt” cupcakes and vegan mint “mulch” chocolate chunk blondies. Siena Fresh has also recently invested in an Ozzi machine, which collects and sorts reusable takeout containers for guests of the Lonnstrom dining hall. Before the introduction of this sustainability effort on campus, the Lonnstrom dining hall alone would dispose of around 112,000 single-use containers per week (Siena Fresh). Since introducing reusable containers, Siena has significantly reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills, working to keep the Earth cleaner!
The week’s grand finale was Saturday’s Community Service Day, dedicated to the stewardship of the land we call home. This event celebrated and put into action the care for the planet that the Environmental Club vocalized throughout the week, as well as the Franciscan tradition that takes root and grows on our campus. In reflection of the example set by Saint Francis many years ago, Environmental Club Events Coordinator, Jessica Dupont shares that, “St. Francis is the patron saint of ecology, and we don’t really reflect that enough in the ways that students approach the environment. By having a week dedicated to celebrating the Earth and its connection to our Franciscan heritage, we take time to reflect on what makes our community’s Franciscan tradition special.” The Community Service Day commenced with a reflection from Frather Tito Serrano, who shared that Francis’ work was centered in service to the Earth. Mentioning Francis’ timeless Canticle of the Creatures, Father Tito urged participants to view features of nature and the Earth as brother and sister, just as Francis did.
After receiving this reflection, Community Service Day participants dispersed in small groups across campus, completing projects out of reverence and service to the Earth. Some of these activities included building additional raised plant beds for the Rosetti gardens, painting and maintenance of the Thompson Trail, uprooting patches of the invasive Japanese Knotweed species, collecting recyclable bottles and cans at different stations in residential areas, bird house and bench building, as well as general trash pickup around campus.
Jessica Dupont shares further that, “People smiled so much when interacting with us and you could tell that students and staff really believed in what we were doing and were excited to get involved. Many expressed excitement that we were holding a whole week to celebrate the earth.” By organizing a series of events, the Environmental Club is hopeful to maintain a powerful campus-wide momentum toward achieving climate justice. Looking closer at the projects they completed, the four-person team working on the general trash pickup mission shares that, “We retrieved 9 full bags of plastic, glass, cans, and a variety of other materials out of the wetlands on campus. These materials don’t break down, and if they did, would release toxins into our protected wetlands.” In the spirit of Francis’ example, students across campus are acting in reverence and respect for the spaces that we call home, as well as that of the wildlife at Siena.
The closing lines of Francis’ famed Canticle share, “Praise and bless my Lord / and give Him thanks / and serve Him with great humility” (Saint Francis). In these final lines, we can observe the deep connection Francis fosters with not only his faith but also the natural world, making it only apt to name him the patron saint of ecology. It is in the final line that Francis calls us to action as Siena Saints. He asks us to serve the Earth with good care and forward-looking intention; aiming to harvest hope, dedication, and optimism among those that follow in his footsteps.
There is no better way to celebrate the recent observation of Women’s History Month than by expressing gratitude for the women in our lives and the lessons they teach us. At Siena, our community is made stronger and more vibrant by the hard work and intentional connection fostered at the hands of the strong women that surround us.
Rachel Jones is the Senior Director of Dining Services at Siena, and is a true Saint among us. Her patience, warmth, thoughtfulness, and passion for cooking are woven into the work that she does, and her impact could not be more resounding. One of the most important aspects of one’s college education is the experience one participates in outside of the classroom, and Rachel Jones is someone that each of us can learn a great deal from.
Starting as a restaurant hostess and working her way up to a serving position in her early twenties, Rachel came of age in an industry that is known for its misogynistic managers and oppressive business practices. Along with the guidance of her best friend and mentor, Julia Philippone, she learned lessons throughout his period of her life that still inform her work ethic to this day, the most important being:
Always dress for your next position.
No crying at work.
Emails and texts are a record, not a conversation.
During her career as a restaurant server, she recognized that many of the people that she worked among were women and gay men. Witnessing the lack of support that was granted to herself and her coworkers, she became inspired to step into a managerial position as soon as the time was right. Showing up for herself and her coworkers is exactly what she did day in and day out for years, working at an Applebee’s in Atlanta, Georgia until she became the manager of the restaurant location.
When returning to her hometown, she recognized the need to change her career path as a single mother. Work hours in the restaurant industry are often long, unforgiving, and irregular. Looking for consistency, she began a virtual position working to advocate for teachers in Chicago, Illinois. This position took place at UAlbany, where she gained experience in Human Resources and Administrative Tasks. While looking for her next position, she knew wanted to stay in the college atmosphere, but a piece of her missed working in the restaurant industry. At the time she applied to work at Siena, she was hired as the Office Manager for Siena Fresh, and within four months she was promoted to the position of Director of Operations.
Her position at Siena has celebrated a marriage, of sorts, of her career interests so far. She is able to flex her administrative muscles, organize budgets, get creative in the kitchen, and empower the people she surrounds herself with. Some of the most important connections she has made at Siena include her close friendships with Beth DeAngelis, Director of the Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women, and Kate Kaufman Burns, Director of Health Promotion. Through these connections, she has found support and empowerment – two superpowers she shares with the students and colleagues she works with.
Rachel shares that while the restaurant industry has come a long way in the past 20-25 years, there is a lack of intersectionality present among those in managerial positions across the board. There are more and more women in positions of influence, herself setting a glowing example of that. Jones shares that, “Women can be successful, independent, strong, and unique. A college campus is the perfect place to embrace that.”
As she continues to forge her path forward, Rachel shares that she only has her Associate’s Degree. While the position she currently holds would normally require a Bachelor’s Degree, she got where she got because she works hard. Jones firmly believes, “There is no substitute for hard work. If college is not in the cards for you, hard work can and will get you to a similar place.” As she worked toward her Associate’s Degree, she was guided by professors who believed her lived experience played into her degree. Looking into the future, Rachel hopes to pursue her Bachelor’s Degree at Siena, completing a walk across The Stage at commencement that will bring everything full-circle.
When discussing the impact cooking has had on her personal journey, she mentions how cooking and baking have been grounding for her, especially through the challenges that have come with this past year. When asked who her favorite chef is, Jones responds, “I am my favorite chef. I love the way it makes me feel.” Her go-to dishes are her meatball and vegetarian lasagne. While she shares that they take a while to construct, putting them together is a labor of love. She doesn’t refer to a recipe because she knows that, “Recipes taste the best when they’re written in your heart.”
Jones wishes that, above all, more people understand that food service employees are people too. These people are the moms, wives, sisters, brothers, and best friends that keep our world turning and our bodies nourished. On campus, SienaFresh employees greet each day and each student with optimism and respect – they care about the work that they do and continue to show up for the community that they serve. Rachel hopes that her hard work and that of her dynamic team translates to the community that she cares for.
Food is a universal symbol for community and acceptance. On a college campus like Siena’s, these themes could not be more harmonious with our Franciscan values. Rachel Jones is a bright light in our community, and her work continues to feed us in both a literal and spiritual sense. We thank Rachel and the SienaFresh team for all that they do; Saints cannot march forward without them!
Spring has sprung and along with it are budding opportunities for your future. Join the Career Education and Professional Development office at their annual Spring, the Career, Internship, and Graduate School Fair. While offered in a virtual format this year, the Fair still presents promising employer turnout and ample opportunity to make your mark!
I sat down with Ashley Dwyer, CEPD’s Assistant Director of employer relations to chat about the importance of the Career Fair and how it can prove to be beneficial for both employers and students. If you don’t know Ashley as a fellow Saint from the class of 2008, you may be more familiar with her infamous email blasts, speaking to the masses via firstname.lastname@example.org, being sure to keep Siena’s student body informed on all things career preparation. During our conversation, Ashley noted that, more than anything, the Fair is the perfect opportunity to work on networking skills.
“While nobody wants to deal with networking, it’s the elephant in the room that never goes away.” Ashley shares that while networking can sometimes feel tedious, it’s crucial to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” After speaking with an employer’s representative, it’s a great idea to connect with them on LinkedIn and reinforce the initial conversation you have with them. In this case, it is important to reintroduce yourself and discuss how you would like the connection to benefit you. Ashley advises against using the generic “fill-in” examples provided by LinkedIn, as those are less personal. Instead, she encourages students to be specific and personable, tying in connections from the conversation you shared. An example being:
“Hello Sheila, my name is Kiera Mitru and I enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with you about Bard College’s graduate course offerings surrounding sustainability. As I look to continue my grad school research, I will be sure to reach out with any questions!”
A message like this communicates your interest in the conversation with a nod to the topics you discussed. This form of communication will also provide your new connection with insight on how you visualize your level of contact going forward.
While it may be easy to go into the Fair with low expectations, Ashley Dwyer shares that companies participate in Siena’s Career Fair specifically to hire Siena students. This is because they have done so in the past and are pleased with the products of the “Education for a Lifetime.” It is rare that a company will participate in a Career Fair if they don’t have open positions, and if they do, it’s likely that they will have positions open for the following fall or spring.
This fair is just as important for underclassmen to check out, since it’s wise to start making connections early. In this case, students can maintain their network and have a strong list of references to utilize when it comes to seeking internships. Even if you don’t hear about the position of your dreams opening up right after graduation, you enter the Fair with an open mind and leave with contacts and information that could prove to be helpful in time.
Many students know that the Fair typically leans toward having more opportunities for business majors than any other major, but this does not mean that it won’t be helpful for students of all fields of study. As an English major in her undergraduate career at Siena, Ashley Dwyer understands the flexibility of a Liberal Arts degree. She recognizes that many Liberal Arts degrees like English, philosophy, and history are ambiguous and don’t have the same linear tracks that an accounting major may have. While this sounds daunting, it can also be seen as liberating. As Liberal Arts students, we have options. Dwyer shares that “Companies want someone with strong communication, interpersonal, and analytical skills. This is what Liberal Arts majors excel in.” Additionally, experience in Liberal Arts internships and research settings is impressive in the job market. It is important to communicate the value of your experiences in and out of the classroom. For example, maintaining a personal blog online, growing a social media following, writing for a small student publication, or developing your hobby into a small business is crucial to mention in an interview. This showcases ambition and leadership which are necessary to project in a professional setting.
Since the Fair is in a virtual format this year, I would like to share some tips for those that may be a bit apprehensive about interviewing online. While the job search via Zoom may feel awkward, the following tips are sure to make your interviews successful:
Look into the camera when you speak. This will feel more personal to the interviewer, making it seem as if you’re making direct eye contact with them while answering their questions.
Pick a well-lit space with a professional background. The study rooms in the library are great for this. There is plenty of light, lots of quiet, and few distractions. If you book a study room for the time that you plan to attend the fair, you can give yourself the space to focus and nail your interviews!
Since it’s likely that you’ll be speaking with a number of potential employers, the safe way to go is to avoid clothing that may be revealing. Choosing a top that you feel comfortable and confident in will translate well to the people you interview with. If you are wearing a dress shirt, the Fair is a great opportunity to break out those ties you got as a gift for some past holiday or birthday or graduation long ago. Not to mention, this will tie your outfit together and present a polished look to the employers.
Be yourself when you meet potential employers or network connections! Your individuality is what makes you stand out, and in a virtual format it is important to foster a strong connection with the person or people you talk to. Your skills and experience are something to be proud of! In the job search, conveying confidence is about 50% of the work. If you can promote your personality in a positive way, odds are that this optimism will be contagious. You will come across as motivated and driven toward success – who wouldn’t want to work with that?
As you look forward to this Friday’s Spring Career, Internship, and Graduate School Fair, feel confident in yourself and your passions. With support from campus resources like the CEPD office, the Office of Internship Programs, the SASE office, and countless others, your unique story will lead you toward success and countless opportunities to live a life driven by the desire to never stop learning. Looking into the future calls you to stand up and stand out as you seek to forge a path for yourself. As Friday’s fair approaches, know that you are capable, accomplished, and prepared to get your career on.
Growing up in Guiderland, New York, Brianna Brown ‘20, G’21 found herself expressing her ideas and exploring the world around her through art. From art classes in high school to creative hobbies on the side, Brianna would bring her ideas to life through crafts and conversation.
When entering college, Brianna had initially sought out schools with engaging art programs, but her parents had advised her in a more practical direction. Looking at Siena, Brianna found that the school of business, specifically the marketing program, offered her a unique opportunity to bridge her two interests, art and business.
Brianna has taken full advantage of her Siena education, graduating with a major in marketing, with a concentration in digital marketing and communications, while also picking up a creative arts multimedia minor. Now a graduate student in Siena’s MBA program, she is following a concentration on a strategic management track in order to further “march forward” as a Siena Saint. Since starting her education at Siena, Bri has realized that business can be about more than balance sheets and watching the stock market. Infact, she has successfully integrated her artistic background into the world of business.
Brianna’s perspective expertly communicates the importance of art to those that are business oriented, as well as the influence of business to those that are more artistically-oriented. “There’s a lot more to marketing than people think”, Brown shares, noting that her view of a traditionally rigid field of study takes on more meaning and artistic liberty. “Marketing is the most vital part of a business because no one is going to understand what a balance sheet is or what an annual report is, but they will recognize your logo and what you stand for, which is the aspect of marketing that calls to me the most”.
A lot of how a person or a business is perceived is in how they market themselves. Brianna is fascinated in curating the image one projects among their audience. In her Digital Marketing course, MRKT 327, Brianna reached a turning point. In this class, Brianna recognized just how much we collectively underestimate the role that digital media plays in our spheres of communication and representation. Siena’s liberal arts mission allowed Brianna to get a more holistic education, stressing the importance of the real-world applications of the lessons she is learning every day.
If there is anything the past year has taught us, it is that not all learning happens within the bounds of the classroom. Now with online learning, the social and cultural relevance of the global pandemic, and a renewed focus on racial justice, it is impossible to “learn in a vacuum”. During the summer of 2020, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others sparked the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The activism and conversation that took place over the summer motivated Brianna and millions of others into action.
As a young Black woman, Brianna felt the need to tell her story, because she is not sure how much time is left. In writing this article, Brianna exposed some of the harsh truths of her childhood and her continued lived experience. While Brianna’s piece was supported by friends, family, and community members, she found that some had changed their perspectives. In putting her face and name to some of the pains of microaggression and racial tension, Brianna was forced to reckon with specific moments she has experienced – many of which she thought she had forgotten.
In her article, Brianna shares, “Throughout my life, I have been grateful to not have to endure the hardships that many other people of color have had to. I’ve never personally lost someone to police brutality, I’ve never been harmed by law enforcement, I’ve never witnessed a trauma happen in front of me. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced micro-aggressions or hatred.”
Brown shares that her experience just scratches the surface of those other Black individuals live from day-to-day. Driven to participate and lead discussions surrounding the African American experience, Brianna contributed to a platform that continued the conversation sparked by the events of summer 2020. She has since “decided to take a step back in order to focus on other opportunities and projects in my life at the moment.”
Since stepping back, Brianna has recognized that she misses having that creative outlet and sharing her work with others. Recently, she has been organizing and working on a new project that more specifically embraces her creative talent and motivated activism. With her extensive business background, Brianna can utilize her strengths in order to further mend her creative vision into a message she can share with others.
As Brianna looks ahead to a new project and a new semester, she is excited to greet the new opportunities that will continue to shape and impact her learning journey at Siena. Her ability to mix and match her college courses has allowed her to create an educational mosaic in which she sees herself and her interests represented. Just as Brianna believed that the final semester was a culmination of all that she had accomplished, she found new ideas and avenues along which she can continue to collaborate, create, and pave the way for the future.