By: Kiera Mitru
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!