Student employees help Educational Equity family in wake of tragedy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In information technology, when it rains it pours, said student work-study turned temporary full-time employee José Ponte, who has worked this summer in IT support for Penn State’s Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity. His old supervisor, Assistant Manager Joel Reed, used that saying often with Ponte and fellow work-study student Scottie Huynh when work orders started piling up.

Since Reed’s tragic death in a traffic accident on Park Avenue, it’s been pouring more days than not. Shelly Aina, manager of IT for Educational Equity, said Reed’s loss was a shock to the entire team.

“He was a joy to work with,” Aina said. “He touched a lot of lives, and there were tears in Educational Equity and beyond when he died.”

Reed had been working with Educational Equity for about a year and a half, but he and Aina had been friends since he started working for the University 15 years ago.

“It was funny when he transferred to this unit, everyone thought he was all business, acting serious all the time, but he soon warmed up and everyone saw his real, funny personality,” she said.

Aina said the team has rallied together, and that Ponte and Huynh have been an important part of that process.

“They’ve been a godsend,” said Aina. She became their direct manager after her friend and colleague’s death, and said that they have “risen wonderfully to the challenge” of working full time. “I can’t describe how close the staff here is,” she said. “We’re really part of a family.”

Both Ponte and Huynh were originally hired as part-time staff, and they have been working with the unit since 2013 and 2012, respectively.

“Joel hired us,” Ponte said. “He trusted us, as students, to do this job, and we owe him quite a lot.”

Transitioning into a full-time, 8 to 5 job without one of their supervisors has taken a lot more responsibility and initiative, Huynh said. The transition to full-time wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the staff of Educational Equity, Huynh said. At first, it was a little intimidating going up to the staff, but then he realized that the department was “one big family.”

On any given day, Ponte and Huynh can be found in the Grange Building, bantering over a computer as they fix it, or responding to calls for tech support around campus. Typically, they have a schedule to start the day, which involves recycling or refitting computers from various labs. For all his experience and training, Ponte has found that, sometimes, “the easiest fix is to turn it off and back on, or hit it a couple of times. We have all kinds of rituals and prayers to scare computers straight.”

Calls are responded to as they are logged through the system, and Ponte said this has definitely improved his customer service skills.

“What I’ve found is that what people want to hear is ‘I’ll fix it,’” said Ponte. “IT is a very complex topic to talk to people about, and we really want to help them do their jobs.”

The satisfaction of being able to help others do their jobs is one of the things that Ponte loves most about working in IT.

“I love providing support to people, allowing them to do their job,” he said. “The most rewarding part is when I fix something and they thank me because they can get back to work.”

Aina also praised the growth of the students’ customer support skills and the increase in their technical prowess. She said that the skills and technical experience they have gained will greatly supplement their degrees in Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

“This is a great supplement to IST majors,” Aina said. “Ponte and Huynh are getting hands-on training and honing their customer service skills.”

After graduation, Ponte said that he wants to “keep working with tech and people” because he has loved his experience so much.

Both Ponte and Huynh are seniors and will graduate at the end of the fall 2015 semester.

“It’s bittersweet,” Huynh said. “It’s the ending of a chapter.”

“And the beginning,” Ponte added.

Last Updated September 01, 2015