December 2017 Edition
Carlos Esteva always makes time to answer a visitor's question or say hello to a student, which is all the more impressive when you consider that he supports one of the busiest buildings on campus.
In an average week, 31,102 people enter Sykes Student Union, whether to grab a cup of coffee, attend a meeting, shop in the bookstore, go to their office (many departments in Student Affairs have offices in Sykes) or attend an event.
Speaking of events, October 18 was the single busiest day in Sykes this semester, in large part due to the Career Fair held that day. A whopping 6,507 people were in the building at some point during that day. As for weekend events, an Admissions Preview Day helped push the November 18 numbers to 3,961 visitors.
That's a lot of people to clean up after, but Carlos Esteva does it with a smile.
Last year, when a student was discouraged and ready to drop out of WCU, a University employee convinced him to work on making new friends and feeling connected. Months later, when the student and his mom came to thank the employee, the young man started the conversation by saying, "Mom, this is the individual who literally saved my life."
On another day, another thank you —
A police officer arrived on campus to shake this employee's hand. Initially, the employee didn't recognize the poised young woman in her police uniform, then it dawned on him. This was a student from four or five years earlier who had socialized a lot, and her grades reflected that. He often reminded her to hit the books. It was clear she had eventually listened.
I could be painting a picture of what's it like to be a psychologist or counselor in WCU's Counseling Center, a Student Affairs staffer, or a Financial Aid director, but I'm actually describing a few of the intangible rewards of the job for Carlos Esteva. Officially, Esteva is a WCU custodian who works the 2-10 shift in Sykes Student Union. Unofficially, he's the "Mayor of Sykes."
Sykes director Dave Timmann coined this moniker, and it's an apt one. Like a good mayor, Esteva knows what's going on in every square foot of his municipality. He's responsive to the needs of his constituents – whether that need is concrete, like re-stocking paper towels or cleaning up a wet floor, or more ambiguous – like knowing when someone needs a sympathetic ear or a word of advice.
Esteva has been a custodian in Sykes for 14 years. Over that time, he has won the "Friend of the Union" award presented by the Division of Student Affairs, the "People's Choice Award" from the Office of Student Leadership & Involvement, been inducted as an honorary member of the Friars' Society, and endeared himself to countless WCU students, employees and campus visitors.
"When I first arrived at WCU, Carlos welcomed me with open arms and made me feel right at home," recalls Zeb Davenport, vice president for Student Affairs. "The students absolutely love him, and respect him and vice versa."
On a recent afternoon, I met up with Esteva to shadow him and to watch "the Mayor" in action. He goes by Carlos and I, in kind, asked him to call me Chris. A "President Fiorentino" or two slipped out during the course of the afternoon, but, otherwise, Carlos treated me like any new employee who needed training.
Carlos handed me a mop and we quickly got to work scrubbing the tile floors. My technique needed improvement but he had me up to speed in no time. Carlos takes pride in the task at hand but he's never so laser focused that he forgets his larger role as part of our campus-wide community of educators. As we headed down a hallway to empty trash cans in meeting rooms, Carlos stopped to greet a young woman who was about to pose for her senior photo. He always has time to say hello, answer a question, or good-naturedly tease anyone who doesn't root for his teams (he's a diehard Eagles and Phillies fan, regardless of whether they are #1 in the rankings or dead last).
WCU senior Lizzy McDevitt is president of the Panhellenic Council, and as such, she saw a lot of Carlos Esteva during the first two weeks of the fall semester, when sororities and fraternities held formal recruitment.
"We basically took over Sykes those weeks," says McDevitt. "There were about 800 women in and out of Sykes every day, all day long. We used just about every meeting room in the building. And despite the fact that we were making more work for Carlos, he is someone who always radiates positivity. In fact, when I was so exhausted during the second week, he kept telling me to ‘hang in there.'"
A thank you card from Lizzie and other sorority and fraternity leaders takes pride of place on Carlos' desk, in his office tucked in a corner of Sykes' lower level. "I treat these kids like my own," says Carlos. "I consider myself a father figure to them. And while we joke around and have lots of fun, if I see them putting their feet up on a meeting room table or other disrespecting the property, I call them out on it, like any good father would."
Carlos and his wife of 39 years, Evelyn, have one daughter of their own, Annie, who is a pastry chef. Carlos is a talent in the kitchen in his own right. For many years he worked the early shift at WCU cooking for Ararmark, went home and caught a few hours of sleep, then returned to work the third shift in custodial services. But six years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. While the operation to remove it was successful, Carlos was out of work for two years, re-learning everything from how to hold a spoon to how to tie his shoes.
When he did return to work he made a concession for Evelyn's sake – he agreed to work just one, not two fulltime jobs – but otherwise Carlos Esteva is the same dynamo he's always been.
"I could not wait to come back to work," he says. "This is where I belong."