Staff Q&A with Michelle Majeski

Residents and guests entering Rodin College House are greeted with pleasant professionalism and enthusiastic support exuded by Residential Services Manager Michelle Majeski, who leads the Rodin Information Center.

If any one of the 800 students who reside in Rodin, their guests, or a visitor has a question or concern, the Rodin Information Center will find an answer.

“It’s like a family,” Majeski says. “The live-in staff, faculty, and professional staff watch out for the residents and we help each other. It’s a privilege to serve such a supportive community.”

In March, Majeski received the Pillars of Excellence Award, a part of the Division of Human ResourcesModels of Excellence Program that recognizes the important support that weekly paid staff members provide to promote Penn’s success. She was nominated by Paul Forchielli, her former supervisor and a senior building administrator in Residential Services in the Business Services Division.

“Michelle is a great, friendly face to the building,” Forchielli says. “She’s always so welcoming to anyone who comes into Rodin, always looking to solve students’ issues. Anything from facilities to anything that [students] need to get done on campus, Michelle is there to guide them in the right way.”

In his letter nominating Majeski for the Pillars Award, Forchielli wrote that when you first meet her, “you appreciate her optimism, kindness, and caring.”

“Michelle has not encountered a situation when she could not fashion some sort of positive outcome,” he wrote. “Nor has there been a resident’s concern that Michelle has not taken fully to heart. She finds this respect, kindness, and caring very naturally. It’s simply who she is.”

“I always look at problems as opportunities to help others, gain new experiences, and learn,” Majeski says. “When a customer has a problem, we work together to resolve it.”

The Current sat down with Majeski in Rodin to discuss her responsibilities as a residential services manager, making Rodin a welcoming home for students, and her Pillars of Excellence Award.

Q: How did you end up at Penn?
A: I graduated from Widener University as an undergraduate, where I experienced my aha moment. I was studying history there and I worked in the Office of Student Affairs for the associate dean of students. He was always challenging me, asking, ‘What are you going to do with your degree, Majeski?’ ‘I want to help people’ is what I would always say, so he gave me opportunities to do that through experiential learning in higher education and student affairs. He got me started in student affairs and my passion for the field just grew from there. It’s such a diverse field. I had no experience in residence life, so when this position became available, I had to apply. I guess they liked me because here I am.

Q: Are you originally from the area?
A: Yes, I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. My family moved to Delaware County when I was in the seventh grade, so I’ve been there since, but I will always have fond memories of Philly as my childhood home.

Q: What are some of your job responsibilities?
A: As a residential services manager, I’m in the building operations group, so I serve on the front line to assist residents with everything from room readiness at Move-In to vacancy at Move-Out, as well as everything in between, such as guest and key access, maintenance issues, communications about policies and procedures, emergency response, and conducting health and safety inspections and weekly building tours. My department partners with others to achieve our mission, such as Facilities and Real Estate Services [FRES], College Houses and Academic Services, and Public Safety, among others. Whatever the resident needs, I’m here to help, by directing them to the appropriate resource or helping to solve their problem directly. [Students] are here to learn, they’re here to develop as individuals, and they shouldn’t have to worry about anything else. We don’t want to cause them extra stress; we want to take care of all of those ins and outs for them so that they can really just get their job done, which, as students, is to get their degrees and figure out who they are.

Q: Is Rodin a freshman dorm?
A: No. Rodin is one of three high-rise College Houses, but it is the only one that does not have freshman students. The reason for that is we saw that there was a need to support the sophomore population, specifically, as they transitioned from their freshman year to their sophomore year. Our house dean at the time, Ken Grcich, drafted a proposal to make [Rodin] a sophomore experience and really focus on the issues that those students are facing through programming, so the majority of the students in Rodin are sophomores as well as upperclassmen.

Q: What is a bigger problem, students losing their PennCards or accidentally locking themselves out of their rooms?
A: I would say it is about even. There used to be a time when I would have said lost PennCards, but with some of the policy changes that we’ve implemented related to behavior, we’ve seen an improvement in that area.

Q: How many students do you know by name?
A: It’s funny you say that because when I first came here and I saw how many students there were, I had the goal to learn all of their names. You have to understand, as a high-rise building, we have 800 students whereas the other College Houses have between 200 and 500 students. One of my colleagues, who was in Kings Court English House, his name was Mr. Frank, told me, ‘I know all of them by name and face.’ To me, that was an incredible accomplishment because if you think about it, there’s a lot of turnover so each year he had to figure out who all of the students were. I remember thinking, ‘I would love to be able to know everybody’s name.’ Fortunately for me, our former house dean, Ryan Keytack, did something that helped me to make strides toward that goal. He asked all the RAs and GAs on all of the floors to get to know their residents. He wanted a picture of them and their name, what room they were in, and some of their hobbies. It was a poster project and he posted them throughout the house office, and you could look at them and say, ‘Oh, this is who that person is,’ and it helps you with name recognition. I would love to say that I know at least half of the residents by name, but that is not accurate. Even if I don’t know their names, I’m definitely always greeting them as they enter and exit the College House.

Q: As residential services manager, you work with, inter alia, the house dean, the house coordinator, graduate associates, resident assistants, the building administrator, other residential service managers, FRES, and the Division of Public Safety. Can you talk about how you all work together to make Rodin a welcoming home for students?
A: I think, ultimately, we all have the same goal, which is centered on students’ wellbeing and their overall experience. We’re all helpers and learners, usually, so we want to help each other in order to help the students. Because of that, there is a lot of collaboration between us; open-mindedness and just really trying to stay on top of communication. Sometimes someone might have an idea and not realize, ‘Oh wait, this involves an access issue, we should really talk to Residential Services about this.’ I think the more that you break down and make transparent what it is that each of us does, the more we realize, ‘This is a partner that we need to include,’ or ‘It would be good to give this person a heads-up and this is why,’ or to listen to what they have to say because they’re a stakeholder in this. Our building administrator—my supervisor, Joel Mintzer—and I usually meet with Rodin’s house dean and our house coordinator every week, and we’ll just talk about what is going on in the building, what projects, programs, and events are coming up, and what the RAs and GAs are seeing as trends in the building. Similarly, Joel and I will meet with Rodin’s facilities area manager every week as well.

Q: Were you surprised when you found out you won the Pillars Award?
A: It was a total surprise to me. I had no idea that I had been nominated. I remember I got a call from one of my former supervisors and colleagues, Paul Forchielli. He asked me, ‘Michelle, did you check your email?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I see it,’ and I’m looking through and it was an email from Pat [Zebley, special events consultant for HR’s Learning and Education Program], who organizes [the Models of Excellence Program]. I’m reading through it and, you know how sometimes you skim, because there was a lot in the email, I said, ‘Oh, this says I was nominated,’ and then [Forchielli] says, ‘No, read further,’ and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I won!’ and I started screaming with excitement, asking, ‘How did this happen?’ He said, ‘Well, you deserve it,” and I said, ‘I need to thank who nominated me,’ not knowing that he had nominated me. It was very surreal and humbling. I was beside myself because you do the best that you can and you go into work every day with specific goals, not knowing if you are making an impact on the community and the partners who you serve. I really try to help someone with a significant issue that they’re experiencing every day. Sometimes I don’t meet that goal, but I always go into each day with that goal, and the goal to learn something new, so to have been recognized with the Pillars Award meant so very much to me.

Michelle Majeski