by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)
Balancing school in Storrs and work in Hartford, Peter Carcia had plenty on his plate at the start of 2020. After being accepted as a program assistant in the English department, Carcia breathed a sigh of relief; school and work could now be completed in the same place. A week before he was set to start in the office, the campus was shut down and Carcia, like many of us, found himself studying and working in the same place: home.
AM: How did you hear about the program assistant position? What inspired you to apply for it?
PC: Well, I came back as a student before this all started. I was working in Hartford as a contract IT guy, and I wanted to find a position here on campus. The job was in Hartford at the time, but I was also working remotely, so there were a lot of logistical pieces at play. I found the program assistant position, went for it, and Melanie [Hepburn] gave me a chance. Everything was coming together in a nice, pretty box and surely enough, about two weeks after I’d gotten the offer, and about a week before I was set to start, everything shut down. There were a lot of questions in the air about how everything was going to come together. At that time, there was still the idea that this would be a two-week thing, and I began my training remotely.
AM: When you found out that your position would be a remote one, did the job change at all in terms of responsibilities as the department adapted to this online format?
PC: The job description has shifted in many ways. When I had my interviews with Melanie, it was meant to be a front desk job where I was going to use some of my IT experience and help people out. My main responsibility was to be a kind of liaison, so that when people walked in and were looking for different rooms or were looking for specific professors, I was supposed to be the point person. That was a very key part of the role, as it was described to me. Once the position became remote, it became more about completing back end administrative tasks and helping adjust to the new normal.
AM: How is the work-school balance for you?
PC: It’s been good. I came back to study communication, and the department has been great about the transition to an online format. They’ve gotten asynchronous courses set up with a more open-ended schedule in mind. It’s good to be able to take care of the shifts during the day, and then flip the switch at five o’clock and start on my schoolwork. It’s been nice to have the flexibility to build a schedule that works best for me.
AM: Are you working in the office now?
PC: Just Tuesdays and Thursdays for now. I’m actually moving into my own place in June, so it’s good to finally get into that rhythm and jump to the next challenge. I think that once I move in, I’ll probably work here full-time if all goes well in terms of guidance and regulations. We’ve got a lot to prepare for, like the return to in-person classes, and a few new faculty members are coming so we’ll need to get them all set up and ready. It’ll be exciting to be back full-time in an office environment.
AM: What’s it like holding down the fort in Austin?
PC: It’s interesting, because I’m so used to the university, but the Austin building itself was a whole new environment for me. I had one stats class upstairs, but otherwise, the Austin building was just kind of an enigma. It’s almost like going through ancestry.com and recognizing a completely new faction of your family. Melanie and I frequently joke about my job interview, when I used the word “deliverables” throughout the whole thing, which comes more from my engineering background, and it’s a term that isn’t very often used in the humanities. I’ve been learning a lot more about a field that I wasn’t exposed to very much in the past, and it’s unlocked a piece of this university’s wisdom that I had never seen before.
AM: Even though the building has been mostly empty during this time, have any moments there stood out to you?
PC: You know, there was this one situation where there was a synchronous course that was meeting in the building, probably had a lab alongside it, and one day, I think they were having an exam. I was distributing mail when I saw a student that came out in tears and was in distress. The professor came out, as well, and checked on the student and made sure he was okay, following all the protocols for such a situation. I went over to the student, and we started talking. I told him my backstory of being here as an undergrad and recognizing pretty late in the game that I was in a program that I didn’t want to be in and all the anxiety that came with it. My experiences here have been a very roundabout story, so taking the things that I had learned the hard way and sharing them with the next generation of students here was really a full circle moment.