There is a new face at Vassar’s ALANA Center. Coral Santos was hired in September as a part-time administrative assistant to the center’s interim director, Wendy Maragh Taylor. Santos is in the office every day from Monday to Friday, but her hours are flexible. This allows the Taylor to employ Santos when the ALANA Center really needs her, especially when there are events on the weekends like student leader brunches. In short, Santos is essentially Taylor’s right hand. She takes phone calls, greets visitors to the center, looks over the center’s budget, keeps track of Taylor’s calendar and generally makes sure everything is running smoothly in one of Vassar’s most important campus resource facilities.
Santos grew up in Poughkeepsie, and studied political science and business administration at the University of Albany. Before coming to Vassar, Santos worked as an administrator in multiple departments at the University of Albany, including its student center and residential life office.
Santos reports that she has enjoyed her work at the ALANA Center thus far. She noted that she was aware of Vassar’s outreach programs while growing up in Poughkeepsie, and is thrilled to be working for the College now: “I really enjoy Vassar. Everyone in general is extremely friendly and welcoming, which is one thing I hope that I can reciprocate as well … Vassar is spoken of very highly around here, and since I’ve come here I can say the same … I know that Vassar’s involved with Poughkeepsie high school, which I didn’t attend, but I have many family members who did. I have a friend that, through the program that Vassar has with Poughkeepsie, graduated from Poughkeepsie High School and decided to come here when she was accepted.”
Although she has only been here for a short time, Santos has already begun creating bonds with Vassar students, “I’ve been very welcoming with students. Students are usually busy so if they need any extra help with anything at the ALANA Center in general, I help alleviate some of the stress. Some kids will just come in when they need help with some flyers, I can get some creative juices flowing. I’ve been making a lot of posters, signs and flyers [for them].”
There were over 20 applicants to the position Santos now occupies. According to Taylor, Santos stood out because of her warm personality and administrative experience. “I think Coral brings an incredible amount of experience in terms of the work she’s done previous to this. The kind of teamwork she’s done, the kind of social justice work she’s done, her support of young people and of students in particular, and of groups that have had experiences with bias and oppression,” Taylor noted. “Also, her administrative skills are also phenomenal.”
The ALANA Center’s final test before hiring someone new is a group interview with student interns, which Santos passed with flying colors. “Students also really enjoyed talking with her and meeting her during that group interview. They felt really good about her presence and how she would represent the office being that welcoming person,” said Taylor.
She also stressed that the center focused on Santos’s experience and temperament during the hiring process, but acknowledged the advantages of having an administrative assistant who is a Poughkeepsie native: “[Santos] being from Poughkeepsie absolutely adds to [her value] because we certainly have students here who are really interested in continuing to engage with the Poughkeepsie community. So [Santos is] able to be a resource, if needed, to see what kind of connections she has in the community for some sort of social justice work that students want to do. And [she] just sort of has a sense of what the concerns are in the community.”
Santos has since affirmed that her connections to Poughkeepsie have given her a distinct edge when helping students. “I would say it helps that I know some local areas or places that community service initiatives could be taking place in,” she remarked. “I [also] speak Spanish so I can bridge that in the community. There have been times when I’ve had to make some phone calls in Spanish so [people] feel more comfortable.”
Taylor is herself also a new addition to the Vassar faculty; she joined the campus community in August. Immediately upon her arrival, Taylor entreated Dean of the College Christopher Roellke to let her hire an assistant. According to Taylor, Roellke agreed, but only to a part-time position. The ALANA Center has gone without an administrative assistant for almost 10 years, since the most recent one retired during an era of budget cuts. Taylor hopes to eventually bump this new position to full-time status, however. She explained, “It would be great to have an administrative assistant who was full time. This is a center, right? So in addition to [managing] things that are much more about programming; answering phones, working on documents for us, welcoming anyone who comes into the center, there’s also just the business of managing the actual building! So some of the things that our administrative assistant is helping with are things like the water in the bathroom downstairs isn’t turning on. So someone who’s following up on that … I have found that Facilities Operations have been very responsive, but for them to respond you need to have someone who has the time to keep putting in those requests…it would be wonderful to have someone who could work more hours, and we hope to get there.”
For now, Taylor’s main focus is Vassar students. She’s taken with how bright and hard-working students are, and she knows that hiring Santos will allow her to focus her energy on the more impactful parts of her job, like meeting with students one on one and helping them facilitate events. She also noted, “I’m also protective of making sure [the interns] get to be students. It’s important to be that their work as interns is around leadership and building leadership skills and being involved in programming and not doing administrative tasks.”
With any luck, the ALANA Center will soon have a full time administrative assistant. Perhaps there will one day be room in the Vassar budget for additional administrators like coordinators and assistant directors. That’s what Santos and Taylor are working towards. Ultimately, their goal is simply to let “students be students.”