Chemistry technician keeping storage area ship-shape

Posted on: Nov 2, 2010 1:00:00 AM

Contact: Della Elliott

Cuyamaca College chemistry technician has the right formula to keeping storage area ship-shape

Worker recipient of employee-recognition award

EL CAJON – Melissa Chandler, a chemistry technician at Cuyamaca College, remembers the first time she walked into the large stockroom for the chemistry labs she oversees.  

“It was disorganized – things put in random cabinets and cupboards and drawers, with no rhyme or reason as to why items were placed where they were,” said Chandler, 34, a 2002 graduate of Cuyamaca College, who has been the lab tech for the past two years in Cuyamaca’s science and engineering department. She is responsible for providing support to instructors and students in 10 labs, making sure that supplies and material are in order and set up in preparation for classes. “It was like opening Pandora’s box every day--things shoved in corners…and there was nothing in writing to help guide me as far as inventory.”

The problem, Chandler explained, was that the college had just opened a new science building and in the process of moving into the new facility, there was little time to properly categorize and label the items in the stockroom. The disorganization impacted the classroom labs, with no one taking inventory and no efficient way to ensure materials were properly set up for use by students and instructors.

“None of the instructors could find anything because they didn’t have an inventory,” said Chandler, who, after graduating from Cuyamaca College, went on to receive her bachelor’s in chemistry from San Diego State University in 2009.

Rolling up her sleeves, Chandler tackled the daunting task of getting the supply room in order, and in the process, devised a plan to recruit student workers to help keep the area clean, safe and well-organized. The students benefit from getting needed practical work experience in a lab setting.

For her efforts, Chandler has received the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Chancellor/Classified Senate Award, a commendation presented quarterly to outstanding non-instructional staff.

Chandler received an engraved trophy at a governing board meeting in recognition of her exemplary work, along with a $250 gift certificate from Barnes & Noble and a lunch with the chancellor and governing board president.

Chemistry instructor Laurie LeBlanc, who nominated Chandler for the award, described the lab tech as “hardworking, motivated, supportive to faculty, innovative and inspiring to the student workers she supervises.

“Her can-do attitude and hard work has enabled our chemistry courses – with the highest enrollment ever – to be run in a more efficient and effective manner than they have been run for the past 10 years.

“(Melissa) managed to juggle training student workers, planning upcoming labs (including setup and ordering), purchasing supplies, managing the chemistry budget and (maintaining) good communication with faculty, all with a good attitude in a stressful and busy environment.”

Chancellor Cindy L. Miles applauded Chandler for coming up with a way to maximize the utility of the labs without expending additional funds during the current budget crisis.

“We are very fortunate to have someone like Melissa Chandler,” she said. “She is a shining example of  a community college success story and we are very fortunate to have her as an integral part of  Cuyamaca College.”

Debi Miller, GCCCD Classified Senate president, said the quarterly award honors classified employees whose job excellence and work ethic inspires others.

“We look for employees who demonstrate professionalism, sensitivity, commitment and good communication skills to provide exemplary service to students, instructors, fellow employees, or the general public,” she said.

Chandler, who supervises six to eight student workers each semester, and provides support to seven instructors, said that as a former Cuyamaca College student, herself, she has empathy for the student workers.

“I try to be a mentor for them,” she said, adding that she also provides private tutoring to students. “I recruit the top students of the classes to volunteer, creating spreadsheets for inventory, washing dishes, organizing and helping me to assemble equipment.”

Having taught four semesters of Chemistry 100 as a teacher’s assistant at SDSU, Chandler said she hasn’t ruled out a future as a college instructor – a far cry from the high school dropout who first began as a student at Cuyamaca.

“I come from an unstable homelife,” she said about her years growing up in San Diego. “My parents were drug addicts and we bounced around from place to place, and when my parents divorced, it was just easier for me not to go to high school. The environment didn’t foster getting an education.”

Despite her lack of a high school diploma, Chandler managed to get hired in the accounting department of Sony’s San Diego plant, but with the advent of Sept. 11 and its impact on business and industry, she lost her job when half of the office staff was let go.

“I had no idea where to go, but I knew I needed schooling,” she said. “I was living in La Mesa at the time, so I went to Cuyamaca, stressed and scared and on the verge of the crying. Fortunately, I met some awesome people in the outreach office, counseling and financial aid.

“I took a Chemistry 115 class and just fell in love with the subject. I was scared to death of algebra, but an instructor explained to me that it was just problem-solving and amazingly, I found success. With science, it was fascinating to see how the world was made on a molecular level; it was awesome. There is just an incredible core of faculty in science and math – I was really lucky to have met them.

“In my mind, teachers are above celebrities – they should be revered and admired, more so than celebrities. They help instill dreams and motivate you to change your life.”

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