Texas Tech University

Keeping Up with the Cleanup

Amanda Castro-Crist

March 25, 2021

In Texas Tech’s Custodial Services, where the average length of service for employees is 17 years, eight women have worked a combined total of 218 years.

In recognition of Women's History Month, Texas Tech University is highlighting the contributions of some of its longest-serving staff members throughout March. Their efforts, many of which go on behind the scenes and outside the spotlight, nevertheless keep the university running day to day.

Every building you've ever been in has countless people behind the scenes taking care of the day-to-day upkeep, making sure business runs as smoothly – and cleanly – as possible. The buildings at Texas Tech are no different.

Every day – and night – the Custodial Services staff, part of Operations Division Services, works to maintain the highest standards of cleanliness in more than 50 buildings on and off campus. Their work has been especially important during the past year, as the university has endeavored to provide a safe environment for students, employees and visitors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees in Custodial Services are experienced, dedicated and have served an average of 17 years at the university. A closer look at the numbers shows the department has eight women who have gone beyond that, with more than 20 years of service each and a grand total of 218 years between all eight.

Two of these women, Aida Garcia, a supervisor with almost 47 years of service, and Erma Torres, a unit manager with just over 30 years of service, have served the longest in various roles within the department. They say three things have kept them at the university: their love of the job, their love of the people and their love of Texas Tech.

Their commitment to the Texas Tech community is just one of the reasons why these women are being highlighted for Women's History Month.

In what positions/roles have you served while at Texas Tech? Can you describe some of the things you've done, both professionally and personally?
A.G.: I started working here at 16 when I was a student at Lubbock High School. They were hiring students to fill in when people went on vacation. Later, when I was a custodian, I cleaned the chancellor's houses for Chancellors John T. Montford, David Smith, Kent Hance and Robert L. Duncan. Each one was different, but they were all nice.

Aida Garcia
Aida Garcia

I also helped clean the women's gym as a custodian and would help with the football games and events. Then, I became the supervisor. Now, I supervise about 12 employees, and most of my work is mainly around Athletics in Jones AT&T Stadium and Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park. I make sure the stadium gets cleaned and ready to go on the first game day. It takes us about four weeks with all the suites and outside seats. Then, I take care of the football and baseball suites during games, and we do the clean-up afterward.

My employees always tell me, "You're the supervisor; what are you doing out there?" But I can't just delegate. I have to be part of it. I tell them, "If I can do it, you can do it. I'm not going to ask you to do something that I cannot do. I started from the bottom and worked myself up to the position I'm at, and I've done all this, so I know how it should be done, what you should be doing and how hard it is." In the long run, you see what you have accomplished. People say, "Wow, this looks really nice." It makes me happy when they see what I've done.

E.T.: I started as a custodian, cleaning and maintaining an area. Then, I was a custodian lead. As a supervisor I and II, I would supervise buildings like the Administration Building, Holden Hall and what is now Media & Communication. I was a trainer, an area supervisor and now I'm a unit manager.

I oversee all the custodians, basically. We've been working on a new system called OS-1 that is a simplified, more efficient way of cleaning. We train the people in a boot camp. We have outfitted them with new equipment that's more efficient, more worker friendly and ergonomic.

Did you ever imagine being at Texas Tech this long?
A.G.: No, no (laughs). My mom wanted me to go into bookkeeping. I applied at a bank, and they were going to pay me the same thing. I was like, "They're not going to give me the holidays that Texas Tech gives me." So I stayed.

E.T.: When I first started, I only planned to work here six months, because I was going to go to nursing school. But then, time kind of flew by, things happened and I liked working here. I like being around a lot of people. It's like a family.

What's the secret to maintaining a career for so long? Any advice for someone who is just starting their career at Texas Tech?
A.G.: It's not easy work, but I enjoy it. I like the environment here. I like my supervisors, they're really nice, and they listen to me. I like working with our employees, showing them and teaching them how to do our job properly. Of course, I like the benefits, and in our department, you can move up into different levels. I like the different challenges.

Erma Torres
Erma Torres

I say give it a chance, and always love what you do, because you're not going to be happy if you don't love what you're doing. And always be proud of what you do.

E.T.: Our managers really take your ideas into consideration. They have great opportunities for getting a higher title or better job, they give you training all the time, and they have great benefits. That's why I love this job. It wasn't just like, okay, you're going to be a custodian forever. They approached me and said, "Do you want to be the lead in this building? This is what it entails." I was like, "Sure, I'll give it a try." And from there, they promoted me. There is always an opportunity to advance.

We've had people who have worked with us who are deaf. We've had people with disabilities. We've had people who don't speak English at all, from Vietnam, China, Lithuania, Albania. There's opportunity for anybody here. This is a great place to work.

What kinds of changes have you seen during your time at Texas Tech?
A.G.: I have seen buildings change when they remodel. I love how they did the System Building, when they started building from the bottom up. They asked me what I thought about the cans we should use here, how we should clean this, and it was so interesting to be involved in that.

In our department, we have changed a lot, so we don't work our bodies as hard. We have different kinds of mops that are lighter and better for us that don't put a strain on our backs. Our vacuum cleaners also are lighter. We have better products to clean and disinfect more around campus. We have classes that train us on how to use all our equipment in a proper way and about sanitizing.

E.T.: I've seen campus change a lot. It's filling up everywhere. I used to be able to walk across an open field from the Dairy Barn and Foreign Language Building to what's now Media & Communication, and that was all empty, but then they built the English and Education buildings and the Burkhart Center.

In the past, we did zone cleaning, and one person would do a whole area. Now it's by specialists: vacuum, light-duty, restroom and utility specialists. Everybody has their part. Then, every two weeks to a month, they switch so they don't get bored. It helps with accountability, and it helps them not ever get burned out on one thing. It's simplified, consistent, efficient. We want our employees to be able to do their job well and not get fatigued or hurt. We want to treat all employees as first-class citizens. They're trained professionals. That's why I love this system, because it really does consider the person who is doing the job. There's a plan for almost everything.

I think there also has been change for the people in our department. We're the cleaning people. It is a service that is needed, and people appreciate it. But a lot of times, it's seen as any person could fill that position. But our director, Aaron Smith, and our assistant director, James Peel, they've done everything to make our job a career, not just a "job."

The past year, in particular, brought a lot of changes because of COVID-19, especially to the way you and your staff complete your duties. What was that like?
A.G.: Last year, a lot of our employees were afraid of catching COVID-19 as the ones who were cleaning everything. But then, we were told about the research and that we were safe to go in and clean. It was very different. It took a lot of us a lot of time to get used to working with the mask.

E.T.: Our mantra is, we clean for health first and then appearance, because we know that our students or any of our occupants, their health is the top priority. We might have a lot of other things, but the health and safety of our clients, and our employees as well, is the most important thing.

What have you enjoyed the most about being a Red Raider?
A.G.: Being part of Texas Tech. People ask me, "Where are you working?" I say, "Texas Tech," and they ask, "Well, how long have you been there?" and I tell them, and they say, "Wow, you must really enjoy your job." And I say, "I really do." And, you know, that I have made a difference working here. I have seen a lot of employees come and go, but a lot of them have stayed, which makes me happy.

E.T.: I like traditions. We work the football games and everything, and we love to watch when the Masked Rider comes in. It's just wonderful knowing that we get to prepare the stadium, and when people come to visit, they get a sense of, you know, the tradition around here. Everybody I know loves Texas Tech, and we're part of a big family. Everybody has pride in the work they do. They work very hard to make sure this is one of the best universities.

Do you have a favorite Texas Tech memory or tradition?
A.G.: I like to see the Carol of Lights®. My favorite memory was when I was working at the women's gym when the basketball team got the national championship. It was so different seeing all these camera people interviewing the basketball girls and it was just nice that I saw that in person.

Aida and Ninfa
Aida's sister, Ninfa, pictured on the right, worked in Custodial Services for almost 40 years before retiring as assistant director.

My mom, Maria Sofia Tijerina, also was a supervisor here at Custodial Services, and she was with Texas Tech for 30 years. In the summer, they used to let you take your kids to work. She worked in what is now called the Mathematics Building. I loved going in there. I thought the stairs were so high, but now I look at them and say they're not that high. My mom cleaned this big classroom that had more than 300 chairs. She would tell me to pick up all the newspapers, and they had these glass Coke bottles, and she would tell me to pick them all up. By lunchtime, my dad would come and pick me up and the following week, she would take one of my other sisters, Yolanda Carranco and Ninfa Flores. We thought it was really neat, coming to work with Mom. Ninfa also worked in Custodial Services for almost 40 years, until she retired a couple of years ago as assistant director, and my baby sister, Linda Landin, graduated from Texas Tech.

E.T.: There's been a lot. At Christmas, I used to bring my kids to the Carol of Lights® every year. I used to bring them to the football games when I could, and they loved all that. They loved Raider Alley.

I've seen a lot of political figures. There's always state representatives who you see because they're out there in the President's Suite at the football games we've had. Farrah Fawcett was there once, and Matthew McConaughey was at one of the football games.

Do you have a favorite building on campus?
A.G.: I like sports, so I like the stadium. I like the way different people like to decorate their suites with all these different things of Texas Tech. I like the scenery at the stadium and the football fields are really nice.

E.T.: Administration. I mean, I love the way the System Building looks, but I love the Administration Building because it's like, the original. There's a lot of wainscoting, a lot of woodwork, the Bell Towers are in there. Even the custodian room's door, it's humongous and has metal studs on the door. It literally looks like a castle door.

What does being a Red Raider mean to you?
A.G.: It means that I'm part of a big team, a big family they have here at Texas Tech. We are always treated equally.

E.T.: Well, I think being a Red Raider is having pride in the community. The university is part of Lubbock. It impacts the economy around here, and a lot of people in Lubbock are really friendly.

Erma and family at football
One of Erma's favorite memories is attending Red Raider football games with her family.

It's the feeling of family, the bonds you have. I grew up in a large family – there are 11 of us. My mom would always say, "You know, you've got to love each other, you got to help each other." It's something that was instilled in me a long time ago. Here, it feels like that. James will call me or I'll call him, just to make sure everybody's OK and ask how we're doing. Our boss, Aaron, does everything in his power to help us. He never missed a day to come into your office, even if it's for a quick minute, to ask, "Everything OK in here? Do you need anything from me? Anything I should know about?" I've never had a boss that does that every single day, you know?

What are your plans for the future?
A.G.: To continue staying with Texas Tech until my health says I can't. I don't plan to retire right now. I spend a lot of the summer taking my three grandkids to summer camps. They have been to every single Rec Sports camp they have here. I took my son, too, when he was younger.

E.T.: Hopefully, I'll continue working here. I'm not in a rush to leave. I could retire, but I really want to see this new system through. I want to make sure it's implemented, and I'd like to see it in action. So far, it's been great.

I'm about to be a grandma, so my plans are to spend time with my grandbaby. I've been wanting a grandbaby for years. I wasn't trying to rush my daughter or anything, but she's 25 now, so I'm glad I'm going to be a grandma.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?
A.G.: I really have enjoyed working here. I love Texas Tech. It's always been nice. My grandkids always say, "Oh grandma, you've got Texas Tech everywhere." Texas Tech is like a big family away from my small family.

E.T.: The reason I really like this job is because I've always liked to teach people stuff and let them know what they're doing is important. I tell people, "If y'all only knew how hard they work." They have a lot of pride in their work, and they put everything into it. I love our employees, the workers.