Library worker helps students gain better seating

CUYAMACA COLLEGE (Press Release) –  A library worker who came up with a novel solution when the college found it didn’t have the funds to refurbish hundreds of old chairs as part of a building renovation is the latest recipient of an award that each quarter highlights the good works of the college and district staff.

Maria Gearhart, a senior multimedia assistant at the college’s Learning and Technology Resource Center, took a hands-on approach to the dilemma by  borrowing tools from her upholsterer father, and repairing more than 200 chairs to furnish a nearly 4,000-square-foot expansion of the library.

The $4.1 million addition to the learning resource center is the last of the campus’ new facilities and building expansions funded through Prop. R, the $207 million facilities bond measure approved by East County voters in 2002 to address severe shortages of classroom and lab space at Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges.

“Unfortunately, the money available for furniture, fixtures and equipment on this project is pretty humble,” said Connie Elder, dean of learning and technical resources.

Elder, Gearhart and another library staffer picked out the fabric at a local fabric shop and Gearhart began the painstaking reupholstering about a year ago.

“The chairs were wearing out and now they look almost new again,” said Gearhart, nominated by Elder for the Chancellor/Classified Senate Award. “Before me, they had sent them out at $35 a chair. When they decided that was too much and that the work could be done in-house, a couple of people tried to take on the work, but it was taking a long time. I saw that they were doing the repairs the hard way and went and asked my dad to borrow his tool I used to watch him use when I was little.”

But the two hours it takes to repair each chair is nothing to take lightly; Gearhart has blisters to show for the roughly 500 hours she’s put into the project so far. She does the repairs as her regular job allows, doing the handiwork at the library circulation desk whenever there’s a lull and completing with the machine work in a back area.

In addition to the reupholstering, Gearhart has been the primary planner involved in moving the library stacks to accommodate the library expansion. 

“She has tirelessly checked and double-checked to assure that all books are returned to the correct shelves in the correct order after work crews have moved the cases,” Elder wrote in the award nomination form. “Every day that Maria comes to work behind the circulation desk in our library, she helps students in so many different ways. She helps them find the resources they need and patiently answers questions so that they will succeed in meeting their educational goals.”

At Tuesday’s (April 5)  Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Governing Board meeting, she was presented an engraved trophy in honor of her Chancellor/Classified Senate Award, along with a $250 gift certificate from Barnes & Noble and a lunch with the chancellor and governing board president.

Gearhart, who received her associate degree in business office technology with honors from Cuyamaca College, also has an artistic flair she puts to use with monthly displays at the library entrance. She monitors Craigslist and frequents thrift shops, always on the lookout for items she could use for the displays.  The four large glass display cases were Craigslist finds that she picked up for free and refurbished on her own time.

“It makes me feel real good. I just tell people – it falls under ‘other duties as assigned’ in my job description,” Gearhart said about the pats on the back she has received for all her work.

In recognition of the dollars she has saved the college, Gearhart was honored during spring convocation with a Golden Coyote Award, named after the campus mascot.

Cindy L. Miles, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District chancellor, said Gearhart’s dedication to Cuyamaca College is what makes the close-knit campus special.

“It is truly ‘The Cuyamaca Way,’ that special something that makes everyone who comes here feel like they have become a part of this big family,” she said.

Debi Miller, the district’s Classified Senate president, said Gearhart is the perfect example of someone working outside the classroom whose contributions are invaluable to ensure student success.

“The students and the college as a whole benefit hugely from Maria’s willingness to go the extra mile and to put so much effort and care in improving the library,” she said.

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Preceding provided by the Grossomont-Cuyamaca Community College District

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