By Victoria Heckenlaible

Late-night building attendant Refugio Esquivel peered over the metal railing down uniform stairs in the UT Administration Building before beginning to mop. The fluorescent lights bathed the entire staircase in an industrial glow.

“I always feel like I’m going to fall off these stairs,” he said.

Esquivel, who has been working at UT for 11 years, is part of the custodial staff that cleans the campus and its buildings from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Attendants start their shifts by signing in to receive building section assignments and chemical packets for cleaning. These building attendants concentrate on specific cleaning duties that rotate every three months from lights duties, vacuuming, cleaning restrooms and utilities work. This is a part of the team’s effort to speed up the cleaning process and add variety.

UT also uses a unique custodial organization system called Operating System 1, which increases the pace, promotes efficiency and helps cut back on waste. Employees are given cards with an hourly schedule of where they are supposed to be in the cleaning process along with exact chemical rations in small colorful bags.

Fidel Garcia, the building services supervisor, said he is proud that the University adopted this system, joining the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan.

“Now everything is portioned out in the bags and we know exactly how much [of the] cleaning supplies each person is using,”
Garcia said. “We can look at an employee’s card to find them instead of spending half our time looking for them.”

When Garcia started working at UT nine years ago, the piles of plastic bags and cleaning chemicals that often went unused bothered him, he said. Then the University implemented Operating System 1 to save money and time and to be more environmentally safe.

“Most of the employees didn’t like the change — no one ever likes change,” Garcia said. “But then they starting liking it; the new system was faster-paced.”

When the employees sign in, they receive a color-coded card with cleaning assignments and matching colored chemical packages: green for light cleaning, blue for vacuuming, pink for restrooms and yellow for utilities. Even the schedule on the dry erase board is color-coordinated.

Though the building attendant job is extremely organized and efficiently managed, the late-night hours give employees increased flexibility during the daytime.

“Most of us prefer the late-night hours, because it lets us do what we need to do [during the day],” Garcia said.

In some cases, the hours allow for the opportunity to have second job during the day.

Garcia said one UT building attendant only sleeps for three hours a night. The employee works at UT at night then drives to an Austin suburb for a daytime custodial position.

“I don’t know how he does it,” Garcia said. “And I don’t know how my brother did it either — he worked two jobs for 12 years and finally had to cut down to just one.”

For some of the attendants, an alternative to a second job is to sign up to work large UT events, which provide opportunities for extra hours on the weekends.

“Many of the employees try to work the big events,” said building attendant leader Roberto Rodriguez. “It helps them make extra money.”

As a building attendant leader, Rodriguez supervises teams of eight to 12 attendants, audits supply usage and keeps track of hours.

Even with the weekend opportunities and the flexibility of the late-night hours, the benefits can only last so long as workers get sick of working two jobs and others start families.

“I used to be fine with the hours, but now I have a daughter,” Garcia said. “She’s growing up and wants to spend time with us in the evenings.”

Garcia is usually only able to spend 30 minutes with his daughter between the time she arrives home from school and he has to go to work.

Outside of balancing work and home and other challenges that go along with their jobs, the late-night custodial employees have had some lighthearted and even bizarre moments working when no one else seems to be around campus.

“‘Junior, Junior,’ I kept hearing after I turned my lights off,” said attendant Esquivel. “On the third time, I turned around and I saw a person crawling on the floor with no legs.”

Esquivel said he stared in horror as the apparatus crawled closer and the blood pooled on his freshly cleaned floors. He finally snapped out of the vision as he began screaming, he said.

“I was terrified,” Esquivel said. “I just took off running with my friend chasing after me.”

When his friend caught up with him, he forced Esquivel to walk back to the spot in the original pharmacy building. But even with no blood or signs of the legless crawler, Esquivel still refuses to ever return.

Attendant leader Rodriguez has also had his share of interesting interactions. He said that at one point, he followed wet footprints every night over the course of several weeks around the Music Recital Hall building. Each time he followed the footprints they led to nothing, until finally he and a building attendant found the culprit.

“I swung open the restroom door to see a butt-naked man standing in front of the sink,” Rodriguez said.

The man was bathing, splashing water from the running sink on himself and using the soap from the soap dispenser as a puddle of water formed around him. Rodriguez and the attendant then called UTPD to handle the situation.

From possible spirits to attempted bathroom sink baths, the late-night custodial crews have seen it all. The nocturnal hours are prone to unusual sightings and potential challenges that seem to affect the building attendants’ and leaders’ daily lives.

MICHAEL SINGER, professor in the Section of Integrative Biology in the School of Biological Sciences
[35 years at UT]

1. Professors should understand that students are real people and students should understand the same about professors. Among real people, kindness is always a virtue and its absence always a sadness and a pain. Students often don’t realize that not only can professors be unkind to students, but students can be unkind to professors. Twenty years later, I still remember an anonymous student evaluation that read: “I expected to enjoy this class, and I might have done so were it not for Dr. Singer. His physical appearance was MORE than disgusting! Had he been clean, maybe I would have been able to stand to look at him and listen. In short, I hated everything about Singer and his class.” I work very hard to make my classes both informative and interesting to students, and to have them dismissed so casually and completely is really quite painful!

2. Professorial duties are teaching, research and service. The only way to be a happy professor is to resign yourself very quickly to the fact that you can do none of these as well as you know you could do it if it were your only task. It’s true that research and teaching can complement each other, but this is mainly true for the most advanced classes and at the freshman level it is rare that my research directly feeds into and improves my teaching. In the main, research and teaching compete for my time and effort.

3. It IS possible to teach evolution to non-science students in Texas, if you do it gently.

4. Professoring is a good gig for folks like me who get sick from time to time. I am judged on what I have achieved in the past five years. If I were judged on what I’ve achieved in the past month, I’d be carrying a “will work for food” sign.

5. Professoring is NOT sexy. Around 1978 or so, I remember driving on 26th Street and passing three young women who hollered out, “Hey, cool car, give us a ride!” So I did, and someone said: “This is a neat car, what do you do?” Though I could have said, “I’m a truck driver,” because it used to be true … [I decided I was] going to tell the truth even though I thought I knew the consequence. So I said, “I teach biology at UT.” And the reply? “LET US OUT!”

HOPE FITZGERALD, lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies
[2 years at UT]

1. Challenge is a good thing. Our students know what they’re getting into when they decide to study a complicated language intensively. When we keep the environment challenging (but hopefully not too stressful!) they keep making great

2. Be flexible, keeping your priorities in mind. No matter how well I plan for a class, something is bound to change at the last second, and it’s important to keep my priorities for the course in place while being flexible with how we work toward them as a class. For example, the first one-third of this semester, Egypt was in turmoil, and instead of discussing class readings, we sometimes spent class time watching events unfold there on the news. Helping students connect their language learning to the real world and to that bit of history in the making was so important that some other priorities had to be modified.

3. Students are responsible for their own learning. Every instructor I work with really wants his or her students to succeed and tries hard to make it happen, but in the end, it’s the student who decides whether or not to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.

4. Seek, and you’ll (probably) find. UT has great resources available but in such a huge school, it’s not always easy to hear about them. If you need a service (counseling, tutoring, funding for a research project) it’s probably available here at UT—just start asking about it.

5. If you don’t occasionally take some time off, your head will explode.

5.5. Sleep has to be a priority. Organize your time and prioritize getting enough rest, or your semester will not go well.

Compiled by Sarah Pfeffer / Our Campus staff.

While staplers and tape dispensers tend to occupy most desks around campus, exhibits designer John Maisano’s is filled with clay figures of mosasaurs, sketches of prehistoric creatures and sculpture molds. Being the one-man exhibits department at Texas Memorial Museum, Maisano is tasked with making the museum a place that people want to visit through designing, creating and bringing the exhibits to life.

“When someone walks into the museum, I have three seconds to grab their attention and make them go ‘Oh, what’s that?’,” Maisano said. “When you enter a space you get a feeling from it — either it is crazy fun or ‘Eww, I don’t want to be here.’ That’s the real challenge of the job.”


Photo by Stephanie Bathurst

As the museum team member with the fine arts degree, Maisano brings the scientists’ specimens and dissertations to the public on a visual level, interpreting science through art.

“This position combines my architecture, art and theater experience,” he said. “It deals with lighting, the way people move around the space and how they encounter things. The lighting, colors and way a specimen is mounted [are] what draws
people in.”

The museum is a testament to his 11 years of work toward the goal of making science interesting and exciting. Whether it’s the larger-than-life-sized model of the rock cycle, the murals in the animal habitat display cases, the coloring book templates of dinosaurs or the entire Hall of Geology and Paleontology, Maisano has had a large impact on the public’s view of science.

“I will be given the room, the specimens, access to the scientists and curator, and have to make something pretty.”

Since he fills the role of carpenter, welder, painter and sculptor on top of actual designing, Maisano rarely has two days that look alike.

“It’s really neat — I never have any idea what’s coming down the pike on any given day,” he said. “This job entails everything from changing light bulbs to mounting specimens, to making and designing props for the needs of the education department.”


One of Maisano’s biggest projects right now is working with the education and paleontology departments to train K-12 teachers on how to incorporate science in their classrooms through art.

“It’s challenging because we’re dealing with people who have never drawn before, at the same time as art teachers,” he said. “I’m helping teachers to get rid of the fear of art — showing people who are afraid of drawing that it’s basically just shapes and that if you mess up clay, you can just do it again.”

Money is new dating criteria in China
Economic growth in China seems to have caused increased desire for good financial prospects in a potential mate, one UT professor has found.

Psychology professor David Buss and a team of researchers have discovered that the need for financial security among Chinese mate-seekers has grown over the past 25 years, reflecting economic development in China. The findings were published in the February edition of “Personality and Individual Differences.”

Buss led an International Selection Project in 1983 that asked 500 Chinese men and women to rank a set of qualities they seek in a sexual partner. In 2008, the researchers once again collected data from 1,060 participants and compared that data to that of the first study.

The results show a strong correlation between the increase of the standard of living in China over the last two decades and the importance of a “good earning capacity.” Both genders rated financial security higher in the 2008 study, but more women than men desired traits such as “social status.”

The study also found that men place more emphasis on youth and attractiveness of mates, while women prefer financial prospects and social standing. This gender gap supports the evolutionary theory that women and men look for partners who are fertile and financially stable.

“These findings reveal both important trends in the cultural evolution of values surrounding mating, as well as the robustness of sex differences in mate preferences over time,” Buss said.

Pent-up emotion may cause aggression
Bottling up emotions can make people more aggressive but fatigue does not, according to a study published in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science” in March.

UT professors Arthur Markman and Todd Maddox and two University of Minnesota researchers showed participants two infamous classic movie scenes: the overeating scene in “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” and the toilet bowl scene in “Trainspotting.” Half of the subjects, who were mostly students and members of the Army, were asked to stay awake for 24 hours prior to the study. The others were allowed to sleep.

Before watching the clips, some of the subjects were told not to visibly react to the images. Others were allowed to watch without restriction.

The study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Army, concluded that those who refrained from reacting were more aggressive than those who acted freely. The participants who were deprived of sleep reacted no differently than those who were well-rested, suggesting that fatigue does not make people more aggressive.

“Our research suggests people may become more aggressive after they have to control themselves,” Markman said. “Whatever psychological mechanisms are at work when people deal with stress and then have to exercise self control later are not the same thing that happens when you’re tired.”

The results of Markman and Maddox’s research reinforces the “ego depletion effect,” in which bottling up emotions may lead to increased aggression later in life.

Local action key to species conservation
Human activity, not simply climate change, is affecting plants and animals at the local level, according to UT biologists.

Professors Camille Parmesan and Michael C. Singer published their findings in “Nature Climate Change” in March, in response to increased pressure from policymakers to determine how many of the changes observed in species are from greenhouse gases versus other factors.

The general consensus among scientists is that funding would be better spent on studies of species adaptations and conservation of endangered species. Regardless of the reason behind species change, the affected animals and plants are feeling the heat.

“A changing climate is a changing climate, irrespective of its cause,” the scientists wrote in the journal.
The researchers emphasize the need to focus on human interactions with the environment, including air pollution and urban sprawl.

In “Nature Climate Change,” Parmesan and Singer cite the Quino butterfly population in the 1980s, which became endangered as a result of the urban growth of San Diego and Los Angeles. Singer, who has worked with the species since the 1960s, said that while climate change is partially to blame for the decline in Quino butterflies, it wasn’t the only driver.

The biologists stress the importance of acting locally to restore damaged habitats and removing invasive species. The issue of climate change is a problem on a much larger scale, they said.

— Jordan Schraeder