Always Ready for Repair Work

schmitt shoots!!
Sonja Lockwood is a skilled maintenance worker who enjoys the challenges posed by her job.

Sonja Lockwood was determined to be a maintenance worker at Syracuse University. She took BOCES courses, volunteered for special work programs at the University for several years, and hoped that, one day, she’d move from housekeeping to general maintenance. Finally, a job became available in September 1999, and Lockwood was hired as the first woman general maintenance worker at SU. “It was a long road,” she says. “I just kept going to school and waiting for the right opportunity to come along.”
      Lockwood grew up with five brothers in a family where repairing things was a valued skill. Her father owned a garage, where she sometimes worked, and her mother liked mending things. “I must have inherited my interest in fixing things from my parents,” she says.
      Lockwood worked in housekeeping at SU for a decade before asking how she could get a maintenance job. The answer: “Go to school.” So she took courses and studied such skills as electrical work, blueprint reading, air conditioning, and refrigeration. “Sometimes Sonja would take two classes a semester,” says JD. Tessier, director of SU’s Housing and Food Services Maintenance Zone. “That was on top of working full-time and being the single parent of two boys.”
      Lockwood also volunteered for EWOC (Employees Working Out of Classification), a maintenance department summer program that gives employees a chance to gain experience in other areas. For three summers, Lockwood assisted the maintenance crews around campus. As part of her EWOC assignment, she participated in the department’s roving fix-it desk program, which consisted of going to different campus buildings to solicit repair jobs. She also was called on to fill in when a maintenance worker went out on disability or a leave of absence. “When an opening arose in the maintenance department, Sonja seemed like the natural choice,” says maintenance manager Rusty Tassini, Lockwood’s supervisor. “Her resumé is one of the strongest I’ve seen for that position in my 25 years at the University. She’s a bright, diligent worker who really shines.”
      Lockwood says it was hard at first for some of her co-workers to accept her, but most of the men in her department have been supportive. Her familiarity with the housekeeping staff has helped her too. “If housekeeping staff spot a burned-out light bulb or see something broken, they let me know immediately,” she says. “That way I can fix problems before they become safety hazards.”
      Last year Lockwood worked mostly in Flint and Day residence halls, doing repairs in students’ rooms. Such assignments threw her into the “deep end of the pool,” but she enjoyed having her skills challenged. “That’s the only way I’ll continue to learn,” Lockwood says. “I’ve done everything from repairing closet doors to removing bats from a residence-hall lobby.”
      For the next two years Lockwood will work at the Brewster-Boland complex, which houses about 700 students. “Each building has its own personality,” she says, “and I’m just getting to know Brewster-Boland. It’s a beautiful complex.”
      Lockwood knows that if she can’t repair something, or answer an inquiry, there’s always someone in the department who can. “We each have our own strengths and help each other out whenever possible,” she says. “It’s a team effort.”
      And when it comes to general building maintenance and repairs, students are always her top priority. “I get a lot of pleasure out of helping students because they’re so grateful when I fix something,” she says. “It’s like giving them a million dollars, and that makes me feel good.”
                                                                                                                        —CYNTHIA MORITZ AND CHRISTINE YACKEL

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