Faces of Colby: Getting to know E.T.

College students are not exactly the cleanest members of the human species. Although many are well-organized and neat, it seems that without the help of on-campus custodians, Colby would instantly become coated in the muck and snow tracked in by exhausted students forced to trek through snow. Elissa Nelson, or “E.T.” as she is lovingly referred to by her friends and colleagues, is one of Colby’s many on-site custodians stationed primarily in residential dorms—in Nelson’s case, this dorm is West.

“On a usual day, I will wake up around 7:00 a.m. to empty all of the dorm’s trash cans. Then, I will wait until around 9:00 a.m. to start vacuuming the halls, because I really do not want to wake up the sleeping kids”, she said. After that, she spends the rest of the day “doing whatever seems necessary for the upkeep of the dorm,” which includes dusting the stairs, cleaning the toilets, or shoveling the pathways if it has just snowed.

With a permanent office in the basement of West, Nelson is able to spend a lot of her down time inside the dorm, interacting with the students who live there. “It has been awesome getting to know the kids, I love being around them so much” she said. In fact, among her custodial duties, Nelson is known by West dorm residents to occasionally hold morning yoga classes, open for whomever would like to participate.

Although she enjoys the social aspects of her job, one of Nelson’s favorite parts of being a custodian is the physical labor that it demands. This, she said, reminds her of her past career working in construction, which began during her early childhood. “I was born in Clinton, Maine but grew up and spent a good deal of my life in Stonington, Maine with my sister and two brothers,” she said. Around 1996, she began building garages with her father and then in 2000  started working in construction.

Citing the hands-on nature of the job as its main appeal, Nelson unfortunately was forced to end her career in construction only a few years due to the housing market crash. “I quit construction in 2007, when everything crashed. There wasn’t much work to be found since everyone seemed to stop building,” she explained. Additionally, the intense labor demanded by the job that she enjoyed so much in fact caused her physical health problems, taking her out of the industry permanently. “My physical therapist told me that if I continued doing what I was doing, and working the way I was working, I would be back in his office every three months or so. I simply could not do that to my body,” she said. It was at this point that Nelson moved to Waterville to take up a less physically demanding career: traffic flagging.  Soon, however, she heard of a custodial job opening at Colby and in 2014, she started officially working for the College.

“I still definitely miss the physical aspect of working in construction,” she admitted. However, by taking up camping and gardening, she is able to continue working with her hands on a more regular basis, bringing her as close to her past in construction as she  believes physically possible.

“During the summer, I like to keep my tent in my car and just drive around, looking for cool places to camp out. I really love the hands-on aspect of camping; it reminds me of my days in construction,” Nelson said. Additionally, she said gardening similarly helps her fulfill her needs for physical labor. In fact, her love of gardening extends so far that it even reaches the dorm where she works. “I have some begonias growing around West, and a couple more plants left behind by students that I like to take care of,” she said.

Despite missing her job in construction, Nelson has come to love Colby. “Working here has definitely been interesting, and I absolutely can’t imagine myself anywhere else,” she said. “I love connecting with the kids, and getting to do hands-on labor that resembles construction work about as much as I can handle right now.”

Leave a Reply