the facilities team outside the SOM Ed II building
December 5, 2023

The SOM Team that Does it All

You may know the facilities team from the opening of the Ed II building--but they do far more

Author: Erika Klein
December 5, 2023

Recently, someone pulled aside Cynthia Carolina, the UCR School of Medicine’s director of facilities and operations, to let her know that cars weren’t stopping at a stop sign in the parking lot.

“At first I was thinking, that's totally not me,” Carolina recalled, laughing. “But then I started thinking, you know what? I do talk with everyone and have built good relationships with our campus partners.” She took the time to listen to the concern, then sent a note about it to UCR Transportation Services.

The facilities team has long been involved with a variety of campus projects, but recently became more prominent for its role in opening the SOM Education Building II. The recognition is well deserved: When Carolina started working at UCR four years ago, the medical students were studying in modular units. She jumped right into working on the new building, including focusing on sustainability measures and state-of-the-art technology for students, faculty, and staff.

“It was memorable going from seeing the students in the trailers, to making a temporary space for them in the Education I building, to now they have this grand five-story building,” Carolina said.

A variety of mission-focused projects

Beyond Ed II, Carolina’s team is also deeply involved in numerous projects both on and off campus that support the medical school’s mission. Two of Carolina’s favorite projects, besides the Ed II building, were working on the SOM Center for Simulated Patient Care and using her project management and interior design skills to prepare the Education I building as a short-term space for medical students and, next, for staff moving in from offices off campus.

Facilities team in front of the Ed II building
From left, Charo Peralta, Cynthia Carolina,
Benisi Penaoza, Clark Hapeman.

Jennifer Mitchell, a facilities management specialist who joined the team in January 2023, said she’s also excited about the project to refresh Ed I and make it a more welcoming area for staff. “A lot of people would say that the Ed II building turned out beautiful,” she said. “But I enjoy actually renovating the Ed I building over the new building,” she added. “How can we make it just as comfortable and exciting with a fresh look and feel, bringing [staff] back to campus even though it's not the brand new building? That's my challenge. We're making good strides, so I'm eager to complete it.”

Another main part of Mitchell’s role is focused away from campus on the UCR Health clinics. Besides completing walk-throughs to check for and fix any compliance issues, she and the facilities team helped open the Hulen Place Clinic, which serves unhoused individuals. The team’s efforts create closer ties between UCR Health and the UCR SOM while directly promoting the SOM’s mission to improve access to healthcare for underserved populations in the community.

This mission is personal to several members of the team. Mitchell is from Riverside, while Charo Peralta, facilities coordinator, lives in Mira Loma. “We're a group of really passionate individuals, passionate about our work and passionate about the mission to bring healthcare into the Inland Empire and making it accessible and affordable,” said Peralta.

Helping students, faculty, and staff

Peralta’s role involves a range of tasks including daily maintenance ticket management, emergency planning, purchasing, the ergonomic program, and more. While these efforts don’t at first seem to be related to the SOM’s mission, Peralta said the team’s passion for the work shines through to benefit the community. “We love what we do and we just love helping the people that we come across,” she said.

Peralta added that she enjoys finding creative ways to communicate mundane ideas, like packing boxes to move staff from one building to another. “How do you make the people moving into the Ed I building feel like it's a renewed space--how do we convey that and make it fun?” she asked, adding that she has embraced the challenge of getting staff excited about the process.

Of all their responsibilities, the team emphasized that they focus on customer service. “Not just to the students, but the staff, the faculty--we want to make sure that we can get to them in a timely manner and that we can help resolve whatever issue they experience,” said Peralta.

Now that the new building has made space for all SOM staff, students, and faculty to work on campus, Mitchell said she feels pulled in different directions by the many requests made of the team, but that it’s enjoyable to resolve everyone’s issues. “Being on campus, they do see you more and that helps them feel comfortable; they know that their concerns are going to be addressed,” added Peralta.

This service extends even to students off campus. The facilities team manages several houses for medical students, including the residences’ furnishing, cleaning, and security. “We serve as the bridge for the students’ concerns or issues,” said Peralta. “We want to make sure that the students feel safe and that they come to their house feeling like it's a home away from home.” 

“Like an octopus”

Jennifer Mitchell chats with Clark Hapeman.
Jennifer Mitchell chats with Clark Hapeman.

Most people likely aren’t aware of the scope of the team’s responsibilities, or the amount of effort that goes into each project.

With Ed II, “just on the back end and before it was even presented to the staff and the students and faculty, there was so much behind the scenes that we needed to coordinate and organize," recalled Mitchell. Months before the building opened, the team was coordinating meetings to plan timelines, schedules, IT, and more, all while sending communications about the move and answering staff and students’ questions about the new space. "So there were a lot of aspects that people don’t really see happening behind the scenes,” Mitchell said.

Even now that Ed II is open, the team’s responsibilities aren’t over. In the future, Carolina said the challenge will be taking care of ongoing maintenance.

The facilities team recently hired more student workers and hopes to increase their number of staff (especially since one of their members, Clark Hapeman, was recently promoted to mailroom supervisor). “We're looking forward to developing and growing our team so that everyone doesn't have to wear 50 hats in a day,” said Mitchell.

“I think that a lot of people don't realize that our facilities team is very diverse,” Mitchell continued. “We're a project management team. We're a facilities team. We're a design team. We get to be a part of UCR Health’s work to improve the health of the community. We're so much more than just taking care of building issues.”

Peralta put it simply. “We're like an octopus. We bridge so many different things within the School of Medicine.”

Peralta wants everyone at the SOM to feel comfortable approaching members of the facilities team. “Don't look at us like, it's the maintenance people or facilities people,” she said. “I think we're just people in general and you can always come to us with questions—no question is too small and no question is too big. If we don't have the right answer right now, we'll research it, because research and planning and improvement are part of what we do.”

“I think that Cynthia has done a great job at building her team and putting us out there,” Mitchell put in. “We are very hands on and we've developed beyond facilities; we're in the game of relationship building and we work with our UCR campus partners and all the different departments within the School of Medicine.”

Mitchell laughed, adding, “I'm excited to see how we grow and what more we take on this next year.”