Marking 23 years of service at UCSC - Meet Olivia Silva

For the past 23 years, Olivia Silva has been part of the university’s custodial team keeping the residential halls on the westside of campus clean and safe.

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For the first time in almost two years the residence halls are full of students and that means work has gone back to normal for Olivia Silva. Along with up to 140 Custodial Services staff and some Dining staff, Silva was one of many on-site workers who played a critical role in the campus response to COVID-19. They continued to come to campus to meet the increased demand for cleaning across campus after the university sent students and staff home to continue learning and working.

“We worked every day, mostly in Colleges 9 and 10 because there were some students living there, international students who couldn’t go home. Our work moved there to take care of those students for a year. It was very scary and sometimes it was depressing but thank God we’re here now,” Silva said   

Her biggest fear was getting sick and exposing her family to the virus. “I was so worried. I wore my mask all the time at work and made sure to keep my distance from everyone. It was important to keep my family safe.” Her husband was also an essential worker so during the week their son and daughter were home alone attending school online.

For the past 23 years, Silva has been part of the university’s custodial team keeping the residential halls on the westside of campus clean and safe. For personal reasons, that’s very important to her. “I want to do my best. I try to keep the students safe. I’m thinking if they were my daughter or son going to the university, I’d want everything clean.”

Each morning, Silva starts her workday at 7:30 with five minutes of stretching to get her body ready for the work ahead. After warming up, Silva gathers her supplies, puts on her goggles, gloves, and a facemask, gets her supplies and heads to Garden C and Garden D dorms in the lower quad of Rachel Carson College. She is one of six people assigned to the college. Silva cleans the public areas including the entrances, hallways, stairs, bathrooms, and windows - inside and out, and laundry rooms - including inside the machines. She takes pride in her work and students notice. “Some students say ‘thank you very much for your hard work’. Sometimes they give me gifts in the summer and at Christmas – flowers, cards or gift cards. Sometimes they put a note on my locker saying ‘Thank you for your hard work. You’re like my mom.’” 

It’s strenuous work, especially in the summer months when the crews do what’s called first clean - a deep clean of every dorm room and apartment across campus at the end of the academic year. They also get rooms ready for the summer. “Groups are coming for conferences and summer programs and we keep the rooms clean while they’re here.”

Silva started working at UC Santa Cruz the summer of 1999. “It was hard, hard work but it was fun.” Two hundred people were hired that summer and Silva was part of the team at Stevenson College. Their assignment was to get all the rooms cleaned before the first of three groups of high school cheerleaders arrived for summer camp. When they finished, they moved to Rachel Carson College. At the end of the summer Silva was hired as a permanent member of the custodial staff working at Rachel Carson. 

During the school year, 25 people keep the dorms and apartments clean in Porter, Rachel Carson, Oakes, Graduate Student Housing, Camper Park, Baskin/E-2, and Science Library. In the summer they also clean the apartments in Kresge and Redwood Grove. Two other teams work in the housing units on the eastside and central campus. 

After a year, Silva moved to Oakes College where she worked for the next 20 years cleaning the E dorm at Bico House. In 2020, she went back to Rachel Carson right before the pandemic started. 

Silva often volunteers when people are needed on the weekend. She says buildings have to be kept clean even when there’s a staff shortage so she’s happy to pitch in. And during the wildfire in 2020, Silva joined other UCSC employees as volunteers at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk helping people affected by the fire. “We made lots of lunches and gave them out.” 

One of the things Silva likes most about UC Santa Cruz is all the nature and beauty. The Arboretum is one of her favorite places and also the East Field where she can look out and see the ocean. When she isn’t working on a weekend, she still gets up early and heads to Pinto Lake with her dog to enjoy the quiet. “It’s like here, a lot of nature. I take a walk then go home and drink my coffee.”

Silva is happy that this fall quarter things will go back to the way they were before the pandemic started. “Right now it’s a little better, but it’s still here.” So she continues to take precautions and puts on a facemask each morning because the most important thing is to keep her family healthy and COVID-free.