Queens College project and energy manager Staci Cohen visits campus orchard, where workers Gus Rosario, Robert Beebe and Charles Siebert (from left) are checking recently planted apple trees.

Training employees to guide students is one key to creating University-wide collaboration.

Ask Staci Cohen of Queens College about teamwork and she smiles knowingly. Recently she put together a team of workers and gave them an unusual assignment — for New York City, anyway. Their mission: to guide and teach students in the planting of a 50-tree orchard on campus.

As project and energy manager for the Queens College Office of Buildings and Grounds, Cohen is accustomed to challenges. But she emphasizes that such endeavors are never the work of one person. For example, she credits supervisor Timothy Gibbons with training the employees who worked with those students to plant the trees.

“I think you’re only as good as the people around you,” Cohen says. “And, as project manager at Queens College, I’m simply a team leader who coordinates the efforts of our most valuable resource — people.”

Cohen’s middle name is Hope and, as she will tell you herself, hope certainly propels her when building a team. As does planning.

“I chose a couple of guys who had good personalities and were very good with students,” says Cohen. “I gave them a design. I gave them the space to do the job they needed to do. Collaboration was key… and there was a teaching lesson in it for the students.”

The manager, it would seem, is a teamwork expert. Yet, operating in tandem with the tenets propelling this skill — that one can always learn more and it is crucial to share what you know — Cohen attended a  CUNY-sponsored spring training session on teamwork held after the orchard was planted.

It was one of a number of such sessions offered by the University’s Office of Professional Development and Learning Management (PDLM).

“‘Maximizing Your Role on Your Team’ was introduced to CUNY audiences about two years ago,” says Rhonnye L. Ricks, University Training Director at PDLM, part of the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM). “Participants have indicated that they learn the positive benefits of teamwork, how to ‘manage themselves’ as part of a team, and the importance of communicating with all team members, including their managers and/or supervisors.”

The May 21 session Cohen attended was held in Manhattan and attended by employees who work in various positions at Queens College — and at Bronx Community College, the Graduate Center, Lehman College and the Central Office. It was facilitated by Robert Kane, Senior Learning Partner at Training Unlimited, a human resources consulting firm.

Kane emphasized the importance of employees from different CUNY campuses brainstorming with one another. “Collabora-tion comes from seeing the big picture,” he noted. He added that sharing is also vital and asked participants to think about how many times they have heard that there is only one person who knows how to do a particular task. “What if that person wins the lotto tonight?” he asked, causing a chuckle to ripple throughout the room.

About these sessions Ricks has said:  “It’s one of those courses where you have so much fun, you don’t realize how much you’re learning.” Indeed, at the May session participants initiated, organized and completed a spontaneous coffee and doughnut run.

“Good teamwork,” the facilitator agreed, when after a break they returned with the refreshments.

Technology and teamwork was another issue discussed.

Thelma Carmona, Manager of Computer Services in the IT Department at Bronx Community College, noted: “With technology, as soon as you think you know it something else comes up and you need teamwork to figure it out.”

Rumors in the workplace, which can sabotage teamwork, was also on the agenda.  Kane noted that rumors often “catch on fire… Try not to judge because you don’t know the whole story. And what do you do when you don’t know the whole story? You make it up.”

Among the other employees at the session was Sgt. Juan Velazquez, a Public Safety Peace Officer at the Graduate Center. He chimed in many times, including during a discussion on how to quell rumors in the workplace.  He noted he does this by using a law enforcement technique called roll call — which has been depicted on many a television program. For a few minutes before the start of a shift, his officers line up to hear about any situations occurring that day, receive their “marching orders,” — and learn about the stories going around the campus that simply are not true.

Velazquez’s role call protocol, Kane added, epitomized teamwork.

Others in the room, where there was a healthy give- and-take, suggested that in many offices it’s not possible to round up everyone before the workday starts. They discussed a roll call-like session held periodically instead of daily. Cohen offered a format: “A quarterly leadership session to build morale, discuss positives and negatives.”

Participants also completed a number of exercises, including one on the core values they look for in team players. “Integrity, respect, courtesy, loyalty and dedication,” Cohen said.

It was with those values in play that an orchard was planted at Queens College.

Enhancing CUNY’s Faculty Diversity

‘Building on a Strong Foundation” was the theme of a recent, well-attended University-wide reception on the importance of faculty diversity in helping CUNY continue to support talented, diverse students.

CUNY’s goal is “How can we get to the next level. The discussion is about enhancing what we already have,” said Jennifer Rubain, University Dean for Recruitment and Diversity.

The reception — co-sponsored by the Office of Human Resources Management and the Office of Recruitment and Diversity — was hosted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in tandem with the release of an extensive University report on the subject, subtitled “a strategy for enhancing CUNY’s leadership in the areas of faculty diversity and inclusion.” The report concludes that CUNY is doing well when it comes to faculty diversity but must both maintain this success and do more to increase it.

Two individuals who have over the years made significant contributions to promote diversity and inclusion were recognized at the reception: Professor Emeritus Don Watkins for his pioneering work with affirmative action and Nora Eisenberg, Professor Emerita, LaGuardia Community College, for her work as a mentor. Also honored were awardees of the Diversity Projects Development Fund and participants in the Faculty Fellowship Publications Program.

Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson reminded the audience that CUNY’s students hail from 205 countries and that the new study will “help us to make sure we are as good as our students when it comes to diversity.”

For details:

CUNY Work/Life Program: A Reminder of All It Offers You

The mainstay of the CUNY Work/Life Program is a 24/7 toll-free HelpLine staffed by trained professional counselors who provide free guidance   and support to all CUNY employees. The program is provided for CUNY and its employees by CCA — Corporate Counseling Associates.

If you need specific help, calling is best. Employees have called about any number of issues from babysitting and eldercare referrals to how to relieve stress at home and at work — even to ask where to find a reliable kennel. However, if you prefer to explore online before making a phone call, you can visit the CCA website (contact information at end).

Online visitors will find information about the program — and an array of articles and webinars on topics such as parenting, aging and balancing work and family. More information can be found in the online publication “Lifelines: Information for your Life.” CCA emails this publication to human resources and benefits contacts on each CUNY campus for distribution.

A recent Lifelines article titled “Six Myths about Stress” dispelled several myths and explained that:

  • What may be stressful for one person may not be stressful for another.
  • Stress is not always bad for you.
  • You can plan your life so that stress does not overwhelm you.

Another article detailed methods on safely disposing of prescription medicine, discussed medicine take-back programs and suggested contacting city or county trash and recycling services, or pharmacists, for information on how different communities handle this subject.

For related support, information, or resources call 800-833-8707 or visit

New TIAA-CREF Website Adds Many Features

Financial education web seminars and financial insights are a new feature of the enhanced CUNY Retirement Plan website for TIAA-CREF members at

The site also has easier navigation and improved tools, an announcement area and  assistance with investment choices. A quarterly one-on-one counseling calendar will note when TIAA-CREF consultants will be on different   campuses.

Under a “needs help” feature, CUNY  employees can find the name and office location of their campus TIAA-CREF consultant and           campus benefit officer. There will also be a link for making appointments.