Bringing her A-game: Marcia on being a friend, a mother, and a manager at LSE

Interview by Beatriz Silva

Photography by Eliana Radaelli

Marcia is something of a legend at The Beaver. For the past months, we have grown used to this almost mother-like figure, the first person to greet us in the morning and the only staff member who truly knows just how often us Beaver team trudge up the Saw Swee Hock stairs. She is someone that shares our excitement whenever DPD delivers the latest issue of the newspaper and who is always there to offer a helping hand. We wanted to learn more about this familiar face on campus.

Marcia joined LSE in 2019 and was until recently working at the reception of the Saw Swee Hock building. Last week, she started her new job as building manager of the recently inaugurated Marshall Building. I met her on the ground floor of the Marshall and she guided me to her office a few floors up where we had our conversation. From the moment we met on that day, I got the immediate sense that at LSE Marcia is right in her element. She walks confidently, with purpose, and talks about her work with unrelenting enthusiasm. Throughout our conversation, Marcia had to pick up three or four different phone calls, and as we attempted to find a very specific rooftop in the Marshall Building for the shoot, she would stop at different floors to briefly discuss with receptionists and security personnel about the door that is loose and needs fixing or the DPD parcel that needs to be picked up downstairs. And yet, even though Marcia has a hectic work schedule, when we sat down to chat, she made me feel as though there was no rush, as if that moment was for us.

“I love talking to people, as you can tell,” Marcia confessed. As I would soon find out, it is not difficult to get her to open up. Born and raised in Bristol, as a girl Marcia loved sports: “I was a sports fanatic.” She played everything from basketball to hockey, and did particularly well in athletics. “I used to do the 100 metres sprint, I ran 11.8 seconds.” 11.8 seconds for a young woman still in secondary school is an impressive personal record. Marcia was fast enough to consider becoming a professional athlete, and many people around her at the time believed that she should have made that choice. “Maybe I made the bad decision… Back then, if you did sport and you were brilliant, you had to turn up to everything.” But Marcia began to realise that she was falling behind her peers in her studies. “My academic side was not at the standard it should have been. Is it sports or academics?” Without much guidance to rely on apart from her own judgement, in the end, Marcia decided to prioritise her studies. 

But sport wasn’t her only passion: “My sisters and I, we all did art in different forms…I painted a lot of portraits… I just loved the freedom of it.” So after finishing her A-levels, Marcia went to an art college to study graphic design – the Camberwell College of Arts, today UAL. After being there for over eight months, however, she felt under-stimulated and decided instead that she wanted to start working. “I went into media sales, worked for some newspapers, and after the newspapers I landed myself in the conference industry.” Whilst working organising conferences, Marcia talked with people from different backgrounds and countries every day, and had to adapt continually to new cultures, environments and expectations. This gave her a glimpse of what she would later encounter when she joined LSE, and an experience that proved valuable in developing the skills and giving her the knowledge she relies on today.

Coming to LSE was the first time in Marcia’s life she experienced what it is like to work in the education sector, and it felt like a perfect fit from the beginning. “I come in, I don’t know what to expect, I had to learn quickly.” Marcia was replacing someone who had recently left as receptionist of the Saw Swee Hock building, and had to figure out how LSE operated and adjust to the university environment in little to no time. “I jumped in head-first. Summer School, graduation, freshers’ (it was manic, I loved it), and then our staff Christmas dinner and getting to know everybody else. Those first months of me being here and putting my all into my work and enjoying it – it was very important.”

When Marcia says “putting my all into my work” she means it. Since her arrival, Marcia has been much more than a receptionist. “I became almost a surrogate mother to some of the students I met in September [of 2019]… The nice thing about it was I watched these specific students grow. From when they came in September in freshers’, they were all fresh-faced – some don’t have a clue what they are getting into, some of them are very pessimistic. You see them six months later, and the remarkable change in them. I used to sit down with them and listen to their aspirations – see what they want to make of themselves, what they really want to do.” Marcia treated the students that began to rely on her for guidance and support almost as if they were her own children, because if her child was at university she would want him to have someone he could talk to beyond his tutors or peers. “It feels like they are my children.” 

This role comes naturally to her. “I like helping people… When you are away from home, you may just want to talk to somebody.” One of the students that Marcia had conversations with was doing a film course and working on a research paper: “He was asking me questions and I said to him what I thought at the time… He actually got the top mark in his class and came back to thank me – ‘It was all because of you!’ he would say. I was so happy for him.” Even though sometimes working with students on a daily basis can lead to minor frustrations Marcia believes that getting to help students is an incredible privilege. During the pandemic, she felt particularly for the students that missed out on the social aspect of the university experience. Seeing life at LSE slowly begin to resemble what Marcia witnessed when she first joined has been a relief: “You can tell it is only now that students are – because they’ve been on campus a considerable amount of time – starting to relax, talking, not just among themselves but with staff. They didn’t know what to do, or what to expect. Because they hadn’t had that [in-person university] experience.”

At the moment, she is enjoying settling into her new role. “From contractors to parcel delivery guys, I get to know everybody across the board: maintenance, decorators. And I treat everybody the same and talk to everybody the same. Now I have to work with other departments but I already knew them and they already knew me…the only new people I am meeting are the teaching departments.” As a sports enthusiast, Marcia is “loving the Marshall”, her favourite LSE building. (The CBG does not stand a chance – Marcia is not a fan of glass buildings.) “I am just impressed by the court – it is amazing down there, and I’d love to play squash!” The only thing this building is missing, Marcia added playfully, is a swimming pool.

Marcia says she owes a lot of the joy she gets from her job to the rest of the staff at LSE, in particular the security personnel. “I’ve had numerous highlights [while at LSE] and a lot of it is down to colleagues. I’ve had so many good colleagues and they make my life at LSE a happy one, a good experience. I’ve had a lot of fun. I laugh every day. My security colleagues give me joy in my work.” Of course, Marcia has also had some great times with the students. Overall, she doesn’t know how she could do her job any differently, without giving it her all, even when some of the things she ends up doing were never part of the job description: “Some people come to work, earn their money, and they go home. I am a person that if I come to work, I have to enjoy my job and I have to be able to smile every day. That makes me want to come back to work the next day. It is not because of the money…and my colleagues have made that for me.”

Marcia is one of those people you don’t realise plays such an important role in keeping this university running until you take a second to appreciate everything she does. She is managing buildings by ensuring that the lifts work properly, that sports courts are in good condition ahead of big games, by liaising with different departments and divisions. But she is also a friendly face around campus – a mother-like figure who truly cares about students having a fulfilling and unforgettable experience at university. Despite having recently moved from the reception of the Saw Swee Hock to having her own office on the third-floor of the Marshall Building, Marcia assured me that everyone will continue to see her on campus. At The Beaver, we’re excited to know she’ll still be around.

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