Maria Patestas: Student Life’s Fearless Leader

With her big smile, curly hair and positive attitude, Maria Patestas
runs the Student Ambassador program. She’s also in charge of running
the clubs and organizations on campus and performs the programming to
Student Government. As a matter of fact. at one point or another,
Patestas has had every position in the Student Life office.

Now, she overlooks everything to make sure things go smoothly; part of
her job as Director of Student Life. As Director, Pastestas makes sure
that everyone is on top of what they have to finish.

“Sometimes to some people, it may look like I do any one thing, but I
make sure that all these areas are okay,” Patestas said. “I have to
make sure our students are being serviced and that I advocate for our
programs and budgets, as well as making sure our students, or that
we’re not forgotten.”

As a director of a non-academic program, Pastestas has to fight to
make sure that it’s known that students care about Student Affairs and
that these activities are just as important as class.

Starting out as a Specialist for Student Affairs, working under former
Director of Student Life Tasheka Sutton-Young, who she used to work
with as a student when she went to SUNY Stonybrook. When Young was
given the position of Director, she called Pastestas and encouraged
her to apply for the position of Specialist; a title she was not a fan
of at all.

“I asked her, ‘you’re gonna call me Assistant Director, right? Because
this Specialist title- I’m not with it. So, we’re gonna call me
Assistant Director.’ and I worked my way up to Associate Director and
when (Sutton-Young) was promoted to Chief of Staff, they asked me if I
wanted to be director, and of course, I said yes,” Patestas said.

Now that she’s been Director of Student Life, she has two things about
her job that she genuinely loves.

“My favorite part about my job is when students have that “Ah-ha”
moment and they understand why we give them a hard time or why we give them that tough love or why I had to say no to certain thing or I
removed them from a program because of their GPA, because at the end
of the day, yeah, I want everyone to be a student ambassador or I want
everyone to participate in a club but at the same time, if you’re not
on track to graduate, like you’re still here to be a student first,”
Patestas said.

“My [second] favorite part of the job is when students come back to
visit and  now they’re doing what I do and they’re like ‘I have
students and I get to talk to them like you and you know, I really
appreciate the time you spent with me and all you said to me, and
yeah, that’s my favorite part,” Patestas said. As a director, you have to supervise other people. Something you may not need to do at a non-director position. But at some point, I’ve had every position in this office.”

Through all of this responsibility, Patestas has clearly defined herself as a leader on campus.

“I feel like I’m part of the community now and I really enjoy it here. It’s just different working with a Community College, especially coming from a Four-Year school, but the population is totally different. The students and the turnover is interesting and every two years, it’s a new job. Yes, we’re doing the same stuff but we’re doing it with a different population so, it’s
great. My students keep me on my toes each year and you know, I think
everyone thinks about leaving their job but I never actually made any
action to do it.”

While there are positives to being Director, there are negatives.

“Without getting to into everything, we’re struggling with a budget
situation,” Patestas said. “Enrollment is down. We’re below ten-thousand [students] and we haven’t been below ten-thousand in enrollment in a very long time and that severely affects our budget. When I started, Enrollment was around 14,000, then it went up to 16,000, and then it has been
steadily declining since.”

With the decline of students has lead to affecting financial budgets
everywhere- spending, operations, including staff.

“If any of my staff left right now, I wouldn’t be able to replace
them,” she said. “We’re in this budget crisis, and it’s
understandable, you know, we’re functioning as a campus that’s
supposed to be supporting 16,000 students and now we’re less than
10,000, and in theory, it makes sense to have less resources but at
the same time, it’s just difficult to allocate those funds. So the
budget is always an issue with us.”

On top of financial issues, Patestas mentions how she’d love to make everything 21st century- starting with paperwork.

“I strive to do things the most effective and efficient way possible,”
she says. “Sometimes it’s difficult, especially with Technology. I’d
love to file all vouchers electronically. We have a paper copy for
everything. There’s a lot of paper in this office and I’d love to be
able to move towards the 21st century, but there’s also legalities of
that.”

Though there are some issues with enrollment and budgeting, Patestas
is adamant about one thing; Student Life is here to stay and as of
right now, so is she. She is seen as a director, and as a mentor to
the students that visit her and need advice.

To Patestas, there is no such thing as a “regular day” in Student
Life.

“I have students come in my office when they need to talk or
unload and I think that’s important that they have someone they can
vent to about things going on in their lives,” said Patestas.

Campus Activities Board Chair Binta Li talks highly of Patestas as well, a testament to her passion and desire to help the KCC Community in every way she can.

“Maria has helped me out numerous times when I was stressed out and
I’m so thankful to have met her,” said Li. “Without Maria, I don’t
think I would have been able to be the leader I am today. She changed
my life.”

Author: Jaz Sampson

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