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Taking care of the little things makes a big impact: Facilities Team spotlight

The Wyss’ Facilities Team works hard to keep the Institute running while spreading joy to the community

By Jessica Leff 

Taking care of the little things makes a big impact: Facilities Team spotlight
They Wyss Facilities Team (from left to right) Julio Velasquez, Tony Sanquintin, Carlos Estrada, Katie Jenkins, and Simonetta Piergentili. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

When you’re engaged in the hard work of inventing cutting-edge technologies, you might not think about things like plumbing, building access, and coffee machines – unless there’s a problem. However, all of these are essential to high-impact science. If there’s a water leak, if you cannot enter your lab, or even being low on caffeine can have a negative impact on your research. From extremely early morning until the evening, if you walk around the Wyss Institute, you’ll see a group of people smiling and radiating warmth as they work behind-the-scenes to keep the place running: the Wyss Facilities Team.    

Movers and shakers 

Though their important work is often hidden from view, the team was recently thrust into the spotlight with our move to 201 Brookline Avenue. Director of Facilities Katie Jenkins, touched every facet of the move, from the planning stages to construction to coordinating with movers to packing and unpacking. Senior Manager of Administrative Services Jodi Saia, noted, “Katie made the move more enjoyable. Through all the hard work and stress, she was always smiling and the first one to laugh at whatever circumstances we faced. I appreciate her positivity and ability to get things done despite the storm that can occasionally brew when trying to meet a deadline.”  

Other members of the team kept things organized, hung shelves and machinery, and made sure every member of the community had access to the space when it was their turn to arrive. Once everyone was moved in, the team helped to clean out the old space and sort through anything left behind. Together, they did their best to make it as seamless a transition as possible. 

Meet the Facilities Team 

The Facilities Team is extremely valuable to the Wyss. Many times, because they do their job so well, it seems they work behind the curtain, but what they do is essential to keep the labs running smoothly.

Mariana Garcia-Corral

So, who are these people that keep the Institute running from a mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and life safety perspective, while also delivering packages, ensuring building access, and maintaining the kitchens? Jenkins, who joined the Wyss in July 2021, manages the day-to-day functions of the team, and serves as the liaison between the Wyss and the cleaning crew, construction crew, and other external vendors. She can solve a Rubik’s cube and enjoys snowboarding.  

With 15 years of Harvard experience, 12 of those at the Wyss, Simonetta (Sim) Piergentili serves as the Facilities Manager. She works closely with the Academic Affairs team, Harvard Medical School security, and building security to guarantee everyone has a smooth onboarding experience. Embracing her Italian heritage, Piergentili makes wine every fall and enjoys cooking brick oven pizza.   

Taking care of the little things makes a big impact: Facilities Team spotlight
The Facilities Team did so much work to make the move to 201 Brookline happen, and now they get to enjoy the space. Here’s Sanquintin and Velasquez celebrating with colleagues at the Wyss’ Holiday Brunch. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Tony Sanquintin, the Facilities Assistant, is the newest member of the team. He joined the Wyss in August 2023 and oversees mechanical systems (air changes and fume hoods), plumbing systems (safety showers, the air compressor and RODI – reverse osmosis and deionization – system), electrical systems (lighting and power for equipment), and life safety systems (sprinklers, fire extinguishers, AEDs/first aid kits). Each day, he makes sure everything is running properly, maintaining these systems, and if there is a problem, he takes action to get it fixed. Sanquintin loves playing sports – his favorites are baseball and basketball – and he raps and sings in English and Spanish.  

Carlos Estrada has worked with the Wyss since the beginning, in 2009. As a day porter, he collects biohazards and trash, receives and ships packages, assists with facilities emergencies like water leaks, and makes sure the coffee machines are always ready to dispense that all-important caffeine. Estrada likes singing Spanish music.  

Julio Velasquez is also a day porter and has been with the Wyss for ten years. He works closely with Estrada, performing the same duties. Jenkins explains that, “Their historical knowledge is incomparable.” Both are happy to help everyone at the Institute. In his free time, Velasquez enjoys cooking. 

Essential to our work 

Because of what they do, the Facilities Team touches everyone at the Institute, though perhaps nobody works more closely with them than the Operations Team. The two groups collaborate to ensure that the logistics of the building align with research operations and health and safety in the labs. Director of Research Operations, Michael Carr, says, “We work in unison. Their effective communication, patience, and ability to adapt to the demands of the Wyss enables our work, and the work of the scientists.”  

Technology Development Fellow Ana Raquel P. Santa Maria explains further, “Their job is important to all of us as researchers. To perform our work, we need materials, and after materials arrive at the Wyss, Carlos and Julio make sure all packages are delivered on time and to the right person. Besides that, the team always makes sure facilities are organized and in good condition for us to use.” 

Mariana Garcia-Corral, a former Wyss Research Assistant, agrees. She remembers a time when she was off-site at the Wyss Retreat and a package arrived that needed to be stored in the freezer. Velasquez placed her materials in the appropriate temperature storage and even sent her a photo of where they were, so she had peace of mind. “The Facilities Team is extremely valuable to the Wyss. Many times, because they do their job so well, it seems they work behind the curtain, but what they do is essential to keep the labs running smoothly.”  

Taking care of the little things makes a big impact: Facilities Team spotlight
After all of their work preparing, the team is excited to enjoy the perks of the new space – including the roof. Here’s Piergentili and colleagues at the Summer Meet and Greet. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

The team also interacts closely with members of the administrative teams. Academic Affairs Administrator Paula Fenton, goes as far as to say, “I couldn’t do my job without Sim! She’s a vital part of the appointment process and is essential to onboarding.”  

Saia recalls a day when there was a huge coffee spill during a Board of Directors meeting. Sanquintin spotted her team rearranging the conference room and pulling together last-minute details, so he offered to clean up the spill. Saia says, “He saved us in that moment. Jumping in to lend a hand is the Wyss way, and he understands that. Though he has not been with us for long, Tony has already become a go-to member of the Facilities Team.”  

On the other hand, Saia has known Velasquez and Estrada for many years. She notes, “We have a very long-standing friendship. They have always been the hard-working, dedicated, kind-hearted, positive force they are now. I greatly appreciate the way they look after our community and our beautiful workspace. They are the heartbeat of this place, and we adore them.” 

There’s no “I” in team  

Each member is instrumental to the success of the Institute, and they each contribute to the functionality of the team as a unit. Piergentili explains, “Everybody knows their role and does it really well. If there are questions, it’s easy to turn to anyone and ask for help. I feel comfortable communicating with everyone, and I don’t hesitate to bring any concerns to Katie.” Jenkins adds, “There’s a level of trust between all of us, since we rely so heavily on each other.”   

When interacting with the team, it’s clear they truly care for one other and the Institute, all while having fun. Sanquintin recounts, “When I joined the Wyss, Katie brought me to have lunch with the team. I went to sit in the last chair, and Carlos turned around and I recognized him. We grew up playing basketball together but hadn’t seen each other in twenty years after his family moved. Now, we’ve been able to rekindle our friendship, and he’s like an older brother to me.” Estrada adds, “I’m so happy I found Tony here.”  

Piergentili says, “Carlos, Julio, and Tony can always make me laugh. I never see them without a smile on their faces. When you see them, it’s like the sun comes out.” Velasquez adds, “Life is difficult, and everybody has different situations going on outside of work, but every single day is fun because of these people.”  

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