Montana State University

Student photo project gives MSU custodians new exposure

August 25, 2011 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Jordan Cole, an MSU senior from West Yellowstone, hopes that her senior photography project -- portraits of all MSU's custodians, will help shine a light on their important work. "I wanted to say thank you to those people who worked so hard to make sure the campus stayed clean, and this seemed like a good way to do it," Cole said. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham. To view a slideshow of Jordan Cole's images follow this link.   High-Res Available

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Jordan Cole is hoping that her senior photography project at Montana State University will give important exposure to the university's custodians.

Cole, a student from West Yellowstone who will graduate in December with double majors in photography and marketing, is in the middle of a project to photograph all of the 67 custodians employed by MSU Facilities Services.

Cole said inspiration for her project was sage advice from Tim Alzheimer, her MSU finance professor.

"He said there are two people you need to know in the company. The custodians and the secretaries they are the gate keepers and key holders," Cole recalled.

Cole has already found that to be excellent advice. She remembered it when she began to research ideas for her senior photography project, which she presented last spring semester. She said she realized that most of her peers and some of the staff did not even know the names of the people who cleaned their office and classrooms.

"I wanted to say thank you to those people who worked so hard to make sure the campus stayed clean, and this seemed like a good way to do it," Cole said.

She started in the building that she was most familiar with, Reid Hall, which houses the MSU College of Business. When most students, faculty and staff go home, Cole stayed behind to meet the custodians and ask if she could photograph them in their own environment.

"I met some great people," Cole said, adding that she photographed a diverse group that ranged in age, interests and longevity. "I enjoyed their stories."

One of the custodians she photographed is Shawn Wood.

"It was a fun experience," said Wood, a young custodian and part-time student who has worked in Reid for about three years. "She was very professional and worked very hard."

Fourteen MSU custodian photos made up the content of Cole's senior photography project that she presented last spring. Yet, Cole hopes to photograph all MSU custodians -- there are 67 employed by MSU Facilities Services and Cole estimates another 100 by other entities on campus including Athletics and Residence Life -- by the time she finishes up with her marketing coursework at the end of the year.

One of Cole's dreams for the project will occur on Thursday night, Aug. 25, when Cole accompanies MSU President Waded Cruzado to a meeting of university custodians.

"I wanted to take the project back to them in person," Cole said. "For me, it is more about the people than the project."

Cole said that she wrote Cruzado about the project. She is impressed that Cruzado is taking time to meet the custodians and has introduced herself in the past to them. "I know it means a lot to them," Cole said.

As successful as the photography project has been, Cole said that following her graduation, photography will be just a very special hobby for her. She plans a career in marketing.

"I'm very business minded," she said.

Yet, she said she learned a great deal from the project, particularly that Alzheimer's advice is sound.

"Custodians and secretaries are often the ones who know the most about the company and they can give you the most insight to some of the problems in the company," she said.

She hopes that if a photo is worth a thousand words, her subjects will remember just two.

"I want to say thank you for all they do," she said. "I don't know if they get to hear that a lot."

To view a slideshow of Cole's custodian portraits follow this link. More of Cole's photos can be seen on her blog: http://jordancolephotography.blogspot.com/2011/05/final-senior.html.

Jordan Cole, jordan.cole18@googlemail.com