This weekend I spoke with Seton Hall Athletics Graduate Assistant James Conklin. Conklin was the head men’s basketball manager from 2018-2020 before graduating last May. He is now pursuing his MBA and working in the Richie Regan Recreation and Athletic Center. This job is more complex than ever due to COVID-19 and James talks about all the protocols that have been put in place to keep students safe in the gym this year.
Connor McLoone: What are the daily responsibilities of a Graduate Assistant in the Athletic Department?
James Conklin: As a grad assistant I serve as the recreation center building manager and assist in other recreation center operations. When I am not serving as the building manager, I help the recreation center’s assistant administrations and Senior Associate Athletic Directors. Together we make sure daily operations in the recreation center run smoothly while providing Seton Hall’s varsity teams space to practice and the general student body exciting opportunities.
CM: How did you decide to become a Graduate Assistant?
JC: With aspirations to work in sports after I complete my MBA, I saw the benefits of a Graduate Assistantship with the Athletic Department. After spending so much time around my current colleagues as an undergraduate, I realized I could learn a lot from sharing responsibilities with them in addition to my graduate schoolwork.
CM: What safety precautions are the recreation center taking this year?
JC: There is a long list of safety precautions we have implemented this year. Most notably, we have spaced out all of our equipment and machines. Instead of six feet, which is the standard for physical distancing, we separated almost all of our machines by 12 feet so guests feel comfortable working out. Because there is limited space in the fitness center, we brought many machines onto the basketball courts in the Field House to ensure proper physical distancing. We also started a reservation system that allows us to limit the number of guests to 70 people. Each hour these 70 people can use any part of the gym or fitness center, but they must leave at the end of the hour so we can deep clean and track the next hour’s capacity. In enclosed rooms in the fitness center where there is less ventilation, we limit the capacity of each room to 10 people. We have also hired more student-workers to staff more help each hour that we are open.
CM: What safety precautions are students supposed to take while in the gym?
JC: Students are expected to follow markings on the floor, walls, and doors that guide them through our facilities. These signs prevent students from crossing paths and clustering in tight, enclosed areas. Students are also expected to wipe their equipment before and after each use with sanitizing wipes that are available throughout the gym. Finally, they are expected to keep their face mask on during their workout, even when using a treadmill or bike.
CM: Is there a covid safety training system in place for student workers in the gym?
JC: Student-worker COVID safety training is taught by grad assistants like me, as well as rec center assistant administrators. New workers are taught the new safety precautions we are taking this year. They are reminded of how important it is to consistently clean equipment thoroughly. They are also encouraged to assist graduate assistants and administrators in enforcing students who are working out to follow our rules.
CM: How many student workers are working at a given time? What was the reasoning behind this number?
JC: Between the front desk, field house, and fitness Center, there are four to seven student-workers on staff in a given hour. In regular times, we would usually have two to three student-workers working at a given time. Because of our responsibility to enforce rules and excessively clean the gym’s equipment and machines, we needed to increase the number of workers on staff throughout the day.
CM: What are the rules about playing basketball in the gym?
JC: No form of pickup basketball is allowed right now. In the Fall only one person was allowed to shoot on a basket at a time. With the government allowing increased capacity, we bumped this number up to two people allowed per basket. However, these two people cannot play 1-on-1 against each other, and they must each bring their own ball and keep their mask on throughout the hour. We have a first-come-first-serve policy on the courts – no reservation is required.
CM: What has been the best part of your graduate assistant experience?
JC: I have enjoyed learning from our department’s athletic directors during the pandemic. It has been insightful learning how to communicate effectively between remote work and in-person responsibilities. I have developed leadership and communication skills that I know will be applicable to future ambitions.