Joyce Spencer, Director of Environmental Health & Safety

By Abigail Napp

Throughout the waves of COVID-19, Director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S), Joyce Spencer has been prepared.

Her mighty team consisting of five staff plus herself, has been working non-stop, programming on-campus vaccine clinics, testing, contact-tracing, and developing event guidelines, while coordinating with Ventura County Public Health, the California Department of Public Health, and Cal/OSHA.

Joyce Spencer conducts a COVID test.

With more than 7,000 student and employee lives under her watch, Spencer is reluctant to celebrate her successes. Like many people in charge of safety, she considers no news to be good news. Under her effective supervision there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, only a few cluster cases which were closely monitored.

Spencer became CSUCI’s EH&S Director in January  2021 after serving as the Health & Safety Manager for seven years.

When COVID-19 hit, it reminded her of other crisis situations. But when the campus had to pivot to virtual instruction in March 2020 and most employees were working remotely for weeks, then months, uncertainty grew.

“The drama was there, and we had no precedent,” she said. “There were things we had to do in the past, like evacuate the campus for a fire, so in some respects, COVID-19 was along those lines. But for a long time, we didn’t know how and when everyone would be able to return to the campus.”

Communication and collaboration on campus and across the CSU system among administrators, faculty, and staff made a difference, especially from the Office of the President.

“Without President Yao and his team supporting us, there’s no way we would have been able to pull off what we did,” she said. “It’s been tremendous. I couldn’t have asked for a better president at that time.”

Spencer noted that her graduate studies at Loma Linda University (she holds a master’s degree in Public Health) and her experience as a contractor working with environmental hazardous material at Naval Base Ventura County were critical in her ability to manage events.

In moments when health directives changed, creating separate rules for faculty, staff, students, and the public, Spencer kept a cool head.

“I would say you have to be very grounded,” said Spencer. “There’s a lot of regulations and a lot of interpretation.”

CSUCI's Environmental Health and Safety teamCSUCI’s Environmental Health & Safety team (left to right):  Jorge Buckner-Rodas, Marissa Zosimo, Joyce Spencer, Jacqueline Chavez,  and Jack Mohr. Not pictured Derick Nguyen.

Before students returned to campus during the Spring 2022 semester, Spencer prepared for a new scenario: testing thousands of students on campus all in the same week. Since the onset of COVID-19 in Spring 2020, Spencer’s team has worked to ensure all communication channels available — in-person events, emails, and even social media — are utilized to share guidance and information on COVID-19.

“Our goal is not to be the enforcer, but the supporter,” she said. “To foster the attitude of compliance for the sake of everyone’s safety.”

Fortunately, as circumstances unfolded, that frontline response was not needed.

“It’s great to have life back on campus after it seemed deserted for so long,” she said. “We have that youthful vibrancy again.”

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© Spring 2022 / Volume 27 / Number 1 / Biannual

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