Over the summer, Madonna Charles ’95, M.A. ‘11, the director of procurement and contracts, completed a set-aside procurement, resulting in a multi-million dollar contract award for campus elevator maintenance with a service-disabled veteran-owned business, commonly known—in the knotty parlance of state procurement officials—as an SDVOB.

It’s a vendor community that has long been underrepresented in state procurement contracts and a contract that supports CUNY ’s strategic goal to bolster contract opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) and SDVOBs.

Ensuring the smooth running of campus elevators—through a marginalized contractor—is a big win for the college and one that Charles is eager to celebrate. But not before she points out that it was a team effort. “It’s a victory for all of my colleagues and the other procurement directors who held my hand over the years, when I was having trouble with anything,” she says.

For the young woman who started at Brooklyn College as an undergraduate student more than 30 years ago, it has been a common refrain: her success owes no small part to her BC family.

Here, she talks about her student days, how that huge contract came to be, and the fun she had exploring parts of campus that few people get to see.

It’s a funny story, how you started working here as an undergraduate.

I used to hang out with friends in the Magner Center. I would come with one of them to pick up the mail. One day, a few people on the mailroom staff called out. The supervisor was complaining. I said, “Give me a job.” I wasn’t working at the time. It was a joke. She said, “Give me your information.” And they interviewed me. The rest is history.

I became the supervisor a few years later. Over time, they added more offices, some of which I didn’t know much about. I just ran with it. I sat next to my staff and learned what they did. Sometimes I felt like I was stepping into quicksand, but I was always rescued by the people in my office or others across the campus and CUNY.

What was your experience like as a student here? You were here two times.

I was an honor-roll student in high school, but I wasn’t the best student as an undergraduate. I wanted to wait a couple of years before I started, but my Haitian parents were not waiting. So sometimes I think I purposely messed up. When I decided to get my master’s in Industrial And Organizational Psychology— Human Resources, I saw it as a chance to redeem myself. I didn’t care if I ever got a night’s sleep, I was going to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. I got a 3.90.

 So close!  What stopped the 4.0?

I got four  A-minus grades halfway through the program and during my last semester. I was done. It was the last two classes and I didn’t have it in me. I was in tears. I wanted to stop and my colleague, Sandra Clarke, [executive administrator at the Science and Resiliency Institute at Jamaica Bay,] who was in the program with me, told me I wasn’t going to stop. She really pushed me.

You seem very close with your staff and others across campus.

Definitely. I lost both my parents in recent years. And I have to say what got me through was not only my close family and friends but my family here. When my dad passed away, the entire office showed up at his wake. My mom used to come to campus all the time. She passed during the pandemic, and I couldn’t believe how many Brooklyn College people came to my side. It was very touching.

You are really in the trenches with your staff. How did that play out with the elevator maintenance contract?

We knew that we needed a new elevator contract for some time. We started looking at what our options were, and we were thinking about the need to increase participation for MWBE and SDVOB vendors. It took many months of hard work and coordination with facilities and CUNY to get it through. I remember it was a Friday night, a summer Friday off. I try not to look at email on those days, but my computer was still open. I told myself I would peek before I shut it down. I saw an approval and I started screaming. I had to email the team because this was their victory, too.

The work you do here is high pressure. What do you do to relax?

Cooking is my therapy. I make a seafood mac ‘n cheese that my team loves. And I make a mean barbeque-jerk salmon. I recently started singing in my church choir. And I’m a parrot enthusiast. I have an Indian Ringed Neck parakeet named Charleigh. I teach English as a Second Language to immigrants on the weekends at City Tech. I love it because they are so anxious to learn. I speak Haitian Creole, I understand French, I have some Spanish, and I even have a good bit of Russian from my old neighborhood. But the students teach me a lot. And I get to give back. For many of those students, their ability to learn English directly correlates with their ability to function here. It’s a special kind of reward to be able to help people. So, when my friends say with the pressure of what you do all day at the college, how do you relax? It’s cooking, family, the birds, and it’s the teaching. That’s me.