By Jack McLaughlin
Arts & Features Editor
By Raena Doty
Arts & Features Editor
When class lets out at 2:20 p.m. on Friday, many students are eager to get out as fast as possible so they can catch the RamTram for a trip to the mall or movie theater.
In fact, for resident students without cars, this may be their only mode of transportation.
At the same time, many students are leaving for the weekend - maybe they’re a commuter who wants to relax as soon as possible, or they have a family get-together they just can’t wait to attend.
These students may be running as fast as possible to the parking lot shuttle.
The Student Transportation Center (STC) offers an essential service on campus - safe transportation for everyone who might need it, whether it’s because they had to park in the Union Avenue Parking Lot after the Maple Parking Lot was full, or because they have to go to Target to get groceries.
And essential to the STC are two employees - Sheryl Jacob, who drives the RamTram from FSU to several off-campus locations during the week, and Tracy Thibaudeau, who is in charge of the parking lot shuttle on Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sheryl Jacob began working at Framingham State in 2016, following a 30-year career as a school bus driver.
She said she chose to be a bus driver when her son was just starting kindergarten, and wanted to have the same schedule as him.
After working in the office of a school bus company in conjunction with being a bus driver for about five years, she said she decided she prefers being outside of an office when working.
“I just decided I like being out. I don’t want to be cooped up in an office,” she said.
Jacob said she’s had many memorable experiences as a bus driver, including sliding down an icy hill with 65 elementary school students on board.
“One of the parents - luckily - was out,” Jacob said. “He’d seen what was happening and he ran down, and he stopped the traffic and I just kind of kept pumping and pumping, and sliding a little bit, but eventually got to the bottom.”
Jacob said safety is always a priority when driving, and it’s especially important to be able to remain level-headed in uneasy situations.
“You have to try to stay calm, even when things are stressful,” she said.
Traffic is a guarantee if you travel anywhere on Route 9, and Jacob said this was one of the most frustrating parts of being a RamTram driver.
“Sometimes I’m just like, ‘You gotta be kidding!’” she said.
She also commented on the other drivers that she encounters on Route 9, and said, “You would be shocked if you knew how many near misses I’ve gone through in just this semester alone.”
Jacob explained that she isn’t from this area, and will sometimes become stressed over taking different routes to get to pick-up locations like Shopper’s World or the Natick Mall.
“I just get nervous because I could see myself going so deep into Natick that I don’t know where I am,” Jacob said.
Despite this, Jacob said she prefers to drive this route over the parking lots because of the consistent schedule.
Jacob’s favorite part about the job is the people she gets to meet from driving. She said she enjoys getting to listen to some of the conversations her passengers have while driving.
“All the sudden somebody will say something really funny and I’ll start cracking up and they all just kinda look at me - I’m like, ‘Sorry, that was really hysterical!’” Jacob said.
To keep things fun on the tram, Jacob said she likes to decorate the inside of the bus for the holidays.
“One year I decorated the shuttle with all Halloween lights, and I had a strobe light going. … I’ll play holiday music,” she said.
She said she enjoys working with the student employees at the STC, and cherishes her time with them.
“There’s been a few that are real close to my heart. Now they’re gone and I’m a little sad but it’s good - you’ve got to expect it,” she added.
Outside of work, Jacob lives at home with her sister, and in her free time enjoys painting, she said, and added she began painting shortly after her son was born. She said her favorite type of painting is “dot art,” where the entire piece is made up of paint dots of different sizes and colors.
“That’s my passion. I love that stuff,” she said.
Thibaudeau works from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. driving loops around the parking lots to shuttle students from campus to cars.
“I drive in circles for eight hours a day. I pick on passengers. I laugh at the passengers,” she said. “I have conversations. Lots and lots of conversations. If you ask me what I talked about to you, I might not remember it the next day because it just kind of blends in.”
She said began working here eight years ago after working most of her career as an elementary school bus driver, adding she chose to switch to driving a bus for college students because it was more consistent.
“The duties are pretty much the same, except that the kids entertain you differently than what I get entertained now, and I don’t have to tell the people I drive now to ‘sit down, keep your body parts to yourself, stay out of the aisle,’” she said.
She added children have “more of an imagination,” and she had to make up lots of stories to keep them entertained.
“My name was Tinkerbell, and I drove Santa’s sleigh at one point,” she said, and added, “Now I drive a toasted marshmallow - but I haven’t used that one for a few years.”
Even now, though, Thibaudeau makes up stories about her duties as a shuttle driver.
“We have to open the doors at train tracks. Well, I don’t open the door to stop, look, and listen for a train - I open the door to let my ghost friend, Jeffrey, who got run over by a train, on the bus,” she said.
“He rides around the Athletic Lot and then he gets back off at the train crossing,” she added.
“And he has a girlfriend!” she said. “Anastasia - she lives in the tunnels underneath Framingham State, ’cause she froze to death - don’t ask me how that happened in a heated tunnel.”
Thibaudeau gives nicknames to everyone she works with, including “Scar,” “Esmeralda,” and “Tarantula.” She said this started because two student employees had the same name, and she gave them nicknames to help tell the two apart.
“They just come to me,” she said, describing how she comes up with the nicknames.
She said when she began working at Framingham State, she thought working with student workers was the best thing ever, and added since then she’s learned it can be really hard because students aren’t always the most reliable, but most students are very good.
In her free time, Thibaudeau said she’s a big fan of true crime - she added she listens to true crime podcasts in the car to and from work, and listens to documentaries about true crime if no students are in the shuttle while she’s driving.
“I could probably kill somebody and not leave any DNA,” she joked.
She said at home, she has two dogs - 3-year-old sibling black labs named Dixie and Lexa.
“They’re complete opposites,” she said. “One likes to play ball, the other likes to play tug-of-war. One likes water, one doesn’t. But don’t separate them, because then they’ll cry.”
She said she got them when they were 6 months old, and balancing work with them was initially very difficult.
“When I first got them, I didn’t want to put them in a cage, so I let them have control of the mudroom - and I had to refinish my floor,” she said. “They got into permanent marker, they got into Wite-Out, they destroyed a case of water.”
She said they’re able to be left alone now, but “one still has her puppy going on. Almost every night, all the sudden she’ll start growling and barking.”
She said the best part of her job is “the people,” and for students, she had a lot of advice to give - “You’re too young to drink anything but Kool-Aid and coffee, OK? You gotta go to classes,” she said. “Pay attention in your class. Do your homework. Make good choices.”
Despite only being employed for a month, student worker for the STC Melissa Romiero has already been given the nickname “Bonita” by Thibaudeau, and enjoys hearing from Thibaudeau about Jeffrey.
Another student employee, Parker Winters, nicknamed W (pronounced “Dubyah”) by Thibaudeau, said it’s “awesome” to work with Thibaudeau and Jacob, and commended Thibaudeau for always having energy at early shifts.
“Tracy, even at … 6 a.m., has energy in the morning. I don’t know how she does that,” Winters said.
Kim Galvani, coordinator of transportation services - or, as Thibaudeau calls her, “Cinderella” - said the work done by Thibaudeau and Jacob is essential to the campus because for many people, the RamTram and parking lot shuttles are the only way they can get around.
She added the most important part of Jacob and Thibaudeau’s job is ensuring student safety while they’re on the bus.
She said one of her favorite memories of working with Jacob was “getting to devour her delicious, award-winning desserts,” and she loves seeing Thibaudeau’s holiday costumes, staff nicknames, and her word of the day.
“The incredible friendships I’ve seen grow over the years make me proud to be a part of the STC staff,” she said.