Not your average Joe

For Joseph DiGioia, cleaning is just one small part of his job as a custodian.


Emily DiSalvo

DiGioia was recognized for his work after 20 years on the job

Emily DiSalvo, News Editor

Joseph DiGioia has been cleaning the halls, classrooms, dorms and bathrooms of Quinnipiac University for the past 20 years, but this was the first year he realized anyone noticed the extra effort and enthusiasm that he brings to the job.

Quinnipiac’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students awarded DiGioia with the Excellence in Service to Students Award on Oct. 17, but DiGioia said he wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary.

“It’s pretty nice that someone sees you just being yourself as something special,” DiGioia said. “It’s a good feeling but I am still kind of taken aback that I won it because I don’t think I did anything special.”

DiGioia has been cleaning the fourth floor of the School of Health Sciences full-time for the past four years, but previously worked weekends on main campus while he was pursuing a career as a corporate chef during the week.

Every morning, DiGioia helps to get the classrooms ready. Then he takes a break before cleaning both the men’s and women’s restrooms.

“Just the mundane routine of the job gets a little boring at times because there is nothing new about it,” DiGioia said.

In his time on the job, DiGioia has figured out some ways to make it more interesting, and they all involve people.

“The people, the students, my coworkers, just the people in the Quinnipiac community – it’s a good place to work,” DiGioia said.

Regulars on the fourth floor said DiGioia unlocks their office doors for them when their arms are full, helps people move equipment and greets every student and faculty member with a smile.

Leah Rubino, secretary in the School of Nursing, said she considers DiGioia part of the school’s family.

“Last year when I was out on maternity leave, I was told weekly by other co-workers that Joe would ask how I was doing and how the baby was,” Rubino said. “He was also kind to send a gift for the baby.”

DiGioia also enjoys helping the snow crews move snow, because he thinks they shouldn’t have to do it alone. But his favorite “extra” task involves helping local students.

When DiGioia’s supervisor asked him if he would consider mentoring a few students with disabilities from the Cheshire Public Schools, DiGioia was immediately interested. Not only would the addition of a few cleaning buddies make the day more interesting, but DiGioia would be helping the community.

The Quinnipiac-Cheshire Transition Collaborative is a program for students with disabilities ages 18-21 to learn professional skills that will help them obtain a job after graduation. This year, DiGioia doesn’t have any mentees, but he said last year’s group was a special one.

“I enjoyed a lot working with them,” DiGioia said. “I miss it actually.”

DiGioia said he was able to challenge the students with tasks to the point where he realized they were capable of much more than he or anyone thought they were.

“Some of them it’s like they excelled beyond what I thought they would,” DiGioia said. “If you don’t give them a chance to see what they can actually do, you’ll never know what their capabilities are so when I saw that they were doing good with the basics, I just took it a little beyond and they were able to do a lot more than I think a lot of people thought that they could.”

Someone clearly took notice of DiGioia’s affinity for working with the students, because many of the letters nominating him for the award focused on his relationship with the students from the program.

“They just took notice of how patient I was with them and the way I taught them,” DiGioia said.

One anonymous nominator recognized how DiGioia not only modeled proper job skills, but life skills for the students when explaining why he was deserving of the honor.

“Joe doesn’t just teach them tasks, but is an excellent role model for how to be compassionate to others,” read one of the submissions. “I recently was ill for several days and when I returned, Joe welcomed me back and talked to me as I approached my office. I thought he had a job to do in that direction, but he had come just to open my door for me. A small thing, but really made an impact.”

Rubino said that while DiGioia works hard to keep the floors “impeccable,” the way he treats others is even more impressive.

“Aside from his work ethic, Joe stands out from the rest because of his kind and caring nature,” Rubino said.

But this wasn’t DiGioia’s first time working with students with special needs. DiGioia was previously a bowling coach with Special Olympics and more recently, a “Big Brother” for a child with disabilities.

DiGioia said working as a “Big Brother” made him realize that spending time with children with special needs is most rewarding when it isn’t done as a job.

The Big Brother program required DiGioia to report the amount of time he spent with his “little brother” but he said he never did.

“We didn’t follow the rules and call up the headquarters every time we went out because we were friends, rather than me just going to spend time with him, it was more of a friendship,” DiGioia said.

He admitted he has been asked many times why he didn’t go into social work or a career related to kids, but he said getting paid defeats the purpose.

“I think when it’s a job it isn’t as fun,” DiGioia said. “I think when you’re doing it without getting paid because it’s something you want to do, you’re probably better at it than when you do it every day. “

DiGioia said he forged close relationships with some of the students, including Peter Klein, a graduate of the program, who he still texts every now and then.

“(Klein) probably had sat in every single chair that there is in North Haven, not that he didn’t want to work but he preferred sitting,” DiGioia said with a laugh.

The students learned a lot from DiGioia about being a custodian and hard work, but DiGioia said he learned from the students as well.

“I’m a little bit critical of myself, but when you see the smallest accomplishment by them or even a mistake they’re still happy,” DiGioia said. “They go about their day and they don’t care. I think some of us expect too much from ourselves.”

While DiGioia said the award is an honor, he emphasized that he isn’t the only person at Quinnipiac that deserves recognition.

“That was the most uncomfortable thing, knowing I have coworkers who may do more and they weren’t recognized,” DiGioia said. “Everyone is deserving.”