Students employed in a variety of campus jobs

Approximately 1400 students at the College hold campus jobs in some capacity, either in staffing the many student-centered services on campus or reaching out to the larger local community.Work-study positions at the College vary in time commitment, pay and frequency, and it is likely this flexibility in employment that leads the number of campus-employed students at the College to be comparable to that of an institution with approximately 7500 to 10,000 students.

At the start of the 2010-11 academic year, the responsibility for overseeing student employment shifted from the Office of Financial Aid to Human Resources.

According to James Cart, student employment coordinator in Human Resources, there are 285 employment positions on campus for which students have been paid this academic year. Cart explained that a total of 331 distinct positions are “active.” Each active job is a position that exists but may or may not have been filled by a student employee this year.

In the 2010-11 academic year, 1392 students held jobs on campus, ranging from student accompanists to bicycle mechanics to lifeguards. Some of the largest employers on campus in terms of both number of student employees and amount of hours available include Dining Services, the mailroom, the outreach programs at local schools, the College libraries and Academic Resources.

Dining Services

According to officials in Dining Services, the number of student employees in the department has doubled since 2006 due to both an increase in the use of technology within dining and a need for student employees to undertake certain tasks that were previously covered by staff before retirement increased in 2009, when the College offered employees special retirement packages following budget cuts due to the recession.

“We have opened up all areas to student employment,” said Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services, adding that in the past few years, students have come to work in the Bake Shop, food preparation, in various office jobs and in developing blogs and the website for Dining Services.

Volpi said that Dining Services even reaches out to the Center for Development Economics, offering graduate students the opportunity to assist with the department’s finances, performing tasks such as cost-per-meal calculations.

“Our staff have come to rely on students working,” said Chris Abayasinghe, director of student dining. “Our focus has really been student-driven.”

Corey Smith ’14 works as a student manager in Dining Services and is responsible for organizing student schedules for shifts at Whitmans’, ’82 Grill, Grab ‘n’ Go, the Bake Shop and Lee Snack Bar. He also helps in the kitchens, preparing food and washing dishes.

“I feel that my job has been very beneficial to my future career,” Smith said. “I love to bake and hope to open a bakery, so my job has helped me gain insight into all of the details that go into running a kitchen.”

Abayasinghe said that many students choose to work in Dining Services because of the flexibility of shifts, variety of venues and the ample hours per week that the department offers. “I think we have students come to work with Dining because we have become a choice employer,” Abayasinghe said. “The reason we so strongly believe in our student employees is that it’s how we got our starts,” Abayasinghe said in reference to both himself and Volpi, both of whom began their careers as student employees. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.”

Employment in education

Another student employment opportunity that often leads to future careers of students at the College is work-study jobs in local schools. According to Katje White, coordinator of the America Reads/America Counts tutoring program and the Williams Center at Mount Greylock Regional High School, there are three ways in which students can work for pay at schools in the local community. One way is through the America Reads/America Counts program, a federal work-study program at Williamstown Elementary School and Brayton Elementary School in North Adams, in which roughly 40 students and 10 students are employed, respectively.

Additionally, the Science Outreach program employs about 40 students at Brayton, Mount Greylock and Williamstown Elementary School to teach science. Unlike America Reads/America Counts, this position is not limited to students who qualify for federal work-study, those students must apply. Both federal work-study students and others can also work as writing fellows in English classes at Mount Greylock High School and as middle school after-school tutors. Again, students must apply for a limited number of spots.

White explained that she communicates with first-years entering into the America Reads/America Counts program in September and October and “tries to maximize  the hours for federal work-study students,” she said. “Federal work-study students have me plus two coordinators at [Williamstown Elementary School] working on their behalf.”

White noted that the proximity of Williamstown Elementary School to campus is appealing and often necessary to students who work there for employment: “Williamstown Elementary School is close, so you can walk to it,” she said. This makes jobs at Williamstown Elementary particularly attractive to students, especially those interested in careers in education.

She explained that logistics are often more difficult for some students who work at Mount Greylock because a high school curriculum requires student employees to have a specific skill set that matches the needs of the teacher and  because the school is not within walking distance of campus, transportation has to be worked out. Mount Greylock is about seven minutes south on Route 7. In addition, it is not always easy to sync students’ schedule with the Mount Greylock schedule, White said. That being said, White said that she is always open to making connections when possible if a student  demonstrates a strong interest in working at Mount Greylock.

The work-study option at local schools has expanded over the last several years, and it seems likely to continue to expand. “One of the goals of the Office of Community Engagement is to offer more work-study options in North Adams,” so students who might not have been able to get a job at a Williamstown school could still participate, White said.  “It would also give students an amazing opportunity to engage beyond Williamstown. The North Adams schools would love to have federal work-study students … but to do it right means a bit more logistical and transportation support on the [College’s] side and strong coordinators on the schools’ end to ensure that Williams students’ efforts are well-utilized and monitored,” White continued.

Academic resources

Joyce Foster, director of Academic Resources, described the department as “a compendium of programs” dedicated to academic assistance, study skills and tutoring.

According to Foster, the peer tutor program employs 212 students,  the Math and Science Resource Center (MSRC) employs 65 and the Study Skills Corps is managed by two students who offer interactive workshops and are “trained in looking at the various skills that students need to be successful in college,” including time management, test-taking, reading strategies and note-taking.

Academic Resources also employs a student who collaboratively helps to coordinate disability academic support services, which may include extended time on quizzes and exams and the provision of notes, books on tape, enlarged print and/or alternate testing. The department also hired eight students this year to work as study group facilitation coordinators in a pilot program with Professor of Biology Wendy Raymond’s course “The Cell.” Foster said that next year that she and Raymond hope to hire a total of 14 study group facilitation coordinators to work with students enrolled in all sections of the course during the upcoming fall semester.

“I work with student coordinators in all of the programs,” Foster explained. “My model is collaborative leadership.” All of the programs that fall under the purview of Academic Resources have at least one designated student coordinator for the purpose of bringing students’ perspective, input and presence to each of the programs.

Foster said that she is cognizant of the potential limitations that a student on financial aid may encounter when seeking a campus job: Students on aid are more likely to need to work a certain number of hours to cover their day-to-day living expenses and may consequently only be able to take on a position that grants them access to enough hours per week.

“That can disadvantage you,” Foster said. “Because you are financially needy, it might mean that you are pigeonholed or restricted to certain positions that address your economic need, and therefore you may have limited access to opportunities that might give you access to certain other opportunities.”

For example, most Peer Tutors or MSRC tutors only work two or three hours a week, which, Foster explained, is not enough billable hours for many students on aid. In light of these issues, Foster said that she continuously tries to strategically reach out to students who may be unaware of these opportunities or who may feel discouraged to apply for financially-driven reasons.

“Because I’m aware of this, I try to do special outreach,” Foster said, adding that she informs students that they can nominate themselves for any tutoring positions and need not only depend on faculty nominations. In recruiting tutors, particularly for the MSRC and the Peer Tutor programs, Foster also seeks faculty and self-nominations from participants in the Summer Science Program, which takes place the summer before first-year students arrive on campus and is geared toward first-generation students interested in science.

College libraries

Librarians at Schow, Sawyer and Chapin libraries have found the assistance of student employees valuable to the organizations’ day-to-day operations.

According to Jo-Ann Irace, head of Access Services at Sawyer, Sawyer employs 54 students while Schow employs 30 students.

David Pilachowski, College librarian, said that the libraries used to employ Williamstown residents but have focused on hiring students at the College since the 2008 economic downturn. Pilachowski added that the libraries aim to hire financial aid students in need of jobs before non-aid students but that when a specific skill is required for a certain position or when the applicant pool is low and a shift needs to be filled, library officials will look to hire whoever is qualified and available regardless of financial aid status.

Gia Recco ’14 has worked at Schow since coming to campus last year. “I think it’s a really great job on campus, probably one of the most coveted jobs,” Recco said. She values her desk job particularly because it provides her an opportunity to work on homework during downtime.

Pilachowski spoke to the relevance of library employment for students’ future career paths, as a general knowledge of the library prove useful for students in later research at the College and at the graduate level. Additionally, Pilachowski noted that some of his employees later earn their Master’s in library science.

Financial aid and the hiring process

“Campus employment is the foundation of a financial aid package,” said Paul Boyer, director of Financial Aid. While not every work-study student is guaranteed a job upon setting foot on campus – it is the student’s responsibility to seek out a position, Boyer said – financial aid students do receive priority in the hiring process.

According to Cart, students who apply for campus jobs are considered to be one of four groups: federal work-study qualifier and high need, campus employment qualifier and high need, campus employment qualifier and no need and students who applied for financial aid and did not receive it. Students in this final category are given slightly higher priority than students who never applied for aid.

Boyer explained the difference between federal work-study and campus work-study as “a difference of where the funding comes from. The College applies for and receives a small allocation annually of Federal Work Study dollars from the Department of Education. These funds are pooled with our own campus employment dollars to fund the payroll of all students who work on campus and the Williams community. Only students who are packaged with Federal Work Study funds can work for the not-for-profits in the Williams community,” he said.

In the past, first-year students on financial aid would rank their choice jobs from a list of possible positions before the start of the fall semester. As of this academic year, employers are encouraged to use PeopleSoft to hire students.

“We tell those supervisors and make general campus-wide announcements and announcements over the summer [advertising employment opportunities for the year] and whenever possible, please hire financial aid students over non-financial aid students,” Cart said.

Roughly 120 supervisors are responsible for hiring students, monitoring time cards and turning them in to Human Resources, Cart said. He added that there were between 15 and 20 employers who used the PeopleSoft hiring system this year, and he hopes this number will increase in the future.

“The only people who are allowed to see those jobs [listed on PeopleSoft] are first-year students who are a high financial aid priority,” Cart explained. Students who are listed as a low hiring priority cannot be hired in PeopleSoft until the first day after drop-add ends in the fall. “At any period of time, the only people who cannot be hired are the first-year low-priority students in those first couple weeks of September,” Cart said. He explained that returning students, whether on aid or otherwise, are expected to do the legwork to find employment either at the end of the spring semester or in the fall when they return to campus.

Cart said that the hiring program was an improvement for first-years, who were often “working in jobs they didn’t want to be in,” or were given a list of jobs over the summer from which they could rank their campus employment options and some options would be irrelevant or unattainable. “No one hires a first-year first semester research assistant,” Cart said.

Irace said that for the College libraries, the change in hiring process was successful. “You wind up with students coming in wanting to work in the library. They get the job they want,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Earning limits 

The Office of Financial Aid reaches out to students on financial aid who are in danger of exceeding their monetary earning limits. Cart, however, reaches out not on a monetary basis but in terms of which students overrun their allotted eight to 10 hours of work per week, depending on class year.

Student employees at the College are limited in the amount of money they are allowed to earn during a given academic year. First-years on financial aid are allowed to earn up to $1800 and upperclassmen on financial aid are allowed to earn up to $2100. Students who are not on financial aid are allowed to earn up to $2500 over the course of the academic year.

According to the Office of Financial Aid, the higher limit for non-aid students was set for practical reasons because $2500 is roughly equal to the amount a student would earn working full-time over the academic year in the pay range where most student jobs fall.   The limit for students on financial aid serves not just as a limit but also an expectation to earn that amount of money because those funds count as part of the aid that the College grants within the overall package for each student.

“If you raise the amount [that students are] expected to earn, then you essentially decrease the amount they’re awarded without having to earn it through a job,” Cart explained.

He added that in practice, the number of students who earn more than $2100, regardless of financial aid status, is so small that it is manageable to reach out to students on an individual basis if they run the risk of exceeding their yearly earning limit.

According to Cart, the average student working in 2011 – on financial aid or otherwise – earned $1250 throughout the academic year. For high-priority financial aid students, this average was $1276, for low-priority financial aid students the average totaled $1226 and for non-aid students it totaled $1085.

“Most students rarely reach their campus earning limit,” Boyer said. “For those who do – about 10 percent of those working – we call them in beforehand to see if there is any way to increase their cost of attendance budget. If we can, mostly because of unfunded travel, personal or Winter Study costs, raising the cost increases their need. The increase in need can be met with more campus employment. Federal aid regulations stipulate that a student cannot have more aid than he or she needs, so we have to be very conscious of over-awards.”

Boyer explained that earning limits are set “largely to prevent students from devoting too many hours in their busy week to working. We’d rather see them focus on academics and the extra-curricular life of the College,” he said.

Katy Newcomer ’14, who works as a lifeguard, a tour guide and a peer tutor for “Co-Evolution of Earth and Life,” said that while she understands why the College aims to protect students from over-working, “I would prefer to be able to work my own schedule,” she said. “Right now I just coast with a low level of shifts and add on a bunch if I ever need money. This way I keep my spending low – since such a low level is entering my bank account every two weeks – until I need it to, for example, buy a plane ticket home. And this way I know that I won’t go over the limit.”

Grace Wright ’12, who has worked in the theater scene shop since her sophomore year, said that she has “been in a situation where I was dangerously close to going over my hours with work still left to be accomplished in the semester. Both the [Office of Financial Aid] as well as my work supervisor were more than willing to work with me, however, and figure out a solution that benefited everyone,” she said.

Smith said that he has found the earnings limit to be more troublesome this year than in the past.

“At the beginning of each semester I have needed to work more hours to make sure that there are enough students scheduled for all of the shifts,” he said of his job as a student manager in Dining Services. “This, and the fact that there are times when I would work because the kitchen was short-staffed, forced me to reduce my hours second semester because I was approaching my cap too fast. It has limited some of the students who love to work but are unable to do so during the last few weeks because they reach the cap too early,” Smith said. “This has had a negative impact on the kitchen because fewer students are able to work at the end of the year when they need it the most.”

Relevance of work-study

“More students are working on campus and in the Williams community as the number of aid students has increased over time,” Boyer explained. “The number and kinds of jobs has increased to keep pace with the demand.”

“Working has always been a part of my life, so I think it is important for students to have an on-campus job,” Newcomer said. “It has also taught me a lot about how to manage finances and what it really takes to earn enough money to live off. I think it’s important to the College to have student workers to function, and I think it should be an integral part of our education.”