I remember clearly the preparations I made the summer before coming to Williams like the endless packing, the housing survey, the moderately confusing first-time course selection and, most significantly, the federal work-study assignment form. I ranked my top three job choices in order, with a position in the admissions office heading the list. I remembered my visit to the College the previous October for Windows on Williams and had met several admissions officers during the visit. There was also the fact that I was still ecstatic that they’d accepted me in the first place, which hasn’t changed.
I didn’t get the job. Instead, I was assigned my second choice, an off-campus position as a reading tutor in a fourth-grade classroom at the local elementary school. I had never worked in a school before, though I had been a camp counselor for a few summers. I came to Williams knowing that I wanted to be a writer, but never once having thought about teaching. That first day at Williamstown Elementary School (WES), the fourth-grade teacher asked me if I had experience working with kids. I said yes, silently panicking that perhaps I didn’t have enough. I never would have expected that three years later, that kind of question would only make me smile.
Coincidentally, second was best. I’ve worked at WES since day one, with the same two teachers who have since become mentors and friends. During my time at the College, I’ve not only furthered my interest in writing, but I have also developed a love and capacity for teaching. I took on positions with the Davis Center’s publication, Insight/Incite, and as a student assistant with Williams Magazine. With a foundation at the elementary school, I discovered other teaching employment opportunities, including jobs as a writing fellow at Mount Greylock High School and as a tutor at the College’s writing workshop. I’ve always been grateful for all of these opportunities and the time I’ve spent working a variety of campus jobs. It’s a win-win scenario: I make money for doing what I enjoy and gain career experience that I would not have otherwise had.
I believe that I have been both lucky and strategic in building my work-study experience into both an extracurricular and career foundation. For that reason, I want to share why I did what I did, and continue to do so today with underclassmen who have years ahead of them here, particularly with students (and incoming students, if they’re reading) who, like myself, come from low-income or first-generation backgrounds. Early on during my first year I realized that working the recommended number of hours per week and participating in campus activities was a balancing act, at least for a first-year transitioning from high school. I was fortunate because I liked my job, while many of my friends’ experiences differed. Over time I heard from a variety of students that they were unable to join clubs or sports because they needed their “spare” time to work 10 hours a week in jobs that were difficult, labor-intensive or that they believed to be irrelevant to what they wanted to do with their lives in three or four years.
Maybe it happened subconsciously, but something clicked for me. When I realized that I might want to teach post-graduation, and I heard these stories of frustration, I threw myself into my work, adding jobs for both much-needed hours and professional experience. I admit, I’ve been a bit obsessive about work, maybe even greedy, but my attitude arose from necessity. As a financial aid student, I needed to “max out” on weekly hours if I wanted to go out to dinners with friends at local restaurants, pick up occasional necessities at Stop and Shop, sit down at Tunnel City Coffee, visit friends over Dead Week or amass a modicum of savings for when I transitioned between college and “real life.” But I also came to Williams “from scratch,” as I say, having known nobody here, or from any other elite academic community. I intentionally used my employment to build relationships with staff, faculty and educators in the local community, gaining insights about the field and finding even more opportunities to teach.
Next year, I will do just that as an educator in New York City. I got the job, and this time it was my first choice. I owe the accomplishment to the work I’ve been fortunate enough to have here as a student employee. I owe this advice to those who will be here after I’m not: Find what you love. Do it, and make connections through it. And if you can find a way to be paid for it, seize the day.
Taylor Bundy ’13 is an English and philosophy double major from Lancaster, Penn. She lives in Brooks.