Off-campus jobs give students experience outside the bubble

Olivia Jackson ’17 stands with boss Jo Ellen Harrison ’71, the founder of the store Ruby Sparks. Grace Flaherty/Photo editor.
Olivia Jackson ’17 stands with boss Jo Ellen Harrison ’71, the founder of the store Ruby Sparks. Grace Flaherty/Photo editor.

It’s hard to miss Olivia Jackson ’17 beneath the gleaming chandelier and swathes of luxury fabrics. A center piece is adjusted here and incense is lit there, until the atmosphere is just right for the next set of customers that happen to saunter into Ruby Sparks.

Ruby Sparks is a women’s clothing store on Spring Street that specializes in affable service and individualistic statement pieces and was established by Jo Ellen Harrison ’71.

Jackson is somewhat of an anomaly within the College’s student body. In contrast to the standard on-campus job, working off campus adds another dimension of real-world experience.

Across the street at Spring Street Market, Evan Lewis ’20 maneuvers between aisles. She switches between putting finishing touches on a pyramid of pastries, mingling with customers and ringing them up at the register with agility.

Lewis said part of the appeal of an off-campus job is “[Connecting] with people that are part of Williamstown, since it’s kind of like a mini community in itself.” Her typical day includes running the cash register, restocking the shelves with food and cleaning the store. The store is “an organic, polished minimart on campus with fresh fruits and vegetables. There’s also a bakery and general store staples I was afraid you’d only be able to find on Amazon, like deodorant and razors,” Lewis said.

For Jackson, who began interning for Ruby Sparks in late September, securing an off-campus job was more about networking.

“I’d like to go into the fashion industry after graduating so this has offered insight into and practice with merchandising, what the customer looks for and how to access that,” Jackson said.

In addition to being part of the swim team, Jackson is an English and art history double major.

“It’s cool to take these skills and apply them to the real world. When I’m writing something short and quick and effective and trying to get something across, like say, a product description, I use some of the objectivity I picked up in art history,” Jackson said.

A typical day for Jackson might include rearranging the entire store with Harrison so as to keep displays in tune with the influx of customers.

Accessing the college student as a client is the most challenging aspect of Jackson’s job. “College students don’t think they have time for shopping and it’s easy to fall into the quick internet ‘peruse and purchase,’” Jackson said. At Ruby Sparks, however, where you’re guaranteed candid feedback and face-to-face interaction, it becomes easier to sidestep buyer’s remorse.

“One of the hardest things for a retail store on Spring Street is the way that the internet has sort of monopolized the market in general. Ruby Sparks offers the customer personal service which you can’t get on the internet,” Jackson said.

These challenges are far from a hindrance to Jackson. If anything, they served as a springboard for her marketing initiatives that call on Facebook events, flyers and the rest of the swim team to relay any major Ruby Sparks events.

For Jackson, gaining exposure to the fashion industry through her off campus job is rooted in “steps that I’d  like to take next year,” she said. “We don’t have a fashion or merchandising or communications major. With wanting to go into fashion, gaining experience through working in the store has been vital.” Although memorizing the inventory was initially overwhelming, the moment when customers are “beaming and you think to yourself, ‘Yes! I knew how that would fit, or I just knew that would look good and I’m glad you think so too’ makes it worth it,” Jackson said.

Regardless of job position, students at the College are as determined as ever to gain exposure to the world outside the purple bubble. These are jobs the students have to scout for themselves, make strenuous efforts to qualify for and then work assiduously to maintain. All the while, their handle on time management is bolstered and the influence of this job begins to employ subtle intersectionality in other facets of their college lives — from academics to interpersonal skills.