“I was walking through the basement of the Iowa Memorial Union and the Pantry coffeehouse seemed like a cool place to work,” says the Ottumwa native who earned a B.F.A. in studio art and a B.A. in art education this past spring. “I approached the manager, she said she was hiring, and I went to the student employment office for the paperwork.”
Like Hartley, thousands of Iowa students combine a full course load with a 10- or even 20-hour workweek. Hartley found her job three years ago when the University had more part-time student positions than it could fill. A flagging economy and state budget problems have made today’s campus job market tighter, but any student who aggressively looks for a job is almost certain to find one, according to Cynthia Seyfer, assistant financial aid administrator in the student employment office.
Many students come to campus expecting to work. But finding the right work takes some care, and, whether they’re after cash for school and personal expenses or work experience in their chosen field, students should look before they leap into a commitment to an employer, Seyfer says.
“Students need to bear in mind that college course work doesn’t take place just in the classroom,” Seyfer says. “For every semester hour of credit, students should expect to spend one contact hour in the classroom and two study hours out of the classroom. That means, if students work more than 20 hours per week, they may find it difficult to schedule enough study hours, and the employment could hurt their success in school.”
Balancing school and work can be stressful, admits Ashley DeGross, who holds a work-study position with Special Collections in the Main Library. Still, she thinks juggling responsibilities has taught her skills she might not have picked up in the classroom.
“I’ve learned how better to communicate with others and to manage my time,” says DeGross, a native of Lovilia, Iowa.
Her job has worked out well for her, she says, because it offers many benefits in return for a few hours on the clock. DeGross says perks to working in Special Collections include opportunities to dabble in a variety of undertakings, including embossing books, helping patrons track down research material, and lending a hand on departmental projects. Her coworker, Katie Barnard, a communication studies senior from Decorah, Iowa, has helped design and update the department’s web pages.
“It’s been an excellent way to learn more about American culture, as well as the history of the University,” says DeGross, a sophomore anthropology major whose work on the library’s oral history project included transcribing interviews of Richard Culbertson, the Iowa basketball player who was the first African American to play in the Big Ten.
Student workers often make a deep connection to the campus that can increase their chances of staying in school, Seyfer says.
“If class happens to go poorly one day but work provides a sense of accomplishment and success, life remains in balance,” says Barnard, who works about 8 to 10 hours a week during the regular school year. “There have been times when it feels really good to come to work after a day at school, like coming home to a second family—especially with Kathy [Hodson] for a boss. I feel like I can ask her anything. She’s like a mom.”
Kathryn Hodson, a library staff member who supervises Barnard and DeGross, believes that the University has a not-so-secret asset in its student workers. She says that students contribute interesting ideas, give employers a fresh perspective, and add enormous humor and good spirits to the workplace.
“Our students handle important assignments, and, by covering many administrative tasks, they free up time for Special Collections staff to devote to projects,” Hodson says. “They also put a friendly face on the place. Seeing a student—instead of one of us grownups—sitting at the front desk is a lot less intimidating for many undergraduates.”
Seyfer and her staff provide the tools and services designed to help students find work that fits their needs and class schedules. Last year, more than 12,000 students found work through Seyfer’s office. They landed a wide range of jobs that included driving a Cambus, working as a lifeguard at the Field House, doing research in clinical and scientific labs, running the reception desks in residence halls, and working in the Iowa Memorial Union bookstore or food court.
There was a time when students had to hoof it over to Calvin Hall and up a flight of stairs to pore over long typewritten job lists tacked up inside glass-encased bulletin boards. These days, the bulletin boards outside Iowa’s Office of Student Financial Aid display colorful flyers advertising the web site that’s made scanning the University’s job openings as easy as a click of a keyboard mouse. Since the early 1990s, the financial aid office has listed campus jobs on a free web-based service called Jobnet, at www.uiowa.edu/financial-aid/employment. Seyfer’s office updates the web site every day with new jobs as they open up. The site allows students to search for jobs by category, pay, and scheduling.
Another help for students who want to work is the Job Fair, held the first Thursday of fall semester in the Iowa Memorial Union.
“The fair is a great opportunity for students to see the range and options available,” Seyfer says. “Sometimes students don’t want to work in their first semester, but they should go to the Job Fair anyway, for a better idea of what’s out there.”
Last year more than 400 students got jobs through the fair, and some students received job offers the day of the event.
The University offers two types of jobs for students: work-study, based on financial need, and non-work-study, open to all students enrolled in at least one semester hour of classes. Most students (about 12,000 each year—or about 40 percent of the undergraduate population) find work in non-work-study positions.
“Students should keep an open mind about what they want to do and how much they want to get paid,” Seyfer says, noting that students won’t always find workplace experience that fits their career ambitions and that most campus jobs pay around $7 per hour. “The Jobnet list is only a starting point.”
The student employment office is not a placement service, and much of the job hunt is left to the initiative of the student—from finding the opening to contacting the campus employer to pinning down the initial interview.
“We also encourage students with particular interests and skills to contact campus offices directly, even if a job is not advertised,” Seyfer says.
Students have another resource at the Career Center in Phillips Hall, where they can find lists of internships and scholar assistant opportunities that may fit their career interests. Information regarding the Career Center is available at www.careers.uiowa.edu.
Students also can take advantage of the large number of jobs available in town, but financial aid counselors try to make students see why working on campus is their best bet, Seyfer says. The biggest appeal of on-campus jobs is their proximity to classrooms and places of residence, with most workplaces conveniently on or near a Cambus route. And, as long as they give appropriate notice to their supervisors, student workers usually have no trouble arranging time off for extra study time, papers, or finals.
“Our student workers are serious about their schoolwork, and we always keep in mind that academics is the first priority,” says Hodson, who supervises four to six students in Special Collections during the school year.
There are other practical advantages to working on campus. According to Seyfer, wages on campus are competitive with wages in town, and, although the minimum wage is $5.15, the average on-campus wage is $7.30. Students who work on campus while enrolled at the half-time level will not have FICA taxes deducted from their paychecks, an advantage they would not see with a paycheck from a local business.
Nevertheless, many students punch a clock off-campus to meet their educational expenses.
Stephanie Greufe, a senior in health promotion from Blairsburg, Iowa, says that a big reason she works at the Soap Opera, on College Street in downtown Iowa City, is because she found the job easily through family connections, and because she sometimes likes to work more than 20 hours a week—the limit for on-campus jobs.
Studies show that up to 20 hours per week of work does not hurt academic performance, and may even get a student more organized or more motivated, according to Mark Warner, director of financial aid at Iowa. But longer-term proximity of nose and grindstone can take a toll.
“That’s another side of the student employment story that faculty see,” says Frederick Antczak, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “On-campus jobs have reasonable workweeks, reasonable shifts, and reasonable venues. But what is true of those jobs is not true, for example, of a job where a student is cleaning up the last spilled beer from a bar floor at four in the morning.”
Most students cram their lives with full course loads and a wide range of extracurriculars—adding a demanding job on top of that, especially a job made up of late-night shifts during the school week, can spell disaster, Antczak believes. Many of the students he sees who end up on academic probation are in trouble because they work off campus, where University administrators have no control over the level of commitment employers expect of students.
“Our students are so good and responsible that they find themselves taking on more and more responsibility as their bosses hand it to them, perhaps even growing into assistant manager positions,” Antczak says. “Iowa students make good and loyal employees. Then they find themselves facing what looks like an impossible choice, at least in their eyes: living up to their boss’s expectations or risking the loss of a regular paycheck.”
Some student workers
yield to fatigue or grade warnings and scale back. Too many others
pay a hefty price for workplace loyalty, Antczak believes. “Ironically,
more time on the job equals more time away from the classes students
are ostensibly working to pay for,” he says. “An education
as good as the one we offer at Iowa should be seen as an investment.
The truth is that for many students, too much work at bad hours depletes
the value of the investment.”
Help with ‘Help Wanted’
What should students do if they’ve tried the student employment office’s services and still can’t find a job that’s right for them?
“Don’t give up,” Seyfer says. “There’s one more option: Come in and talk to us.”
Anyone wishing to stop by the office in person can visit 213 Calvin Hall between 8 a.m. and noon or 1 and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Searching for a student job entails some routine but necessary paperwork. Students who plan to work while enrolled at the University must complete a Form I-9, to verify their eligibility for employment in the United States, within three days after they are hired. To prevent any delays in starting their jobs, they also need to bring the following documents with them to campus: their passport or two other forms of identification (at least one must be a picture ID, such as a driver’s license or the University ID card), their social security card, and their birth certificate (an original, not a copy).
By Gary Kuhlmann