Melissa Crew (left), a senior from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, majoring in religious studies and therapeutic recreation, and Antwane Mace (second from left), a sophomore from Chicago majoring in English, work part-time at a child care center near campus; both are in the Federal Work-Study Program, a financial-aid program that funds a portion of their wages. Crew has worked at the center for four years and plans to become a child-life specialist in therapeutic recreation. She says the job has helped her understand children—and also has reminded her that it’s important to make time for fun.
Danica Dunbar wanted extra income her sophomore year at The University of Iowa, but she worried about the time commitment of taking on a part-time job. The senior psychology major now says she has no regrets.
In fact, Dunbar says her job—preparing medical journal manuscripts for peer review in the Carver College of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesia—has prompted her to consider a career in research.
“At first, I thought the job would take time away from studying,” says the Council Bluffs, Iowa, native who plans to attend graduate school after testing out the job market. “But instead it has made me focus more, forcing me to budget my time, and I think it has prepared me for life after graduation. Ultimately, I think having a job helps students more than it hurts.”
Dunbar is one of about 8,000 students who work in hourly positions on campus. Many more, says Cindy Seyfer, associate director of the UI Office of Student Financial Aid, find jobs off campus. Holding a job while going to college serves students well, she says.
“Not only do students learn basics like time management, they also start to understand the workplace environment,” Seyfer says. “And it shows future employers that they can be more than just a student, that they can balance roles.”
Brianna Garrett, a junior from Iowa City majoring in interdepartmental studies (health science track) with an emphasis in health coaching, and Jason Maestro, a junior English major from Montrose, Iowa, prepare food in the kitchen at Kinnick Stadium during a Hawkeye football game. Both are production assisstants with Iowa Memorial Union Food Services, which employs about 200 students in a variety of roles in cafés and C-Stores across campus—from cashiers and servers to delivery drivers and chefs’ assistants.
Being employed at a large, research-oriented university like Iowa offers undergraduates additional benefits, Seyfer explains. Students have an opportunity to try out different kinds of jobs in a variety of settings and disciplines, and campus employers often can be flexible with scheduling, allowing students time off for exams or class projects or more hours during semester breaks.
“At Iowa, students have the ability to do high-level research that they might not have the opportunity to do in a smaller school,” she adds. “They can work with people who are the top in their field and develop relationships with people who will serve as mentors and write recommendations for graduate school or employment. There’s no limit to what they can do here, whether it’s a programming job in the Office of Student Life or a student leadership position in University Housing.”
On the flip side, Seyfer notes, the University is in a position to take advantage of a population ripe with new ideas.
“Student employees bring a fresh perspective to the job,” Seyfer says. “They are able to take things they learn in class and immediately apply them. It’s a win-win kind of thing.”
Ross Johnson’s efforts as an undergraduate research assistant in the UI College of Engineering’s Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) Program earned him the honor of being named the University’s 2009 Student Employee of the Year. The junior from North Liberty, Iowa, is majoring in computer and electrical engineering and has been developing programming for VSR that replicates the movements of a human hand.
“I enjoy the amount of responsibility and trust they give me—I’m not just some lab rat,” says Johnson, whose work helps companies design handheld devices such as joysticks. “I actually get to present my work to our contractors. It’s nerve-racking but cool.”
For Nate Boettcher, a senior from Waukee, Iowa, majoring in management information systems and minoring in computer science, working as a student programmer has provided a paycheck—and has been an invaluable part of his education.
“I am amazed at what I have learned in the job,” says Boettcher, who is employed by the Revenue Integrity Department of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “I’m not waiting tables. What I do is applicable to my career aspirations—it’s providing a dividend.”
by Sara Epstein Moninger