Work here, grow here: UMass student jobs prepare for the “real world”

By Cam Dunbar

Samantha Webber/Collegian
Diana Noble came to the Special Transportation division of University of Massachusetts Transit Services in 1987, a sophomore student employee helping disabled individuals get from dorms to classes and beyond. Now, 23 years later, she is the assistant manager of the reorganized UMass Transit Services, an example of climbing “up the ladder” from student to professional.

With an annual tuition cost of $11,732 for in-state students and $23,628 for out-of-state students, according to the University Office of Institutional Research, UMass can be an investment that is hard to pay for. Employment can help offset those costs, and students can take advantage of the Federal Work Study program if they are awarded such funding.

Awards within the program range from $1,500 to $1,800, and are intended to offset educational costs and travel home, according to the UMass Department of Financial Aid website.

Employment at the University is what many students experience as they come to college. But beyond the paycheck and the hours worked, lasting effects help the student employees to grow with their jobs and put their experience to use in the real world.

Noble says jobs through Transit Services, where UMass undergraduates and graduate students drive buses, offers many promotional positions to help students build their resume.

“They have their educational duties here, and the potential exists to really prepare them for the real world,” she said.

Starting the first day on the job, students are responsible for applying, and when hired, obtaining a learner’s permit for a Commercial Drivers License, which requires knowing regulations of larger vehicles and how they should be operated. UMass Transit takes care of the training. Even with the responsibility, they do adjust for mistakes.

“We nurse them, because when you’re 18-24, you make mistakes,” she said. Noble became a student supervisor in 1989, and since then, dozens of students have been prepared for real world management experience through the positions. It’s been reflected in two former UMass Transit student supervisors being named to the “Mass Transit Top 40 Under 40” list sponsored by Mass Transit Magazine.

Patrick High, 29, is a non-traditional UMass student majoring in classics. He has worked for UMass Transit driving buses and also teaching new employees how to drive.

“Teaching has to be adapted to the individual, and I believe the patient approach is the most effective.” High, who wants to continue on to graduate school, has honed skills he gained teaching religious education, math and karate to commercial driver education. He, too, sees the value in punctuality, and emphasizes the attention to detail that a transit employee must possess.

“Three minutes may not seem like a serious lateness,” he said. “But when you’re responsible for transportation, three minutes is huge.”

High values the interpersonal relationships he has developed with fellow employees while working together. He said he will take those lessons wherever his career takes him.

While some students handle transportation on-campus, others students work cooking and serving food and maintaining the campus hotel for Auxiliary Services, the UMass department that manages the four dining commons and retail food outlets. Human resources manager Kevin Wissman is a UMass alumnus who stayed on at his alma mater for a professional career.

“Hospitality and tourism management students work many hours over their career here,” said Wissman. “They work in catering and at the hotel. They go from room cleaners to staffing the front desk.”
Wissman’s take on the value of student work: They’ll know exactly what happens in every aspect of the operation of a hotel when they graduate.

“They’ll never have to catch up,” he said.

Paycheck-minded students can work in dining commons as dishwashers, custodians or line servers. The pay isn’t high – only the minimum wage of $8 per hour for most, and the turnover is high.

“Most of the kids get hired because they need quick cash,” said Wissman. But as students leave, others join up. Just as with UMass Transit, Auxiliary Services employees can go on to work in their fields – but for some, it only remains a campus job until they graduate.

Other students at UMass take the opportunity for different school to work experience.

Andrea Norton, 20, has been an assistant teacher at Maple Hill School in Amherst since the fall of 2009. A psychology major at UMass, she considered a masters degree in early childhood education but has decided while working that she wants to pursue other opportunities.

“This job has taught me to be punctual and responsible,” Norton said. “That carries over into my school work and it helps me understand class material better.” She went on to say that class material has also brought a new vision to her work with children, and she understands their behavior better at this point.

Norton works for $9.50 per hour, higher than most student jobs at the University. In her eight hours of work per week, she feels her learning experience is enriched in numerous ways.

“I think I’ve learned the appropriate ways to interact with children and relate to them,” she said. “That will be extremely useful when trying to connect with children in other fields of work.”

And when graduation arrives, and job offers come in, these students will head off to their first day on time and punctual, prepared and energetic.

But, do the jobs pay off? Noble says yes.

“We’ve placed our students in some of the top mass-transit jobs in the country,” she said.

Cam Dunbar can be reached at [email protected]