Students replenish university positions

Zach Clemens

Every college campus, especially one with 36,001 students, is in a perpetual state of change. The wide-eyed freshman will grow into the experienced senior. New faces, classes and events pop up throughout the year. 

New experiences and challenges will exist, and many students will get their first taste of the working world with an on-campus job.

A student can seemingly get an on-campus job any time of the year, despite the fact that most campus positions require a commitment for at least a semester. Some students leave a job early and break that commitment, and many factors affect the turnover rate for campus jobs at Iowa State. 

“We don’t have the exact number of student jobs on campus,” said Ann Wessman, program manager for the Office of Student Financial Aid who works with the student job board.

The Office of Student Financial Aid doesn’t track the number of student jobs filled because departments are not required to use the job board to fill student positions. The number of jobs posted last year was 2,100, with 700 of those being student jobs.

“That number is skewed though,” Wessman said. “That is only the number of posts, while one post could be hiring for hundreds of positions.”

This is the case with departments like Recreation Services, ISU Dining and Parks Library, which hire a large number of students.

ISU Dining is the largest student employer on campus. Iowa State has 21 dining facilities on campus, not including the support units such as the full-service bakery, commissary kitchen and catering service.

“ISU Dining provides service to a lot of students, faculty and staff,” said Brittney Rutherford, program coordinator for ISU Dining. “Students are vital to our success.” 

Lindsey Hunt, senior in communication studies, began her fourth year working at Conversations Dining. Hunt started working for ISU Dining because she lived in Elm Hall her freshman year and found it easy to work downstairs. She heard it was a good place to work and meet people. 

“A lot of people come and go, but I definitely have made some long-lasting friendships,” Hunt said.

Hunt said she sees new co-workers all the time. People move out, graduate and get a job more geared to their major.

ISU Dining hired 1,800 students this fall.

“Students are here to be a student,” Rutherford said. “That is why they are limited to working 20 hours per week.

Rutherford said the number of shifts being filled is more important than the number of positions.

Of the 1,800 students who were hired, 50 of them quit before their first shift for various reasons, or were no-shows and never gave a reason for quitting. About 1,100 of those students were returning workers and about 650 were new hires. This represents an approximate 37 percent turnover rate. If the 50 students who quit were added — assuming they were all new hires — it pushes the rate almost two points higher.

“The turnover rate varies widely by location,” Rutherford said.

Each dining facility has its own number of employees and policies. A small café might have a few number of employees with slightly larger turnover rate, raising the average.

Rutherford does not believe the high turnover rate is a big problem.

“This is a starter job for many students to get their feet wet in the job world,” Rutherford said. “They learn real job and management skills that they can take with them.”

An unusually low turnover rate could mean that students are not moving on to different opportunities, which they should during their college adventure. 

Rutherford said students should be able to get the internship or job in their career field. She said if students go about quitting the right way — giving a two weeks notice and having fulfilled their duties as an employee while working — ISU Dining would be a good reference for any future employer.

Staying at ISU Dining has benefits. The starting wage of $8.65 per hour is more than most campus jobs, which start at minimum wage. ISU dining gives regular pay raises and free meals during certain shifts. Students can be promoted quickly and acquire management skills.

“It is a very relaxing environment, obviously still with expectations,” Hunt said. “I come back each year because of the management and people I work with.”

This is a common theme among departments that hire students — the workplace should be an engaging, yet challenging atmosphere.

Recreation Services strives for that and is another department that employs a large number of student workers. Whitnie Nichols, program coordinator for Recreation Services who oversees State Gym, Lied Recreation Athletic Center, Forker Building and Beyer Hall, manages about 210 students.

About 40 of the 210 student workers were new hires. This gives Recreation Services a 19 percent turnover rate, which is considerably less than ISU Dining.

One reason behind the low turnover rate is that Recreation Services is a popular spot for student workers.

“Students want to be here,” Nichols said with a smile. “People choose to come here, so it makes that environment even more welcoming. We try to have it as fun as possible while keeping in mind there is still a job to do.”

Students are able to choose their own schedules and are offered advancement opportunities and pay raises, too.

“If you hold up your end of the bargain — show up to your shifts [and] do a good job — you can have this job as long as you want,” Nichols said. “It’s not very common for students to leave their position before the semester commitment is up.”

Nichols said the most common reason for students leaving early is because they find a job or internship in their field of study. The largest turnover is always at the beginning of the fall semester because Recreation Services only has to hire fill-in positions for the spring. 

The student workforce is vital in keeping Recreation Services up and running.

“Students run everything,” Nichols said. “They allow us to do our jobs behind the scene and make this place successful.” 

One of those students is Colton Kennelly, senior in mechanical engineering. Kennelly has worked for Recreation Services for two years and is a head building coordinator.

He and three other coordinators oversee all student employees. They do payroll, track gym usage and set up for any special events. Colton joined the staff because he needed an income increase and was drawn to the health and fitness aspect of the job.

“I really like what I do,” Kennelly said. “It’s cool to be able to work with fellow students and friends in a fun atmosphere. It’s really flexible and has short shifts you work.”

He sees many of the same faces between semesters and years and thinks many of the students who leave each year are seniors. 

“I love being involved with students,” Kennelly said. “I love the atmosphere, the people I work with. It’s just a great environment. I can’t think of a thing that I dislike about my job.”

Parks Library is on the other end of the spectrum and has a large and diverse student workforce.

“Students are vital to the library and work in most all areas,” said Hilary Deike, program coordinator for Parks Library.

These areas include the circulation desk, the preservation department, inter-library loan and the digital repository.

Deike said the library attracts a certain kind of student. Many cite a love of libraries as a draw or good memories of a local library from back home.

Jim Frank, senior in chemical engineering, decided to work at the library at the start of the spring semester of his freshman year after his roommate got a job there. Frank works at the circulation desk, where he checks out books, answers general questions and solves problems.

He enjoys it because he can “get things done at the same time,” like homework. Frank believes the turnover rate is low at the library.

“A lot of people who have worked here have stayed quite a while,” he said. 

The library currently employs 93 students and the greatest turnover is at the end of semesters, especially the spring semester. The library can have as few as 15 new hires or as many as 30 any given semester. This would put the average turnover rate anywhere from 16 percent to 32 percent.

Deike said the most common reasons for leaving are graduating, going home for the summer or getting a heavier class load or internship. 

Life on campus is full of change and diverse experiences. Students continue to move on to better opportunities for greater chances of success that inspire change. Employment is no different.