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Campus News

New Work-Study Process Matches Students with Job Interests

by Greta Petry (December 10, 2004)

From the left, work-study students Esther Spencer, Zakhar Berkovich, and Jenny Rulison gain job skills in the Division of University Advancement.

From the left, work-study students Esther Spencer, Zakhar Berkovich, and Jenny Rulison gain job skills in the Division of University Advancement.

Work-study jobs have always been an important source of income for the University at Albany students who qualify for them. The income helps students cover the bills that come with living on one’s own.

This academic year, the University has introduced a new element of choice to the process. Several work-study students in the Division of University Advancement say this change has made a big difference in their work experience.

Esther Spencer, 20, a junior from Brooklyn, and Jenny Rulison, a 20-year-old senior from Mayfield, both work for the Office of Media & Marketing on the second floor of the University Administration Building.

Spencer said, “As a returning third-year student, I am quite familiar with the work-study system. I was quite pleased with the new online application process that went into effect for the fall 2004 semester.” Through this new system, students match up their interests with the jobs available.

Rulison, who transferred to UAlbany from a local community college, said while filling out the online forms was a bit more work, “I didn’t mind the extra work because I had the opportunity to choose where I would work.”

Freshman Zakhar Berkovich, 18, used the new system to find his job in the Office of the Vice President for University Advancement.

Berkovich’s family moved to Staten Island from Minsk in Belarus in January 2001. He said his family members were refugees who left Belarus because of religious intolerance.

While Berkovich has not experienced the old work-study assignment system, he said, “I do like to choose. The whole American country is about freedom of choice. So I can have a choice in education and in selecting a job.”

Federal Work Study Coordinator Diane Corbett of the Office of Financial Aid said the University looked into the new system after Director of Financial Aid Dennis Tillman found many other colleges and universities use systems by which students select their jobs online.

In the end the decision was made to use the Web-based software system JobX by Foresite Solutions.

“This was a significant change from the way we were doing business in terms of job placements,” Corbett said. In the past, new students were generally assigned to jobs randomly. However, continuing students were given the opportunity to select one department from Financial Aid’s list of departments employing work-study students. If the department requested by a student was filled, Financial Aid would then decide where to assign the student. “Unfortunately, we had no career or academic interest available when making this decision,” Corbett said.

Spencer had worked for an archaeology professor in the Department of Anthropology; Rulison had been assigned to the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action. While each picked up skills in her respective office, neither was working in a field related to her major.

Spencer, a native of Trinidad, is a business major with a concentration in finance/management information systems. Rulison is also a business major, with a concentration in marketing and management.

The new system, according to Corbett, allows both the student and the employer to become more active in the job selection process. For example, Janis Kent, a secretary in Media & Marketing, submitted a brief job description detailing the duties involved, the hours needed, and the required computer skills.

Corbett said, “Work-study employers post jobs on the site, then review and respond to all job applicants. The employer decides whom they want to hire, providing more autonomy in terms of hires. From the student perspective, the new job selection system provides more of a ‘real world’ scenario in that they complete an application and communicate directly with their prospective employer.”

For Rulison, the new work-study process helped her explore marketing even though there wasn’t room in her academic schedule for a full marketing internship.

For Spencer, this wasn’t an issue, since she already had a finance internship during the summer at Lehman Brothers in Manhattan, an experience she hopes to repeat.

As part of Rulison’s work-study experience this semester, she surveyed students in the Campus Center to determine whether there is interest in competing in the World’s Largest Pillow Fight for the Guinness World Records. At least 3,500 students are needed to participate in order to qualify for the contest. A separate assignment was to encourage students to sign up for Go2Events.

Rulison said her marketing tasks have been a real eye-opener. “I am very shy around people,” she said. “I had to force myself to go up to students when I was conducting the survey. This experience has given me more self-confidence.”

Rulison found there is a lot of interest in the pillow fight contest and it may be held during the spring semester at Collins Circle on a Sunday.

As part of Spencer’s job, she finds answers to the many general information questions that are e-mailed to the University each day. On the average, she fields about 10 questions a day, and more than 20 on a Monday. She also organizes the news clips. Each day the Media & Marketing office checks the newspapers for articles about the University and its professors, clips them, and sends them electronically to about 150 people. Through this task, Spencer said she has learned about fields of study she didn’t even know the University offered, like nanotechnology.

Rulison plans to go straight into the work world upon graduation in May, and hopes to one day own her own business. Spencer plans on working in finance for about five years, and then going to graduate school. Berkovich’s dream is to become a physician through the University’s arrangement with Albany Medical College, through which he hopes to be accepted to medical school in his sophomore year.

A biology major, he was still in high school when he was certified as a Microsoft Office specialist. He sought an assignment in an administrative office, where he uses his computer skills. Berkovich believes understanding technology is important for a future physician in a high-tech world.

He has been “on loan” to Media & Marketing, helping the office to enhance an Excel database of newspaper articles about the University that used to be kept in binders.

“Being in the 21st century, we decided to put it on the computer,” he said.

All three students take their work-study jobs seriously.

Having worked since she was 14, Spencer said she knows the importance of being responsible. “This is an actual office,” she said. “People are depending on you.”

Corbett concluded, “Students have responded very positively to the work-study Web site and made the transition without difficulty. At this point in time, we have 896 hires through the work-study Web site. In my opinion, this was a significant move forward for the University, and I am pleased to have been a part of it.”