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Sunday, September 24, 2023

UW-Madison student employees seek balance between work, school

It would not be entirely unreasonable to claim being a college student has similar characteristics and time commitments to those of a full-time job. From partaking in tedious assignments to undertaking group projects and engaging in outside office hours, attending and excelling at university takes a vast degree of discipline and effort. 

But for countless University of Wisconsin-Madison students, classes and schoolwork are not the primary obligation in their daily routines. Almost 9,000 students are student employees for the 2022-23 school year, not including students involved in jobs outside of the university. 

Students elaborate on how, although potentially difficult, finding a balance between academics and work is key, and many UW students master this process through both their own efforts and those of their work locations and bosses.

The common consensus: They’re students first and foremost

At UW-Madison, student jobs differ in hours, pay and responsibilities, but one expectation is the same: academics come first. 

Wisconsin Union Communications Director Shauna Breneman discussed the ways union locations aim to help students prioritize work and school simultaneously, but with the assumption that employees are students first and foremost, if needed. 

Beyond offering several positions for incoming employees to initially choose from, Wisconsin Unions also provide a range of flexibility for students when it comes to number of hours, job site and specific days worked, Breneman said.

“The Wisconsin Union team emphasizes the importance of work-life balance [for its abundance of student employees],” Breneman mentioned.

These efforts by the Union and other campus employers have not been in vain, as many student employees hired through the university system praise their relative job’s understanding of student academic life.

Employer efforts well received by some student workers

Ellie Herrald, a UW-Madison sophomore, works as an office assistant for the Department of Emergency Medicine administration office at the university. She described her employer’s extensive acknowledgment of her student obligations. 

“My boss, from even the first interview, made it very clear that school always should come first for me,” Herrald said. “I haven’t had any issues where I feel like I’m not able to balance or get my school work done, but knowing that if I do, my boss will be willing to work with me [and] has made me feel so comfortable and less stressed.” 

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This same positive oversight of working throughout college is not limited to employees in this particular position on campus. The thousands of students employed by the university experience varying levels of duties, but some agree with Herrald. 

Freshman Sophia Delgado works in a food science lab and mentioned a few added benefits to being a student employee.

“I have found that working in college is beneficial because it is nice to have some income and it is nice to have something else to do,” Delgado explained. “I feel like I can get bogged down with homework and get into a rut, so it’s nice to have something added in the schedule.”

The perfect balance isn’t always easy to maintain

For some student employees, even with assistance from university employers, there may be times where it becomes increasingly difficult to find an equal balance between school and work, according to UW freshman Sam Lopez.

As a video production assistant student employee for the UW Athletics Department, Lopez described her role for the university in high esteem but didn’t fail to mention the times where finding a work, school and life balance becomes tricky.

Lopez explained while she does “enjoy doing [her] job,” she has found it “a bit difficult at times to balance it all out, especially with hockey, basketball and wrestling all going on in the same season.” 

Lopez described how she takes advantage of her free time during busy seasons at her student job.

“When I have downtime at work, they encourage us to do homework and stay productive, which is very helpful, especially during midterms,” she said. 

Benefits of student jobs

Beyond the fiscal benefits and flexible schedules, some UW-Madison students engage in a job during their college years for the experience they will gain beyond it. 

Breneman highlighted the Wisconsin Union’s efforts to grant their student employees transferable qualifications post-college.

“Students gain innumerable skills no matter their Union role that will help them succeed in their next big professional step, from software programs expertise to customer service,” Breneman said. “As part of our career development work with student team members, we help students identify the expertise they are gaining and how those skills connect to their professional goals and coursework.”

The long term benefits of obtaining real world experience from a student job is not lost on some student employees. 

UW junior Ella Chorlton shared her thoughts on the skills she obtained as a tour guide on campus.

“Working as a college student also allows me to work on professionalism before entering the real workforce and improve upon skills I may struggle with,” Chorlton said. 

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