Students discuss their experiences with work-study

By JOHN FRYE and ASMA KHAN | October 11, 2018

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Hopkins was ranked the 25th most expensive school in America by Business Insider for the 2016-2017 school year. Tuition has only increased since then – 5.5 percent over the last two years. Currently, annual tuition totals $53,740. Due to the high cost of enrollment, many Hopkins students seek out grants and financial aid to pay for their education. 

Specifically, some students receive financial aid in the form of the federal work-study (FWS) program, a government subsidized part-time job that allows students to earn money while they pursue their degrees. 

Some students participate in FWS by seeking on-campus jobs, including research and teaching assistant positions, or certain off-campus employment, such as nonprofit work.

This semester, students participating in FWS may work at the Tutorial Project, an after-school tutoring program led by undergraduate students. The organization added a work-study component so that student workers can receive monetary compensation for tutoring. 

Tutorial Project Program Director Young Song has overseen the organization since 2007. She is optimistic that the inclusion of work-study in the program will broaden its appeal to students who were dissuaded from volunteering due to financial constraints.

“About half of our students are hired through work-study, and the other half are volunteers,” Song said. “We’ll always have students who want to volunteer and participate in this program, regardless of whether or not they want to be paid. But for students who really wanted to do Tutorial but couldn’t because they needed a job – this is a way for them to finally be able to do that.”

Song explained that because many community service programs on campus have limited budgets, they cannot afford to financially compensate students. She elaborated that Tutorial Project overcame this barrier by partnering with America Reads, a federal program which uses FWS to fund existing tutoring programs. America Reads covers 100 percent of Tutorial Project’s FWS salaries.

“The Center for Social Concern, as an office, doesn’t have the budget to support all of our volunteers,” Song said. “I’ve currently hired about 50 students using federal work-study; we don’t have the funds on our own to pay for that.”

Song stated that students who apply for work-study within the Tutorial Project can find a rewarding experience by helping children realize their academic potential, granted that they are willing to commit time and effort to the organization. 

“You have to be able to make a commitment,” Song said. “Sometimes it takes more time and commitment and effort to bring a child out and develop a strong relationship. The commitment level needs to be there for the whole semester; you are committing to a person, not just a job or a program.”

Federal work-study, unlike other forms of financial aid, requires students to work a set number of hours per week in order to receive their benefits. 

Some students have found it hard to meet this rigid set of standards due to their already busy schedule as Hopkins students, making it a very challenging way to receive financial aid. 

Still, working students like sophomore Julianne Schmidt believe that FWS provides undergraduates rewarding personal and with professional development opportunities, as well as a unique college experience.

Schmidt is an Art History major and has worked at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) for over a year. She says that her employment has offered her valuable insight into her field of interest. 

“I work in the Education and Development office, so I help the museum staff with clerical work, and I organize events for them,” Schmidt said. “I chose [my job] because it was convenient and also in my academic interests.”

Students are able to use FWS in off-campus jobs if the work performed is in the public interest, such as for a nonprofit. 

While Schmidt is passionate about her work at the BMA, she stated that she was initially shocked when she learned how much work was expected for her financial aid package.

“I assumed it would be like working a normal job,” she said. “Being in a committed work-study for hours during the week lessens the amount of time I have to devote to clubs and my studies. I knew I was going to be devoted to this program, of course, but the fact that I don’t have as much time as I wanted outside of work and studies is a little bit of a downside.”

Despite the heavy workload her job entails, Schmidt believes that her employers understand the importance of providing students ways to balance their busy schedules.

“They’re so flexible with my hours,” Schmidt said. “If I ever have an exam the next day, my boss is totally fine with it; she’ll let me decide how I use my hours throughout the week. She’s very nice and accommodating in that way.”

In contrast, senior Elorm Awuyah wrote in an email to The News-Letter about his experience working for the Hopkins Housing Operations.

“Being a working student is hard cause some jobs realize that you have homework and studying, but won’t always let you do it at work because of the nature of your job,” Awuyah wrote. 

However, ultimately Awuyah concluded that the benefits of participating in a FWS program outweighs the costs.

“It’s definitely worth it for me because I can increase my spending money and, in doing so, slightly decrease the financial burden on my parents,“ he wrote.

Junior Juan Sanfiel agreed with Awuyah in an email to The News-Letter. He has worked a variety of jobs on campus, such as being a teacher’s assistant (TA) and managing the chemistry stockroom. 

“I think being a student who works definitely brings its challenges. Over time I’ve learned how to manage my time with my assignments and my jobs, but at the same time I’ve found it really rewarding in the sense that I’ve gained a sense of what it’s like to work with others and handle specific situations,“ Sanfiel wrote. “I really find work study worth it since I’m finding jobs that I truly enjoy and help me make connections and meet some fantastic people.”

Schmidt argued that work-study is a rewarding opportunity, despite the time commitments it requires. Like other extracurricular activities, she said, work-study develops character and impacts the community around you. 

She also expressed that it is crucial for students to select a work-study program that they find emotionally and intellectually satisfying. By reaching out to the Office of Financial Aid as well as various work-study providers, students can find a program that best suits their schedule and personal preferences.

“Reach out to your financial adviser, because they will help you discover the best path to take,” Schmidt said. “Really look through the work-study database and look through the job offerings that really interest you. You’re going to feel like your wasting your time if you commit to a job you don’t really want to do.”

Senior JoJo Castellanos wrote in an email to The News-letter about his experience working as a research assistant on the East Baltimore Campus. 

“They actually hired me because of my ability to do work-study (also because my skills) because they had a grant that would cover it,“ Castellanos wrote.

However, he emphasized that it is important for Hopkins to support students with work-study as they likely have the most financial need. 

“Some students have to balance going to class and working the maximum number of hours for that payroll just to have enough money to afford rent, bills, or even tuition,“ Castellanos wrote. “I know they have like a student employment week which is nice, but I think there needs to be more conversations around what this experience may look like. There needs to be more venues to talk about socioeconomic inequities.” 

Meagan Peoples contributed reporting.

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