Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 29, 2020

FYMs struggle with an increased workload and delays in receiving payment

By MICHELLE LIMPE | October 7, 2020

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM

FYMs who are owed money by the University should expect to be paid by Oct. 15. 

First-Year Mentors (FYMs) are being paid for the first time this year. The University made this decision in the spring after FYMs were accepted into the program. 

However, five FYMs reported to The News-Letter that they have not been paid consistently. Some have received only part of their salaries, while others have yet to receive a single cent. According to all, there has been a lack of communication from the University on this issue.

Three FYMs expressed concern about losing their positions or not receiving pay as a result of coming forward. The News-Letter granted anonymity to these FYMs; they were given the pseudonyms Kathryn, Clara and Amanda.

Delays in receiving payments

Junior Bradlee LaMontagne noted that though he was already on the University’s payroll from previous jobs, he has only received half of what he is owed for his work as an FYM. 

As stated in their contract, FYMs are scheduled to receive their stipend of $1,200 in three installments in June, September and November. LaMontagne was paid only once, in late July, forcing him to rely on other financial resources to cover his living expenses.

“I was hoping that the salary would pay for most if not all of my food bills while I’m in Baltimore,” he said. “I’ve been dipping into my savings account, which is not something I want to do.”

While many FYMs received at least some of the money owed to them, Amanda stated in an email to The News-Letter that she has not received any money from the University. 

“I am currently working multiple jobs, as my family lost their jobs over the pandemic,” she wrote. “We were relying on the money from my jobs to act as kind of a safety net or a security blanket in case something else happened, as my mother is the sole provider for six people.”

Emily Calderone, special advisor and executive director for student transitions and family engagement, explained in an email to the The News-Letter that the payment matter is in the process of being resolved. The University is also offering emergency funding for FYMs who have faced financial hardship due to the delay.

“There were a few unique challenges this year regarding student pay which included some legal and tax barriers for those FYMs who are international students working outside the U.S., delays receiving required paperwork and some human error in the processing of payments,” she wrote.

According to the latest update from Assistant Director of Orientation and First-Year Experience Brittany Claridge on Oct. 4, FYMs facing delays in receiving payments should expect to receive the remainder of their pay by Oct. 15.

Kathryn detailed the process that FYMs had to go through to be able to receive their salaries. First, they were required to fill an Internal Revenue Service form and meet with a representative from University Experiential Learning (formerly Student Employment Services) to help them complete the I-9 form. The University was then supposed to set up their Employment Self-Service (ESS) accounts so they could keep track of their payments. 

After trying to check her payment status in late July, Kathryn discovered that the University never set up her account.

“I realized that the University never made me an [ESS] account,” she said. “I was able to get paid on August 9 because I sent a passive-aggressive email to the person who validated my I-9 and the FYM contact from [University Experiential Learning]. The FYM contact did not [get] back to me and still hasn’t.”

The University’s failure to respond only heightened FYM concerns. Clara, another FYM, noted that only administrator has been responding to them.

“Whenever we ask for an update, she always says, ‘I have no idea.’ It comes as a shock to her as much as to us. It’s out of student orientation’s hands,” she said. “It now depends on the office of financial services. It seems like they don’t really give us or her a reason.” 

Increase in workload

Usually, FYMs only have to worry about intensive training in the summer and work during Orientation week. Now, because of the shift to remote learning, they must continue their roles throughout the fall and potentially the spring as well. In addition, they must always be on call to field question from freshmen. 

Amanda was very excited to be an FYM for the first time this year, but the reality of her virtual position is not what she expected. 

“Our meetings with our mentees went far beyond the scope of what previous FYMs had done,” she wrote. “It was less ‘Welcome to Hopkins’ and more of the FYMs trying to do all of orientation by ourselves.”

This year is LaMontagne’s second year as an FYM. He explained that compared to previous years, the FYMs’ workloads are much heavier now.

“Even if in previous years we haven’t been paid, I would say that the amount of work now is not comparable to the work that we do or are expected to be doing,” he said. “With everything online, I feel that we have more tasks now, where we need to remind freshmen and send emails out frequently. Those kinds of things build up.”

FYM groups consist of an average of 15 to 20 freshmen. Throughout the fall, FYMs are required to hold a group meeting every Friday and schedule one-on-one meetings with each of the students on a weekly basis. However, some mentors have dropped their meetings to a bi-weekly schedule simply because they no longer have the time. Each group meeting typically lasts one to two hours, and one-on-one calls can last from 15 minutes to an hour. On top of that, each meeting requires one to two hours of prep work. 

According to Clara, FYMs have to play a game of catch-up with their own training as well, which is typically supposed to be finished before Orientation Week. These training sessions are meant to prepare FYMs to answer any specific questions freshmen may have about Hopkins. The training videos can last one to two hours, and FYMs are tested on the material after.

“Over the summer, different departments were supposed to send us training material, but they never sent them out because departments didn’t take the time to record them for us,” Clara said. “We are still getting training we have to do now.”

Sophomore Samaris Claussell stressed that while she does enjoy guiding freshmen as an FYM, she has been feeling overwhelmed by the workload. Thus far she has only received one-third of her paycheck.

Claussell added that she has struggled with some of the online tools that the administration is requiring FYMs to use, such as Starfish, to conduct meetings. They were only given one training session on how to use the software, but she does not find the software user-friendly. 

“I’ve complained to my lead FYM about it. I’m pretty sure she relayed the messages, but there’s nothing I can do to change it because I signed the contract, but I didn’t know it would be moved online,” Claussell said.

Amanda hopes that the University will recognize that FYMs are still students who are handling full course loads, clubs and research projects on top of their mentoring work. 

“When class started, trying to manage class, attend meetings, complete departmental training, meet with our mentees as a group, meet one-on-one with our mentees, and learn a new tracking system was insane,” she wrote.

Kathryn called on the University to spend more time understanding the needs of both freshmen and FYMs. 

Amid the uncertainty of plans for the fall, FYMs were often freshmen’s only point of contact and had to handle the bulk of answering their concerns. 

“A lot of what the administration expects from us is something that kids don’t want to do. A lot of times during the summer, we were just rehashing what’s going when we did not have any answers, which isn’t ideal,” Kathryn said. “I don’t think there’s a great understanding of kids’ attitudes.”

LaMontagne emphasized that the University’s delay in paying FYMs indicates its skewed priorities. 

“The University does not respect us enough to pay us on time, especially when many undergraduate offices understand our role as FYMs are important and that we do a lot,” he said. “It seems like either the University does not care enough to make sure they are paying us or are not organized enough.”

Claussell believes that FYMs should get a raise in their salaries, given that their responsibilities have increased from what they would have been in-person. 

“We’re basically making university minimum wage, and we’re getting taxed too. I didn’t know we would be getting taxed,” she said. “I do wish they would be a lot more transparent and a lot more considerate of what’s going on with everyone’s situation.”

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