Student employees adapt to new normal, hybridized jobs

The organic chemistry lab is operating under new safety guidelines this semester. Courtesy of Cassie Cauwels.

Classes aren’t the only things going hybrid this semester. For those studying on campus or within New York State, Vassar employers have found ways to adapt and offer many of the same job opportunities during this transitory period. 

Despite VassarTogether’s guidelines for reduced indoor activity, most jobs on campus are returning to a degree of normalcy. For many in-person employees, such as library assistants, dining workers and lifeguards, job training now includes additional safety practices and measures to comply with the new standards of social distancing.

Emma Iadanza ’22, who has worked as Special Collections Assistant at the Main Library for two years, said the job itself hasn’t really changed for her. She is still putting books back on the shelves, fetching things for her boss, filling out call slips and making exhibition lists. While interactions with students, patrons and classes will not be the same anymore, Iadanza is still happy to be surrounded by books again. “There aren’t that many people down in the library basement or Special Collections on a regular day during a regular year, so I was never worried about too much contact or anything,” she said. “When patrons do start coming, we have a three-day period after being taken from the shelves that the books won’t be touched, so there’s no cross contamination. This means there will need to be a bit more foresight and planning on our part, but it shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a small price to pay for safety.” 

Hailey Osika ’23, who works as a circulation desk assistant at the library, interacts with visitors through the plexiglass surrounding her desk. “A lot of thought has been put into the protocol and there is very limited contact with patrons or even other employees. I don’t think I am at more risk working at the library than I am going to class or being on campus in general,” she said. Books are now returned in drop boxes, where they are quarantined for a week. All library workers wear masks and gloves at the desk and sanitize their keyboard and workspace before and after each shift. 

Measures have also been put in place to provide a safe in-person lab experience this semester. Cassie Cauwels ’22, the organic chemistry lab technician’s assistant, will need to work around new guidelines that involve coming in as early as 8 a.m. and not being in the lab as often. “My safety really depends on the safety of the students that take the laboratory this semester. It is their responsibility to wipe down their hoods and even then the professors, interns, lab technicians and myself double check to make sure that it is a clean workspace,” she said, emphasizing the interdependency required of these special circumstances. At the same time, Cauwels will need to work more independently this semester than she did before, as she will have limited contact with her boss, labs professors and the technician’s office. Despite these challenges, Cauwels hopes that students can take advantage of the fact that this lab is open at all this semester.

Other on-campus jobs require a lot of in-person engagement. Parker Fairfield ’24, the photographer for the Drama department, and Christopher Cortazo ’24, a central dining worker, will be constantly engaging with groups of people throughout the semester. Both face a lot of unknowns. Cortazo, who has previously worked in a pizzeria for three years, doesn’t know what to expect. “All the jobs around campus have been affected by this pandemic so it’s only reasonable that no one can give a concrete description of how a job will be because things may change,” Cortazo said. Fairfield is aware he will be working both in-person and online, but those conditions are subject to change. He said, “I’ll be photographing rehearsals behind the scenes and the final shows when those happen. To my knowledge, the rehearsals are usually on stage. But for now, they’ll be happening outside and in groups fewer than ten.”

While on-campus positions are finding ways to incorporate in-person job experience, remote work comes with its own unique set of challenges. Hannah Thompson ’23, who works as a remote Wellness Peer Educator with the Office of Health Promotion and Education, is concerned about screen fatigue. Combining the hours of screen time she’ll spend on remote classes and her job, she will be spending most hours of her day in front of a computer. Fortunately, because Thompson is on campus, she is allowed to come into the office at scheduled times throughout the week in order to complete some work in person. “I am looking forward to promoting the best ways to stay healthy and safe during this challenging time. I hope I can help ease some people’s anxieties about the pandemic and campus life,” she said.

Zoë Zahariadis ’21, an academic intern for the French and Francophone Studies (FFS) department, anticipates that traditional activities will be difficult to facilitate. Zahariadis knows that she would find it hard to focus in a tent with so many distractions around. Socially distanced group projects also complicate the already challenging process of learning a new language. To accommodate for these challenges, she plans on splitting up her hours by conducting conversation lessons in-person and office hours online. “While this isn’t what I had intended to be doing or necessarily wanted to be doing, I am so thankful that the FFS department has worked to adapt to the current situation. I think by combining critical in-person instruction with online office hours allows for students to really be able to work on their language skills while leaving the online work for more targeted questions,” Zahariadis shared. 

In addition to traditional classroom activities that now have been heavily compromised by social distancing, the Writing Center and Q-Center (for math, economics, chemistry and physics help) now offer remote alternatives to their once in-person services. Mrin Somani ’23, a Writing Center intern this semester, is worried about how helpful she can be since she won’t be able to sit down and work together with students. Instead of booking an in-person session in the Writing Center room in the library, students now book a date and upload their paper to the Writing Center’s website. Interns then get 24 hours to review it, give feedback and send it back to the student. Somani anticipates that when students send in more papers towards the middle and end of the semester, it will be more difficult for people who submit their papers on the day of their submission deadline. “I’m honestly not too thrilled about it, because having conversations with people about their essays, or even just brainstorming, is a big part of the writing process. I am happy, however, that I get to keep my job,” she said.

Most importantly, despite all the challenges faced by our new normal, many students on campus are still able to get paid this semester—one of the few things that is providing stability during these very unstable times.

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