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From the Farm to Financial Aid- Students Learn to Work

A butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. Over the years, Berea College students have been all these and more through the college’s labor program.

Berea students hard at work

As one of only six work colleges in the nation, Berea provides students with opportunities to learn new skills and life-long lessons through hard work. From its inception, the college has recognized the value of student labor. The college constitution, drafted in 1859, included a provision for labor as an integral part of a thorough education. According to Berea College Historian Shannon Wilson, the labor program was necessary not only to maintain a self-sufficient campus, but also to create a sense of unity within the student body.

“During the time of slavery, there was a separation in ideas about work,” he says. “It was believed that only inferior people had to work. The labor program at Berea said that no one is above work; work builds character, work is meaningful.”

As this academic year draws to a close, students now have the chance to explore their options for next year to find a “meaningful” job that is best suited for them.

For animal lovers or nature enthusiasts, promising opportunities await on the college farms. Here, students receive hands-on experience in livestock care and land stewardship. Senior agriculture and natural resources major Anthony Shelton is a manager of Berea’s cattle core. In his position, Shelton collaborates with a veterinarian and nutritionist to oversee the care of 150 cattle, in addition to supervising other student workers. Shelton believes working at the college farms has been a one-of-a-kind experience.

“I had an interview last week and its amazing how much I have built my resume because of Berea,” he says. “If I had gone elsewhere, I wouldn’t have had the experience, the certification and the knowledge that I have gained at Berea.”

For the social butterfly, a job with the Campus Activities Board (CAB) could be a perfect fit. CAB is a student volunteer organization dedicated to providing students with exciting activities as a break from the stressful school routine. Several employment opportunities exist within the CAB organization, including the position of Campus Activities Board Chair. The CAB Chair’s responsibilities include organizing and supervising events, overseeing a committee of nearly 20 students, managing the budget and selecting new members. The current Chair, senior Destiny Harper, finds that directing the organization and dealing with the desires and behaviors of the student body has prepared her well to become an industrial/organizational psychologist.

Other sociable students with a heart for service may find their niche in a position sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS). Te’Quia Tompkins, a senior from Birmingham, Ala., volunteered at nursing homes throughout high school. Now, Tompkins is the second African-American program coordinator for the Adopt-A-Grandparent (AGP) program. Her duties involve coordinating weekly visits to nursing homes and hospitals and planning exciting activities for senior citizens. Although she has had several jobs, Tompkins finds her work with AGP most gratifying.

“I’ve learned different ways to communicate, and it has also helped me with planning and organizing,” she says. “But I enjoy interacting with the elderly and establishing new relationships the most.”

Believe it or not, even working at Food Service has its rewards! Just ask student manager Travis Ambrose. A senior from Beaver Dam, Ky., Ambrose had never held a job before coming to Berea. After being assigned to Food Service his freshman year, Ambrose was soon promoted to student manager. For 3 years, he has supervised students and staff during dining shifts, while working to make Food Service a more positive place.

“I want the students to enjoy their experience at Berea College and at Berea Dining,” he says. Now, Ambrose is well prepared to pursue a career in the food industry. “Since I am a business management major, the management skills learned on the job coincide with the course work I review in class,” he says. “This has enabled me to apply the materials learned in real life events.”

Some students are interested in learning new skills and expressing their creativity. For them, Berea College’s craft program offers several labor departments worth exploring, including broomcraft, wrought iron, weaving, woodcraft and ceramics. Junior Paul Mikaelson loves his labor position as a ceramics apprentice.

“I have the best job on campus,” he says. “You can be as creative as you want. I also like this job because I get to learn a skill.”

Other students are more interested in gaining experience in their majors or becoming familiar with their academic departments. For them, becoming a teaching assistant is a viable option. Junior Emilie Throop earns valuable, hands-on experience taking care of snakes and mice at the biology department’s herpetarium. According to Throop, working with creepy, crawly creatures isn’t even the best part of her job as a TA.

“I really like being able to be on a more personal level with my professors,” she says. “I feel like that was the best way to get to know them.” Beyond the developing experience and relationships, Throop can testify to the value of Berea’s labor program as a means to keep her education free. After spending last semester in New Zealand, she came back with a new appreciation for Berea and the labor program. “Before I studied abroad, I just kind of dealt with labor—it wasn’t something I really liked and it wasn’t something I really hated,” she said. “After going to a university where students graduated with $100,000 in debt, I really began to appreciate it.”

Frequently, students are able to find campus jobs specifically tailored to their interests and plans for the future. Take fiddle virtuoso Jake Krack, for example. Krack is an accomplished fiddle player who works in Special Collections at Hutchins Library, listening to recordings of traditional Appalachian music and digitizing songs to be put on the Digital Library of Appalachia Web page. Krack took the job specifically so he could work with the music he loves, and he has discovered many new songs in the process.

Sometimes, though, students like freshman Ashley Burba don’t have any definite plans for the future. Since working in the Office of Financial Aid and learning the intricacies of the department, Burba has found herself leaning toward a degree in business to become an accountant.

“It is amazing how much I have learned about financial aid in general,” she says. “I learn new stuff everyday!”

Now is the time to for students to explore their options and seize the opportunities within Berea’s labor program. Any students hoping to begin rewarding work in new positions like these must sign a labor contract with their respective departments and return it to the Labor Program Office by April 21. All labor contracts require a commitment for the entire academic year. Interested students can contact the Labor Program Office with any questions or vacancy inquiries at extension 3611.

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