“Do you want fries with that?” might be the typical on-the-job vocabulary from a teenager, but a recent stroll down memory lane reveals that campus employment can be much more than that, and in fact can provide the foundation and steps to a fantastic career after graduation. I recently had the privilege to sit down virtually with Jasmyn (Davis) Mahone ’16, Brian Walker ’16, Areli Ramirez ’18, and Lindsey Cleys ’14 to talk about their multiple student employment experiences during their time on campus. The exchange was an education for me, and a reaffirmation that student jobs can truly enrich the learning experience.
Jasmyn Mahone, now a human resources generalist with the Chicago Bulls, was first up to relay her experience while on campus. During Mahone’s time in Normal as a student in the College of Business, she worked with Student Affairs as a MASAI (Mentoring, Academics, Scholarship, and Achievement Initiative) Mentor, in the campus bookstore in the Bone Student Center, and as a systems time expert and communication specialist within Human Resources.
“Communication is key in my current position with the Bulls, and knowing how to use even standard workplace tools like Outlook, MS Teams, and even Slack are technologies that you find vital to your success in the “real world,” and I was able to experience and learn a lot of these while on campus at Illinois State,” she said.
Beyond that she noted that during the interviews that led to her current position, she was able to apply concrete examples of work that would directly translate to her success in the role she holds now.
“I imagine that student employment is similar now to what it was like in my senior year on campus, and I found that campus jobs offered flexibility, real-life experience, and a great chance to network with professionals who would be references and colleagues for years to come.”
Brian Walker, currently serving as a senior risk engineering consultant at The Hartford, worked on campus in both catering and for the office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS).
“I found that the work I was doing in EHS as a student employee impressed managers and prospective employers during the interview process,” he said. “Since I was trained by experts like John (Goodman) and Mark (Gramley), and was skilled at using the devices that would measure respiratory protection and sound survey, the conversations were already more peer-to-peer than if I were only to have classroom knowledge.”
Walker, who was a risk management major during his time at Illinois State University, noted that in addition to the great hands-on experience that directly applied to his career, campus jobs kept him busy and conscious of time management and supplied him with some much-needed “weekend cash.” He was quick to add, “Really the biggest thing about the campus job though is the staff at ISU was always friendly, came at experiences from a teaching mindset, and recognized that I was a student first.”
Areli Ramirez recently moved back from experiences in Colorado and Washington where she held positions as a human resources generalist, recruiter, and employee relations team member. She is working as a talent acquisition specialist at the Ardagh Group. While on campus studying human resource management, Ramirez was heavily engaged as a member of ISU’s catering staff, working with on-and-off-campus clientele to plan and execute events from small coffees and tailgates to full-scale weddings and campus-wide celebrations.
“Multi-tasking and time management were two things that job taught me on campus that are invaluable to my work today,” she said. “Work-life today revolves around a lot of calendars, emails and technology, so keeping up with scheduling and balancing multiple priorities is something I definitely credit my on-campus work experience with establishing. Customer service and truly empathizing with your audience is also something that was instilled. During a transition at one of my previous companies, I was tasked with delivering news on redistribution of personnel. I was able to draw upon my experiences with catering to make sure I was using that same customer-centric approach.”
Ramirez also noted the importance and fulfillment that came with networking and engaging with other students and staff outside the classroom.
“Networking is big for me for a lot of reasons, from making life-long career connections to just social interactions.”
Lindsey Cleys, a team lead for student engagement at Packback (famously featuring other Illinois State University alum on ABC’s SharkTank) spent her time at ISU exploring a number of student employment opportunities, from the Dean of Students office, to working as an intern in the College of Applied Science and Technology, and even working in the Bone Student Center making smoothies. As a double major in communication and organizational leadership and political science, she reflected on how she used her experiences on campus to cement her work ethic and communication skills.
“There is always going to be something that goes unplanned at an event or job. A big question that you will get in interviews will be how you handled those times, how you helped resolve and communicate during those times, and finally, how you used the experience to plan for the future and be better prepared,” Cleys said.
She notes that each job on campus was a chance to pick up new skills as well.
“When we would plan events and activities through a few positions on campus, I learned how to cold-call and face some level of rejection, but I also learned to work within a team and pick up new vocabulary along the way. Both of these have helped me immensely in my career so far.”
If I learned one thing from talking with these alumni, it is that not every position will seem like the perfect opportunity at the time, but each will likely teach life and employment skills that will be part of a toolset invaluable to the future. As a student on campus you may also get the opportunity to apply some of the research, conceptual framework and education in the classroom to a paid experience. Student jobs on campus are posted now, and many openings will also be available in the coming weeks as Illinois State prepares for summer and fall.
Explore these campus-based opportunities at jobs.illinoisstate.edu.