Oberlin Blogs

Learning and Labor: On Student Jobs at Oberlin

May 1, 2011

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

Shoutout to Hannah G. ‘15, for giving me the final push to publish this post after asking me lots of questions about student jobs on Facebook. Thank you!

A brief informational tidbit for this post: Oberlin’s motto is Learning and Labor; historically, this was a trade-off equivalent to modern day financial aid packages to defray costs for educating a student (an even more current manifestation of this model would be OSCA, but I’m not getting into that here). While Oberlin no longer requires labor as part of the Oberlin experience (sidenote: Berea College, located in my delightful homestate, actively recruited Obies as their founding teachers, still requires students to work as part of their learning experience… and they’re great!), I do think our founders had a great plan in requiring students to put some physical labor into their college years (gotta get sweatstains into your new Oberlin shirts somehow, y’know?).

The way I think about student work is as follows: it’s learning for life, and you’re getting paid to do so. The value of working on campus goes beyond the actual cash in your bank account. In most capacities of working here at Oberlin, you’re giving back to your college, in a small way. I’ve always thought about my desire to work at places I love as a way to return the favor (more on this later).

With a liberal arts education, you are learning to learn forever. Not every major is necessarily going to give you hands-on walk-away-with-your-diploma-on-graduation-day-into-a-six-figure-salary experience. We’re preparing ourselves to be adaptable, we’re enviable in our creative skills, and our passion and drive in the subjects we’re working in exceeds basic curiosity to the point of complete immersion.

Now, I’m not saying you won’t study at Oberlin (oh, you will study), but you don’t HAVE to pull all-nighters. Unless you’re attempting a near-obscene schedule that we academic ambassadors (more on this below) truly advise against: something akin to taking three upper-level science classes with accompanying labs and one advanced seminar with several hundred pages of reading per week (in which case, I’m sorry, and I hope you reconsider your scheduling ideas in the future…), you will have time to study and to not study.

Maybe I am bizarre in my choice of play, but I decided to work as a form of relaxation and I found that I learned a lot from my chosen jobs. I met people (paid to network!), I creatively cooked (paid to make food!), I organized photographers and their photos (paid to get published!), and I explored Oberlin (paid to write and photograph!). Doesn’t that sound like fun? I got paid to both bulk up my resume with an awesome variety of jobs AND fall in love with Oberlin completely.

So, consider this post a peek at my resume, a touch of reminiscence for the not-full-time-job life of a student, and several healthy doses of my campus jobs and subsequent experiences.

The Alumni Fund

Ah, my first job. In early September of my first semester here, I walked into a building I’d never seen or heard of before (Bosworth Hall, the land of Development, and at the time, the Alumni Association) to have an interview for something involving photography. I was so scared that my tiny little point-and-shoot camera was not what they were looking for, but I had collected a few portraits I’d taken in the previous few weeks to showcase my and my camera’s potential. Don’t know why or how, but Aaron Mucciolo ‘02 (also known as Mooch, and now a close friend) believed in me enough to give me the job. I asked him about this a few days ago, actually, and he said I was one of two people to contact him for an interview, and the only person who cared to show up. Moral of story: sometimes, it’s not the size of your camera but your ability to show up for an interview.

I spent the rest of the semester tracking down really cool upperclassmen and taking photos of them mashing up all of their interests in an awesomely conceived approach at demonstrating alumni donations’ influence in current student lives (when I started this post, the website was still up, but no longer… there were photos of students doing multiple activities they enjoyed at once. It was a really cool site, promise!). Thus began my life as a photographer here in Oberlin. Humble beginnings.

Campus Dining Services

By far the easiest jobs to get at Oberlin are within CDS. If you need a job in a pinch (either for cash, to start building your resume, or just because you need something to fill your time), CDS is the answer. It used to be that signing up to work involved going into the CDS office and looking at their handwritten schedule and telling them when you wanted to work, but now it’s all online! You don’t have to factor in the office’s hours to sign up! After passing a health and food service safety quiz, you can start working.

I prefer jobs that I am working more time in the shift than waiting idly, and CDS was great for that. I worked solely at Decafe, the campus cafe/grocery store, as a line runner, sandwich/salad/smoothie maker, and later, a student manager.

This was by far my longest running and absolute favorite campus job. I started making adjective sandwiches there, met and made many friends on both sides of the counter, and served as a food playground for my explorations into the beginnings of creative sandwich making.

Adjective sandwiches for two of my now co-workers, Joseph and Terrance. I completely forgot that the alumni magazine wrote an article about the adjective sandwich, which was the only way I was able to get these photos. Usually I was way too busy at work to stop and photograph what I made.

My brother Ben also got his first Oberlin job working as a dishwasher at Stevie midway through last semester, and relished the three-hour opportunity to clean things while listening to great music. I approve.


Sometime in February of my sophomore year, battling an absolutely terrible cold, I was curled up in bed editing some photos from Nocturne, the winter term circus of four years ago that took place in Finney Chapel, and randomly throwing selections onto Facebook, when I got an email from one of the performers in the show, Erica, praising me on my ability to capture action shots. She ended up recruiting me to photograph for the athletic department as a student athletic photographer.

Oberlin is not necessarily a sports-oriented institution; we are division III, which means that we don’t give athletic scholarships and we treat it as an extracurricular activity. We had the world-famous John Heisman coach our football team years ago (our field house and athletic hall of fame are named after him), and Oberlin was the last school to ever beat Ohio State on their home turf (…in 1921).

A newspaper declaring Oberlin’s win! From the Oberlin College Archives.

Sports at Oberlin doesn’t seem analogous to most people’s ideas of the liberal arts experience, but I’m just going to put a few things out there:

  • My dad (class of ‘71) competed in two sports here, and was the coordinator and head referee of the ice hockey club league, and graduated with dual degrees in psychology and geology,

  • Being an athlete means that you’re automatically a part of a tightly-knit community that will help shape your college experience, and

  • It’s really fun to cheer for your friends, whether they’re a musician, in a play, winning research grants, or kicking a goal.

All in all, though, Obies compete in athletics because they love the game, and that’s a very very fun thing to watch. I relished my time as an athletic photographer, because it gave me a defined time that I could intensely focus on an activity (even if it was through my lens) that actually calmed me. The sound of a tennis match, or listening to a lacrosse game, are two of the most relaxing things I could do on a Wednesday afternoon or middle of a weekend. Even though I’m no longer required to attend games for my job, I do frequent soccer games, swim meets, and occasionally volleyball games, just for the fun of it. Our teams truly love to do what they do.

A selection of photos from my time as a student athletic photographer. I learned tons about how to anticipate action from this job.

The Allen Memorial Art Museum

I still owe y’all a really long post professing much of my love of the Allen Memorial Art Museum (or the AMAM, as abbreviations go), and I promise it’s coming sometime soon. I have an occasion in which to frame it, but it’s not happening yet (reopening, anyone? It’s coming!). Give me a bit of time.

I did, however, write about Allen After Hours, which segues into my next job: AMAM photographer for events and fun things.

Short version: I attended great lectures, went to lots of student events at the Allen (amazing catering, intellectual discussions, and art, who could ask for more on a school night?), and so many community days. Community days still top my list as some of the best things Oberlin has to offer the younger folks of Oberlin. Usually scheduled in the afternoons on Fridays before breaks, several docents, a visiting artist, and lots of Oberlin-area elementary and middle schoolers would all gather in the east gallery of the Allen and create to their heart’s content. Sometimes I would play too (especially if it involved fingerpainting because I am a sucker for colors and getting messy). There would also be book readings, looking at art, and parents getting in touch with their inner child.

There is a dire lack of age diversity when you’re in college. You don’t think it makes a big difference until you spend an hour with children and realize that your life was missing this all along. Luckily, there are lots of solutions to hanging out with precious young’uns, and most of them also allow you to give back to the greater Oberlin community. Everyone wins!

In order: Allen After Hours, a print-making community day, and then two final photos from the postcard art/mail art community day.

Academic Ambassador

The Office of the Dean of Studies has this really great program that recruits versatile and awesome upperclassmen students to return to campus pre-orientation and embrace the excellent weather and all the new students about to flood campus with enthusiasm and excitement. The program originally started as a method of helping new students navigate our online class registration system for the first time, but now, all the ambassadors serve as knowledgeable mentors and general cool kids who are around and available to answer questions, talk about their Oberlin experiences, and send you a few cute email reminders about some great campus resources during your first semester.

After meeting my academic ambassador during orientation, I really wanted to be one. Luckily, my adviser recommended me to Dean Doane during the spring of my second year, and I spent my junior and senior years running around campus and meeting people during orientation in the name of Oberlin, and I loved every second of it.

I really love talking about my life at Oberlin (surprise!), I like to think I took a wide variety of classes (and if I hadn’t taken a class or had a certain professor, I certainly had friends that did), I love conversing with people (and I have fun icebreaker questions), and my superhero alter ego is The Answerer (my graphic description of this is that I am a girl who punches question marks in the face. BAM!).

My superhero guise aside, I highly recommend to you incoming firsties to use these folks as a not-so-secret awesome resource for your first year. An academic ambassador has already been there personally, academically, and socially; they’re real people who are open and willing to listen to you, share in your successes, and help you through tough times throughout your first semester at Oberlin. You’ll be meeting with them one to several times throughout orientation, and don’t hesitate to say hello when you see them around campus after that, too!

A photo of my friend Simon (former EIC for the Review, too!) doing his academic ambassadorial duties during orientation in fall 2009.

The Review

Ah, copy editing early in the morning. Every so often, I miss the Friday morning buzz of the Review office.

I sort of started working with the Review by accident. I attended an event (something dance-related) that no one else had gone to, and in a panic, I was contacted by one of the editors to share those photos with the paper. I decided to do the Practicum in Journalism the following semester, which gave me class credit (this is totally great, by the way) for taking photos weekly of campus events to be published in the paper. At the end of the year, I was asked by photo editor Chris Hamby ‘08 if I would consider applying to work for the Review that coming fall. I threw together a portfolio in a matter of about two days, and nervously went to an interview and got the job. They never looked at my portfolio.

I ended up starting off the year as the sole photo editor (I have NO idea how I survived those first couple weeks, but let’s just say I am an excellent email writer and am far too organized for my own good), recruited my friend Liza to come on board with me for the rest of that semester, and then began working with Melissa, my former housemate and dear dear friend. I stayed with the Review for three full semesters, until I helped them hire their new editors, and we parted ways so that I could complete my senior project in a timely manner.

I wrote rather extensively about my time at the Review, both about our relationship with another campus publication, the Grape, and the early morning ridiculousness of being a photojournalist. Many past bloggers have written about their involvement with student publications, including but not limited to Alicia, Chris, Alice, John, Sam, Will… Writing runs in many of our bloodstreams, which leads me to my next job…


I actually went back into my email archives to see what my blogging trajectory at Oberlin was like. Turns out my first interaction with Ben Jones went something like this:

Ben (at a totally normal time of around, say, noon) : I hear you’re awesome! I’d like to recruit you to blog for me.

Ma’ayan (at a totally laughable time of 2am, probably after a ridiculous night at the Oberlin Review) : Ironically, I already blog at this horribly named Livejournal account, I wanted to blog for the school last year but never heard back from the first person I contacted, I LOVE BLOGS SO OKAY!

Ben (at the totally morning-appropriate time of, say, 9am) : Keep doing what you’re doing. More details to come.

So, here’s the thing about blogging: it’s kind of the best, most coolest, most awesomest job in the world. Spend time living your life, write about it, get paid. And I’m not just saying this because I am currently the keeper and motivator of the Oberlin blogs. I freaking loveloveLOVE writing and Oberlin and people being excited and photos and everything ever about everything. (Fact: I just read this out loud to Brandi, who I am motivating to my right at this exact moment. She said, “Woah” about four times in response to me reading this. My retort: I ain’t got nothing on Eloise, my favorite and most long-winded excited kid of children’s books of all time.)

Writing for the Oberlin blogs was my favorite ongoing job that happened on my own time. Anything I did could be fodder for a good story, as long as I sat down for a bit and wrote about it afterwards. I am so pleased that I got to write about my life, for myself, for my family, for Oberlin at large, and people who never knew Oberlin existed. And I’m really happy I still continue to do so. Best. Job. Ever.


Whew! I worked a TON while I was here, and all of it was great. There are a few places on campus I really wish I could have contributed to while I was a student here, but it didn’t happen. In my next Oberlin incarnation, I’m coming back to work for the admissions office (more opportunities to meet people and get paid to love Oberlin), the library (for real, not just photographing; I feel very at home around lots of books), the Cat in the Cream (getting paid to listen to music AND bake delicious cookies!), and the mail room (no good reason, I just like letters). Be prepared, future Oberlin. My ghost is coming back to work for you in the future.

This post is pretty extensive as of now, so I’m not going to write more about all the other great places one can work on campus (again, mostly in the name of out-of-class learning with a paycheck). If you want ideas, opinions, options, or advice, I’d be happy to discuss this in the comments!

Responses to this Entry

Wow. I'm totally impressed with how many different jobs you managed to work as a student. I've mainly stuck around the admissions office (which I will probably blog about soon), but there are definitely some places I wish I had worked - the library being one of them.

I agree that working has been an essential part of my life at Oberlin. I've met an incredible group of people (the admissions office!) and they've basically been my family away from my family.

In conclusion, this post is totally awesome :D

Posted by: Patrick on May 1, 2011 11:45 AM

I too was wowed by how many paying jobs you always seemed to cobble together while at school. Knowing the expense of going to a private college, I am proud that you committed to paying your room and board each year.

Given that the lure of extracurricular activities at Oberlin has been known to destroy many a well-intentioned GPA, you managed to figure out a way to keep school together and still pack in all those extras.....and get paid on top of that. Double wow!


Posted by: Woody '71 on May 1, 2011 1:48 PM

Another great way to get involved with the community and be jolted out of your academic bubble is to babysit! Babysitting has given me some of my biggest challenges and biggest laughs. I agree that it is so important to be around people who aren't 18-22 years old! And getting paid to do it is just a great perk.

Posted by: Kat on May 1, 2011 2:40 PM

Factual correction: I don't relish CDS, and we aren't actually allowed to listen to music. It pays better than most other jobs, though, and they over hire so switching shifts is easy.

Posted by: Ben on May 2, 2011 1:23 PM

@Patrick - I like variety! Also, I still very not-so-secretly wish I had worked for admissions. I guess the blogs are somewhat admissions-y, but I wanted to give tours! Talk to people! Gush all the time about Oberlin!

@Abba - It was an eye-opening lesson for me, but tangible: I work, I pay for the things that affect me most on a day-to-day basis, and I managed to do these things in the most fun way possible.

@Kat - Fact: I've never actually babysat before, but I wouldn't say no to the experience.

@Ben - Wow, they've changed things up even since I left even just last year. Times change.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 2, 2011 3:55 PM

Wow. Ma'ayan, when did you sleep?? I want to do all these crazy things like you did, but tiiiiime--where is the time?

Also, how does one go about attempting to be an Academic Ambassador? :D

Also also, your swimmming picture is gorgeous. Well, all of them are, but I know stuff about swimming and WOW.

Posted by: Tess on May 4, 2011 10:50 AM

@Tess - Knowing how my own body worked helped me a lot with everything I did as a student.

I learned quickly what times of day work best for certain kinds of work for me. I can't sit and read/write between 3 and 4pm, which meant it was an ideal time to edit photos or put in work hours somewhere, or be in class. I could read/write effectively between about 8:30pm and 1 am, but before or after that, I could edit photos or work somewhere.

Oh, and I couldn't function at all before 9:15am, which meant that all my classes were scheduled for 9:30 or later (but that's changed now that I'm a real big kid with a 9-5 job), mostly for the 1:30-4:30 chunk of the afternoon and for usually one hour in the mornings, which meant that I had time around the lunch hours to work on my class stuff as well.

I also devoted most of my weekend time to doing photographic work (more specifically, shooting), which was usually flexible and I could decide whether or not I could or couldn't shoot something based on my other life requirements (classes and homework especially).

I also aimed for around 6.5-7 hours of sleep per night, and attempted to keep within that even when I was ridiculously busy. Needing to nap all the time meant that I was wasting precious hours.

In short, I knew what I could do when and for how long based on what my body was capable of. Maybe I will form this into a blog post? It is a fascinating topic.

On academic ambassadors: It might be too late for this year (I presume this year's crop has been chosen by this point) but I will email you with more details.

On swimming photos: hardest thing I've ever had to photograph in athletics, but also the most gratifying. They always look great! Thanks!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 4, 2011 11:32 AM

Always enjoy reading your posts, Ma'ayan. Props to you for mentioning Berea (Kentucky represent!). Warren-Wilson in North Carolina, where my cousin goes, has a similar work requirement, in addition to a community service requirement.

Posted by: Spike on May 4, 2011 2:45 PM

@Spike - Kentucky forever! Love the bluegrass state!

Warren Wilson and Berea are both institutions I respect highly for their encouragement of community involvement and work-study requirements.

Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 4, 2011 3:13 PM

Working in the library this semester has been the best! I work as a student reference assistant and get to help students do cool research and teach them how to do it themselves. I've also worked on projects that faculty members are doing, helped with genealogy research, and generally spent a lot of time around books. It's pretty low key and we have amazing bosses.

I also don't think I need to say anything about how absolutely incredible working in the admissions office is! Everyone in there is wonderful and I'm so glad I found my way there during my freshmen year.

Posted by: Mari on May 4, 2011 8:49 PM

@Mari - So jealous that you held two jobs I still dream about sometimes :P

My housemate Melissa was also a ref assistant, and she's writing an Oberlin story about it! I can't wait for it to be published!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 5, 2011 1:46 PM

Hi Ma'ayan - Great blog post (as usual)! I look forward to reading your long blog about the Allen, but I agree that the reopening (this fall!) will be The Occasion to post it.

I thought I should point out that in addition to your photography work, most of the departments at the museum hire students for the academic year. We always post them on the OC Classifieds page. And, anyone interested can email me directly!

Posted by: Jason Trimmer on May 9, 2011 3:21 PM

Also love the blog post Ma'ayan! On-campus jobs, what a great thing to highlight! And let me just echo you in saying that the Art Museum is a FANTASTIC place to work. I love it, and the experience that I've gotten is irrefutably one of the best, most valuable things I will take away from Oberlin (probably also had a huge impact on me getting into great grad schools too!).

Posted by: Franny on May 9, 2011 4:08 PM

@Jason - Yes! I talked with Nick Jones earlier this semester in preparation for a celebratory post when the museum reopens!

To all y'all art-interested folks, Jason was my boss (he's the curator of museum education), and working with him was an excellent experience. He, and the many other AMAM curators, are great to work with. You should do it!

Jason also mentioned the Oberlin Classifieds, a great place to find a job (among other interesting things). Check them out!

@Franny - The only downside to working for the AMAM is that you won't be there when these 2015 kids join us this year. Major disappointment. BUT working in the museum is the best! Art everywhere!

Also, thanks for posting this blog on the AMAM Facebook page, guys! I am honored!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 9, 2011 4:39 PM

and don't forget that your photo was the "poster child" for one of the ads for the amazingly successful levy campaign for the Oberlin Public Library! Thanks, Ma'ayan.

Posted by: Nick Jones on May 9, 2011 6:48 PM

@Nick - That it was! I'm so pleased about the levy, and I'm really glad my photo/I could help out!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 10, 2011 11:24 AM

Before reading this post, I was extremely anxious about on-campus employment at Oberlin. I could definitely use some money to lessen the financial burden on my parents.

As one who enjoys writing, I am glad to know that I can get paid to do it. I guess, nothing is impossible at Oberlin!

Posted by: Ronn on May 25, 2011 10:31 AM

@Ronn - Working at Oberlin is a really great experience. I'm glad I could assuage some of your worries. The important thing to note is that it's all about balance. Work can and should be a part of the Oberlin experience, but not to the detriment of your classwork.

I hope you apply to be a blogger this fall! (If you have a bent towards journalistic writing, Communications also hires some student writers to write for web and print, too, which is independent of the blogs.)

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 25, 2011 10:42 AM

Hi. I am an excited and unemployed incoming freshman. What is the best way to actively search for an on-campus job, especially work-study? Thanks!

Posted by: Ellen Askonas on August 19, 2011 2:09 PM

@Ellen - Great questions! You have several options:

As soon as the school year starts, start avidly checking the Oberlin Classifieds, as it is best and most frequented location by employers and students looking for work. This is the best way to find a job.

If you are eligible for federal work study, you will have the option to work within the student union (usually only available starting your second semester freshman year, but I might be wrong... worth asking at the Wilder Main desk when you get here!) and in the libraries. There are a wide range of jobs to choose from, from the mail room to the front desk, to working at the bowling lanes or the Cat in the Cream or with concert sound. I also learned, just today, that the Bonner Center also has service learning opportunities that are paid, too!

Depending on what your interests are, you could also potentially approach departments or locations on campus and asking if they employ students. Short list of places that employ students: the offices of communications, development, admissions, athletics, and student employment, campus dining services, student academic services (they hire note-takers and tutors!), the art museum, the language lab, the writing center... the list is practically endless.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on August 19, 2011 2:27 PM

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