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!

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