Madeleine Ledford’s boss calls her a working machine. He says this with a chuckle and hustles over to press an espresso for a C’Ville Coffee customer as Ledford shrugs in grinning agreement. And he’s right—Ledford (Col ’13) has held an impressive number of jobs in Charlottesville. Before starting at C’Ville Coffee, she worked on her parents’ farm, manned the farmer’s market booth for Pandora Chocolatier, sold tents and fitted hiking shoes at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, and spent many weekends waiting tables at the Palladio Restaurant. She plans to major in art, a field that, like her work experiences, synthesizes the senses and varied visions of the world. Ledford credits her outgoing nature to her various work experiences. “I’m not shy anymore,” she says. “You can’t be [when you work with people].” Ledford used her newfound assertiveness to land a coveted spot in an African drumming class open only to third- and fourth-years.
Striking the balance between a job and coursework is tough, and it often comes with a price. Ledford notes that there are hours that could be spent studying or socializing, but work is a necessary reality for many students. Tuition costs are rising and many students have to work to support themselves through school.
Some say they work because they have to, others because they want to, and all are grateful for the jobs they have. Rent must be paid, groceries must be bought, and as Jeff Albright (Col ’12) puts it, “it’s nice to have that bit of pleasure money.”
One Sunday morning in early May, employees at Bodo’s on the Corner were deftly spreading cream cheese on bagels and calling ticket numbers of students waiting in a line winding to the door. But later that month, on a rainy Thursday afternoon, the line had disappeared and employees were cleaning counters or creating a Bodo’s logo from bagels. “It’s pretty dead when the students aren’t around,” says Cameron Kendrick (Nurs ’12), “but it’s still fun to come to work.”
Simon Biddle-Snead’s job serving at Enoteca on the Downtown Mall requires extensive wine knowledge, something most students will never learn in the classroom. Biddle-Snead (Col ’11) is at ease behind the bar, talking poetry and art while pouring glasses of wine, and a spare corkscrew peeks out from the pocket of his plaid shirt.
“College jobs help students clarify what they are interested in and good at,” says Kendra Nelsen, director for student services in the Office of University Career Services. Students tend to minimize their work experience, but it is valuable networking practice, she says. “It’s all about the network. That’s the trick.”
The University offers CAVLink, a free online service to job-seeking students that lists part- and full-time positions both on and off Grounds, as well as internships and federal work-study jobs. It’s a valuable resource developed to help students as much as possible, Nelsen says. Students seem to welcome the help. According to the Office of University Career Services, approximately 8,500 undergraduates—59 percent of the undergraduate student body—registered with CAVLink for the 2009-10 academic year.
Tamara Lewis (Col ’11), like some other working students, sees her job as a way to gain awareness of the wider world. “It’s easy to develop tunnel vision and focus eyes on UVA culture,” she says. She worked at the Aquatic and Fitness Center over the summer, provided childcare for a local family, and will continue a position with the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and American Studies through graduation. After receiving her degree, she hopes to serve in the Peace Corps before applying to law school.
“I’m pleased to be able to support them,” Lewis says of the Woodson Institute. Last year she helped plan an NAACP symposium, and one afternoon she found herself sharing a cab with Dianne Pinderhughes, a professor of political science at Notre Dame and one of the event’s most well-known speakers. The two women talked casually during the ride, and Lewis recalls the animated exchange as a lesson in humility.
Such encounters are one of the perks of college jobs. Just as Lewis savors meeting influential people, Ledford and Biddle-Snead enjoy their cool clientele, and Kendrick and fellow Bodo’s employee Justine Toward (Col ’11) welcome the chance to earn extra money without jeopardizing their studies. “[The schedule is] flexible but still gives you the hours to earn the money you need,” says Toward. “And you get free food.”