RU Ready for Work program administrators didn’t have to go far to create summer jobs for students. Several of the jobs are located at their headquarters, the Rutgers University campus in Newark.
“It sounds like a very great idea to have students engaged in employment on the college campus,” said Laura Perna, a higher education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on college access programs.
By having program participants work on campus, she said, it helps to “demystify what college is.”
“Participants envision themselves as belonging on a college campus,” Perna said. It also helps them to see there are “people like them” going through college and to learn where resources are on campus.
RU Ready for Work helps high schoolers prepare for college and the job market.
“Some students’ experience is that they don’t know how to navigate their way through, perhaps don’t know where to turn for help,” Perna said. “Students [in the program] are working a job that enables them to understand more about how the university works, what the supports and services are and gain comfort in accessing those, meeting people who work at the place.
“I think that’s all for the good,” Perna said. “Even if they don’t end up going to that particular institution, I think that experience could help to familiarize them with higher education in a way that spills over to other institutions.”
RU Ready for Work alumni say the campus-based work experience proved invaluable.
“It gave me more experience and discipline,” said Shakeerah Sheard, who worked as a food server in a Rutgers cafeteria and as an assistant in the office of admissions.
In some cases, campus jobs help students decide early on if they actually want to pursue a particular career.
One student who thought she wanted to go to nursing school got a job in the School of Nursing and later enrolled at Rutgers as a nursing student, according to Sue Willard, a Rutgers nursing professor. Students who work at the nursing school do various things, ranging from helping patients fill out forms to assisting at health fairs.
“They seem really excited. They’re glad they had the opportunity to be able to work with patients and be able to work with professional staff,” Willard said. “They’re able to learn what’s going to be needed. They learn more about the health care systems.”
The arrangement with RU Ready for Work has proven to be mutually beneficial.
“They offer energy, creativity. They offer us opportunities to help train the next generation of nurses,” Willard said.
Not all the program’s summer jobs are campus-based. Some are in the community.
One partner is La Casa de Don Pedro, a community-based organization that offers job development, affordable homes and other services.
Students placed at La Casa de Don Pedro help distribute fliers and call parents for school events or residents for community events.
“They’re like community organizers,” said Roberto Frugone, a program director at La Casa de Don Pedro. “We’re able to take in students and in exchange for the experience part be able to get some support on the ground as a nonprofit.”
The help is free for the agency. The agency sets up work plans so the students can see if they are meeting various benchmarks.
One project involved calling agencies and creating a database of community groups that offer volunteers.
“That’s something that’s very important even beyond the tenure of the individuals,” Frugone said. The project also gives the students who work on it a better sense of community resources and services, he said.
Of course, beyond experience, the summer jobs provide a way to earn a little extra cash.
“Personally, it opened a lot of doors for me,” said Malik McNeil, 19, an RU Ready for Work program alumnus who is currently a sophomore at Kean University.
He spent one summer as an office clerk in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers. Among other things, he learned Microsoft Word and Excel.
McNeil said the summer job — in addition to the $100 stipends during the regular school year — helped his family.
“I was in the RU Ready for Work Program at a time when my mother was out of work for about four to five years,” McNeil said. “So the income from that helped me on that part.”
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