On the Job for the Community
April 04, 2008
Lewis & Clark spends 25 percent of its Federal Work-Study dollars off campus.
By Romel Hernandez
Photography by Robert Reynolds
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mike Schmidt swaps the sylvan serenity of the Lewis & Clark campus for the hurly-burly of the Multnomah County Courthouse, where, armed only with a pen and legal pad, he battles petty crooks and scofflaws.
A third-year Lewis & Clark Law School student, Schmidt is in constant motion while working at the District Attorney’s Office, where he is certified to prosecute misdemeanor criminal cases ranging from prostitution to drunk driving. Despite the frenetic pace, Schmidt maintains his composure as he rushes between courtrooms trying cases–making motions, raising objections, and generally doing what lawyers do.
“Yeah, it gets pretty crazy,” he admitted during a break between plea hearings one recent day. “The learning curve is incredible. In this job, I get to see how the real world works. I see something new every day.”
Some days, Schmidt doesn’t know what cases he’ll be working on until he arrives downtown. “You get no preparation time. The powers that be just say to you, ‘OK, here you go!’ and you have to go in there and convince a jury the guy’s guilty.”
During his third week on the job, he got his first trial–and lost. Schmidt lost his first three jury trials, in fact, but at the time of this interview, he was on an eight-trial winning streak. “There’s no better way to learn than hands-on,” he says.
He loves his work even more than going to class, he admits (but don’t tell his professors). The experience has got him thinking about pursuing a career as a litigator: “I have so many opportunities now because of this job.”
Schmidt didn’t get such a plum job through connections, but through the Federal Work-Study program, which provides employment opportunities for 600 Lewis & Clark students every year. The college awards just over $1 million annually in work-study to students eligible for Federal Work-Study, a need-based federal student aid program. The students can tap into subsidized jobs, most of them on campus, ranging from checking out books at Watzek Library to passing out towels in Pamplin Sports Center.
While most students prefer the convenience of a campus job, others, like Schmidt, enjoy the opportunity to explore and connect with the world off campus.
And that’s where Lewis & Clark stands out: While the federal government mandates that 7 percent of its work-study allocation be spent on community service work, Lewis & Clark spends 25 percent of its dollars in the community.
“We have a big focus as an institution on serving our community,” says Chris Logan, employment specialist with the Office of Student Financial Services. “We’re not just focused on ourselves on campus. We’re socially aware.”
Lewis & Clark students can access employment information through an online database, which offers job and pay details. There’s a wide range of work available, carefully screened and selected by Logan’s office. The majority of positions involve office duties of some sort, such as copying or data entry, but students can also opt for more unconventional work, such as pruning and weeding at the Berry Botanic Garden, near campus.
“We get students who want a bit of peace and quiet,” says Scott Vergara, executive director of the garden, which promotes Northwest native plants and is known for its carnivorous plants. “They just have to be able to take the rain.”
“We have a big focus as an institution on serving our community, We’re not just focused on ourselves on campus. We’re socially aware.”
Chris Logan, Office of Student Financial Services
Undergraduates average about 10 hours of work weekly, while law students sometimes work 30 hours or more. Employers typically pay between 25 and 50 percent of a work-study student’s wages, with the rest covered by the federal government. Students can earn hourly rates anywhere from $7.95 to $18. Undergraduates can earn from $500 to $3,000 per year, while law students, who command the highest hourly wages, can top $10,000 annually.
Students typically use their work-study earnings to pay their living expenses, gaining financial flexibility they might not otherwise have.
The Federal Work-Study program dates back to 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson created it, as part of his Great Society program, to help students pay for college. As the cost of education has boomed in the decades since, so has work-study. The federal government awarded $46 million through the program’s first year; today the total is more than $1 billion annually, which benefits more than a million students nationwide. A Department of Education study found near-unanimous student–and employer–satisfaction with the program. Plus, more than 80 percent of students who worked in a community service–related job felt the experience would spur them to do more community service in the future.
That certainly was the case for Annette Klinefelter B.A. ‘96, M.Ed. ‘03. As an undergraduate, Klinefelter signed up for a work-study job as an office clerk at Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling. A quick and eager study, she was soon coordinating education classes and conferences. Through her campus job, she was exposed to new ideas and issues and connected with mentors and community contacts, while picking up valuable skills such as grant writing.
“I was obviously quite inspired,” Klinefelter says. After graduating, she wrote a grant that led to creation of the nonprofit Girls’ Initiative Network, which focused on programs aimed at empowering girls and young women aged 8 to 20, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The organization morphed into Girls Inc. of NW Oregon, where Klinefelter now serves as executive director.
“I was given tremendous responsibility as a work-study student,” says Klinefelter, “and it really contributed to where I am now.”
Today, Klinefelter gives back by hiring Lewis & Clark work-study students to work for Girls Inc. And she doesn’t shy away from giving them as much work and responsibility as they can handle.
More than 80 percent of students who worked in a community service–related job felt the experience would spur them to do more community service in the future.
“Lewis & Clark students are just really smart,” Klinefelter says. “They get to work on projects that are truly valuable.” Over the years, Girls Inc. has hired more than a dozen Lewis & Clark students, and Klinefelter has mentored them all.
Including Sydney Linden, who parlayed a work-study job into a part-time position at Girls Inc. after graduating in 2007. Her work-study jobs at the Oregon Council for the Humanities and Girls Inc. helped her get through school in more ways than one: “It’s important to get off campus and to remember that the world is a lot bigger than a few thousand Lewis & Clark students,” Linden says.” I was interested in getting to know Portland and developing a sense of community.”
Despite having worked up to 15 hours a week, she feels her job enhanced her studies: “It helped me focus more in school because I had something else going on.”
At Girls Inc., Linden has been involved with event organizing and fundraising and has worked with young girls as a group facilitator. “Now that I’ve graduated, I’ve got great experience and connections,” she says.
The opportunity to work with children drew Disan Suarez to his job tutoring children at Capitol Hill Elementary School, a diverse school near campus where 1 of 4 students is economically disadvantaged.
Suarez, a first-year student, is warmly greeted by his regulars as he shows up for work. He is a tutor for an after-school program called X-Academy. Suarez asks how much homework they’ve got, what books they’ve been reading. He spends the next hour busily helping the children with their assignments, sitting side-by-side and gently working through math problems and geography questions: “If five bears are running and three bears are climbing, how many more bears are running than climbing?” He quietly encourages the students to figure out the problems themselves, declaring “Good job!” when they arrive at an answer.
Suarez is a great role model for the children, says Marcia Wirsig, the Capitol Hill teacher who oversees work-study students. “They bring all that extra energy that the kids really respond to,” she says. “They’re very gung-ho.”
Suarez takes the work seriously. A Pioneer football player, he arranged with his coach to show up for some practices a little later so he could follow through on his work commitment at Capitol Hill. He is aiming for a career as an educator.
“You form bonds with the kids,” Suarez says. “When you help a kid figure out a problem, it’s exciting. I look forward to coming to work every day.”
Some other work-study jobs are just plain cool.
Eric Paul, another first-year student, gives public tours of the USS Blueback, a submarine docked at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. He leads visitors through the Cold War–era sub’s control center and torpedo room, fielding questions about sub arcana along the way. “How much does a torpedo weigh?” “A couple of tons.” “What do submariners eat?” “They enjoy, arguably, the finest food in the military.” “What does this thing do?” “I have no idea.”
Paul has no interest in a military career, but he enjoys his work-study job. He describes himself as shy, so on the sub he gets a chance to improve his public presentation skills. “I’m learning a lot,” he says. Besides, in how many jobs do you get to demonstrate emergency diving procedures by blasting a sub horn and bellowing “Dive! Dive!”?
Romel Hernandez is a freelance writer in Portland.