UC Berkeley work-study supports students through pandemic

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Erica Cardozo /Staff
Students expressed satisfaction with campus’s work-study program, which largely shifted to remote operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote options are expected to continue for work-study students throughout the academic year.

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While the COVID-19 pandemic posed technical challenges to campus’s work-study program, some students said it has been a source of support amid the uncertainty of an online academic year.

The campus work-study program continued to function throughout the pandemic, largely switching to remote operations, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff. Remote opportunities for work-study students have been made available this academic year and will likely remain an option in future semesters as well, Ratliff added.

“In Spring of 2020 when the pandemic first hit and forced us to shift operations, the work-study program shifted as well,” Ratliff said in an email. “Many students were able to transition their positions to remote work, and those who were not able to work remotely were able to take advantage of other programs such as paid administrative leave and emergency grants funded by the institution, generous donors and by the federal CARES Act/Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.”

Work-study employers range from on-campus libraries, dining halls and organizations to off-campus research centers, clubs and companies.

Campus junior Jillian Paul has been working as a student assistant at The Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, or CERCH. For Paul, work-study operations have been hybrid since she joined the center in August.

Paul added many of her team members plan to continue working remotely in the future as it offers much more flexibility without negatively impacting their project at the center.

“For me, as a work-study student, the remote option has been really fantastic as well,” Paul said. “If it’s 8 p.m. at night I can still clock in for a quick hour to take care of something, whereas getting to the Berkeley Extension could be a hassle.”

Larissa Ala, a campus sophomore who works at Berkeley United in Literacy Development, or BUILD, as a literacy mentor and site director through the work-study program, also worked remotely during the past year.

While Ala said she has felt supported by her employer, she experienced many technical difficulties in her role of mentoring scholars of BUILD.

“I started off with BUILD being completely online and you could immediately see the effects of Zoom fatigue on our scholars,” Ala said in an email. “At times, it was hard to keep the attention of our scholars and there were definitely many technical issues that popped up.”

Among these issues was a lack of stable internet connection, according to Ala. Issues with her internet hindered her ability to complete her work until she requested a Wi-Fi hotspot through the campus Student Technology Equity Program.

Despite such challenges of working remotely, Ala noted she was always excited at the start of her mentoring sessions and felt that her work was a huge “stress reliever.”

Paul said she also had difficulties with procuring a functioning work laptop.

“The nature of CERCH — we’re a research division and there are a lot of requirements for security,” Paul said. “There’s been a couple times I needed my boss to finish up a project because I couldn’t get into a secure server from my personal laptop.”

While Paul said her boss has been “fantastic” and that they have developed workarounds for the issue, she noted her job would be more productive if she had access to a functioning work laptop.

Paul added while work-study is a great option for students, they don’t always get the opportunity to work in roles they are interested in.

“I really feel like I lucked out with my work study position because it is in my department and it is getting me actual experience,” Paul said. “I definitely feel like I’ve heard from other people that feel like they’re in a wasted position — they have to choose between work-study and an internship that relates more to their interests.”

According to Ratliff, many employers are still seeking students to fill open positions as in-person activities resume. There are about 1800 open positions for 147 different jobs currently available for students looking for work-study opportunities.

He added that the campus Financial Aid and Scholarships Office hosted a work-study job fair to promote employment opportunities for students, and will continue to organize similar events in the future.

For students looking for other ways to finance their cost of attendance at UC Berkeley, Ratliff said campus resources, including short-term emergency loans, emergency rental assistance program and the Basic Needs Center, are there to help students.

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.