In celebration of National Student Employee Appreciation Week, Washington State University units are highlighting the important contributions student workers make in supporting the university’s mission, services and students.

The Division of Student Affairs employs over 2,000 students across its 21 units every year. Perhaps at no other time in WSU’s history has the impact of student employees been felt as much as during this COVID-19 crisis.

Helping the community stay active

Closeup of Maddison Ruther
Maddison Ruther

Maddison Ruther, a Group Fitness Instructor, continues to teach cardio and core classes via Zoom from her room in Orton Hall. Her class is among over 20 online fitness classes University Recreation is currently offering the WSU community. The classes include yoga, Zumba, Taekwondo, and much more.

“It was awkward at first not being able to see and interact with the participants as easily as before, and we don’t have the bikes, rowing machines, and weights that we normally use,” Ruther said. “But there are a lot of good ideas, many of which I’ve learned online, that help us achieve a solid workout using alternative methods and equipment.”

Joanne Greene, UREC programming director, said the transition has been challenging as she and her staff have had to reimagine how they provide service and conduct training in a short amount of time.

“Our student employees are doing a great job, people are regularly participating in our online classes, and our instructors want to keep teaching,” Greene said. “It makes us happy to know people are benefitting from them and appreciate our efforts.”

Ruther also serves as a resident advisor (RA) in Orton Hall. She said only two of the 15 students on her floor remain living there. Similarly, the number of RA’s in Orton has dropped from 12 to seven. They make regular rounds throughout the building, even assisting the staff in Olympia Hall, making sure residents who remain are safe and doing well.

Maintaining student connections

Closeup of Mentor Gema Garcia-Ochoa
Mentor Gema Garcia-Ochoa

Student Mentor Gema Garcia-Ochoa said she is finding her 20 Asian American and Pacific Islander mentees have been more engaged with her since the stay-at-home order went into effect.

“A whole bunch of them have been reaching out to me for guidance and support,” Garcia-Ochoa said. “Usually us mentors are the ones who initiate contact.”

Stephen Bischoff, director of Multicultural Student Services, said student mentors are playing crucial roles in sharing helpful information with first-year students about everything from changes in university procedures to how they can stay physically and mentally healthy. Just as importantly, the mentors are available to students who may need someone to talk to during this time of isolation.

“It is important for our mentors to maintain their connections with their mentees during such a challenging time,” Bischoff said. “But with such big changes in daily routines and lifestyles, our mentors have been navigating these new expectations as well. We are stressing that they need to take care of themselves first.”

Like most of us, the mentors have had to forego face-to-face meetings and utilize technology to do their work. Using a combination of zoom, texting and calling, Garcia-Ochoa is able to keep in regular contact with her mentees, who have told her they appreciate her efforts more than ever in making sure they are managing well.

Keeping facilities clean

When it comes to managing his student staff during this time of change and uncertainty, WSU Custodial Service Manager David Duthie looks to Chinese strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu for inspiration.

Tzu once said, “A skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.”

Like so many others in managerial positions across the university, Duthie’s world in Residence Life and Housing was turned upside down when the State of Washington issued a stay-at-home order and WSU moved to online instruction. He is responsible for keeping the dining centers and markets clean, a task that usually requires a large team of student custodians who work into the early hours of the morning.

Closeup of Colin Redman
Colin Redman

With the dining centers still in operation, albeit in much different fashion than before, he appreciates student employees like Colin Redman, who not only continue to come to work, but picked-up additional shifts to help fill-in the gaps from employees who did not return to campus.

As a student manager and night custodian who primarily cleans Southside Café and Flix Market, Redman is very thankful he is able to keep his job amid all the changes.

“It means I am still able to pay my rent and buy food,” Redman said. “David has been really helpful and supportive of me, and all of us students, whether they chose to stay in Pullman or leave.”

Duthie said in addition to keeping his staffing levels at necessary levels, communication with his student employees was challenging at first. While the university was in the process of making key decisions, his students and staff had numerous questions, many related to their personal situations.

“Our daily operations and tasks have to be refocused and student employees have had to learn a new routine as we make adjustments to how Dining Services is operating,” he said. “Without their commitment and dedication, our operations would be significantly hindered.”

Focusing on opportunities

As daunting as all the challenges have been for student employees and their supervisors this semester, they are not dwelling on the negatives. Instead, they are focusing on making the best of the situation and creating new approaches to positively impact peoples’ lives.

“These times have offered renewed opportunities for our student employees to make connections as it can be a unifying factor for students going through this together in similar and different way,” Bischoff said. “That includes shared frustrations, victories, and relationship building.”