USF students join the “work from home” force

Nearly all university employees, including Foghorn staff, are now working remotely. TERESA MOORE/FOGHORN

Mardy Harding

Staff Writer

As buildings and offices closed for the city’s — and then state’s — shelter in place order, not only did school go online, but work did, too. The University employs 1,700 students across nearly every one of its departments, according to Michael Beseda, head of Strategic Enrollment Management. A March 18 email from USF leadership to student employees said, “If you would like to continue working this semester, you will have the opportunity to do so. If your circumstances have changed, and you no longer wish to continue working, we support your decision and want to assure you that it will not affect your eligibility to work in the future.”

The specifics of this offer are still being worked out, as student jobs across campus involve a wide variety of tasks, some more conducive to remote work than others. Upon the closure of campus, the administration had to update Student Employment Policy to accept remote work, which it did not previously allow. “Once that decision was made, the office moved to collaborate with other departments to create a plan for managers across campus,” Lauren Pixler, assistant director of student employment, said in an email. “At this time, the office’s priority is ensuring that the student employment community is supported, questions are answered, students can continue to receive the pay they count on, and managers can best support their student workers.” 

The email from leadership further instructed student employees to keep in contact with their managers and await further instructions, noting, “Your supervisor will be receiving further and more detailed information shortly.” 

According to multiple student employees, supervisors have played a key role thus far in the transition to remote work. Junior Alexa Aguilar, a university ambassador, said in an email, “At first I was very worried that I would not be able to work, which meant I was not going to have the funds I need to pay rent or groceries. After our supervisors explained that we would be able to work from home I felt relieved and had that pressure taken off my shoulders.”

Aguilar said her supervisors in the Office of Admissions advocated for all 30 ambassadors, who normally lead campus tours for prospective students, host campus guests, and run admissions events such as DiscoverUSF, to continue working from home. “We are working less hours than usual because as a collective we are still trying to get the hang of working from home. As soon as we get more projects going and we start switching over to more virtual platforms, we will be able to get the same amount of hours,” Aguilar said. The ambassadors are communicating with prospective students via Zoom and email and developing ways to host virtual events for admitted students, who are often communicated with virtually anyways.

Departments with more employees may face more difficulty with moving work online quickly. The Division of Student Life, for example, which employs nearly 650 students, formed the Student Employment working group to strategize ways to provide remote work for students. The group is made up of members of the President’s Cabinet, Student Employment, and Student Life. Julia Terhaar, a member of the group who directs finance and operations for Student Life, said the work is meant to “engage them and provide the financial assistance they depend on.” 

Student positions in Student Life tend to be centered on campus, as they include Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE), the Learning Centers, Student Leadership and Engagement, and eight others. “Examples of remote projects that have been assigned include remote administrative support, data analysis, research, monitoring and triaging departmental questions that continue to come through via email or departmental phone lines,” Terhaar said in an email. “For departments who do not have sufficient or appropriate remote work for current student workers, there may be an opportunity for student workers to assist in other areas of the university through a process being coordinated by the Student Employment working group.”

Each department is taking its own approach to this issue. For example, SHaRE, which employs all of the community assistants (CAs) and resident advisors (RAs) for the now-closed residence halls, has a transitional plan in place. At the time of publication, the students working remotely were either previously scheduled to work through spring break and to the end of the month, or were extremely vocal about their need for hours in order to pay rent.

On March 25, CAs received a Google form entitled “Desk Operations Need Questionnaire.” According to the form’s description, it will be used as “a means to collect data on the needs of CAs, both in regards to their personal well-being and for future work opportunities, if possible.” The questionnaire included a section for CAs to propose projects related to desk operations that they could complete remotely. 

Maia Peterson is a senior who is still in the Bay Area and working as a CA from home. According to Torry Brouillard-Bruce, senior director of SHaRE, there are about 40-50 students doing such work, and the department as a whole employs about 170 students.

Peterson told the Foghorn that those who wanted to continue working in order to pay rent made a point to let their supervisors and managers know. “With the campus closure schedule that extended work to all buildings more people were deciding not to work, but for those of us off-campus we made it a point to say ‘Hey we’re available! Please schedule us!’ as we still [have] rent to pay,” Peterson said in an email. “The upper staff did a lot in considering those of us who needed to keep working.”

The work includes logging spreadsheets and updating resident files. “They’re respecting our hours as promised and scheduled. We’ve been told if the desks need to open and it’s safe to do so we’ll be the first called upon to do so,” she said. “But after March 29th, we don’t actually know if we’ll be able to work again or what our employment status is.”

In regard to employment beyond March 29, Brouillard-Bruce said, “We are committed to finding ways for our hourly student staff to do critical work in support of our students so they can maintain some level of work to get paid.” 

Koret Health and Recreation Center, the largest student employer within Student Life, is following a similar path. Supervisors at Koret sent a link to a Google Form entitled “Talents” to the facility’s building supervisors, cardio/weight room workers, lifeguards, intramural scorekeepers, and front desk, check-in desk, and equipment desk workers. The form had questions about how they thought they could contribute remotely to Koret’s operations. 

Shanie Chambers, director of recreational sports at Koret, said in an email, “As of March 22 we have approximately 40% of staff who have responded to the offer of remote work opportunities. We anticipate that number will rise once students who have moved from on-campus housing get settled in at home, and once all USF students have successfully transitioned to the remote learning program.” 

The list of projects for Koret employees to work on remotely is long, and includes work with memberships, updating print paperwork for online, creating video and photo content, and organizing Zoom training sessions for fitness instructors and sports teams. “Our goal has been to provide projects, tasks and assignments in order to allow students to maintain the same weekly hours as previously assigned for the spring semester,” Chambers said. 

Terhaar and all administrators interviewed for this story emphasized that student employees seeking to maintain paid hours remotely should reach out to their supervisor to discuss their options.

The writer of this story is employed by the University through Koret Health and Recreation Center.

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