As Whitman College students return to campus this week, many have more on their minds than registering for classes or meeting their roommate: They are also on the hunt for jobs.
“Whitman students are eager to reengage with the community, and we have seen an increase in students expressing interest in working in the community,” said Karri Mickelson, assistant director of financial aid.
At more than 500 strong, the class of 2025 is record size for Whitman. Across all class years, about 700 students are eligible for work-study. This presents a unique opportunity for local employers who may be feeling the effects of the nationwide labor shortage, and for students eager to earn a paycheck.
“There are so many benefits for our students of working at Walla Walla businesses,” said Nikki Brueggeman, assistant director for career readiness and employer engagement. “It allows them to build connections to their new community and develop a deeper understanding of the Walla Walla Valley and our long-time residents. Similarly, the diversity of backgrounds and experiences our students bring benefits our community. We gain so much by working together.”
In addition to cultivating new skills and relationships and enhancing what they’re learning in the classroom, finding a job can help ease some of the financial strain for students whose families lost income during the pandemic.
“Our office has seen first-hand how many students have had a change in financial circumstances due to COVID,” Mickelson said. “So it is more important than ever that we are connecting them with resources. In talking with students and employers around Walla Walla who have partnered together in the past, I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about how those experiences were mutually beneficial.”
Many local businesses and organizations have already enjoyed the perks of employing Whitman students. This summer, nearly half of Whitman Internship Grant recipients worked here in Walla Walla, a much higher percentage than in past years, in sectors ranging from healthcare to law to agriculture.
“I decided to stay in Walla Walla and find a job here because I have family and my parents live nearby as well,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, a sophomore from Milton-Freewater who worked at the Summer Sol program at Pioneer Middle School. “My favorite part was being able to interact with kids, and I do feel more connected to the community because of this job.”
Christian Moreno, a senior and Walla Walla native, completed a fellowship with Mercy Corps during the 2019-2020 academic year, working with low-income Hispanic businesses owners to kickstart their businesses.
“I expanded my knowledge of the smaller business owners living in the Walla Walla community,” he said. “A memorable experience was the business trade show we had post-graduation ceremony where the students from the program were able to display their newly launched products.”
An economics major, Moreno hopes to apply his bilingual business management and leadership abilities at a U.S. company in Latin America after earning his degree.
For Lili Hynes-Mumford, a junior from Seattle who helped respond to the February 2020 floods through her work with the United Way of the Blue Mountains, the experience was a window into how the community can stand together.
“The drive to uplift fellow community members is strong,” she said. “I worked with flood survivors who had lost virtually everything, and when provided with the adequate resources many of their first concerns and questions were about their neighbors or how they could share the resources.”
A psychology major, Hynes-Mumford reached out to nonprofits in Walla Walla after taking classes in both psychology and politics because she wanted to better understand the nexus between policies and people.
Maraena Allen-Lewis, a case manager who supervised Hynes-Mumford, echoed the sentiment that Whitman students working in the community creates advantages on every level.
“Not only do students have the chance to immerse themselves in hands-on experience that comes through work-based learning, but they’re also able to appreciate the work being done in the community. On the organization’s side, Whitman students are a great asset to have since they are typically very hardworking and passionate about the work at hand.”
Businesses and organizations interested in connecting with Whitman students about employment opportunities this fall can go online to whitman.joinhandshake.com to set up a profile.
Limited space is also available on a first come, first serve basis at Whitman’s Back-to-School Job & Internship Fair this Friday, August 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (please note that visitors must adhere to campus vaccination policies, available for review on the Whitman website).
To register for the event, contact Nikki Brueggeman at email@example.com.