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The Struggle is Real: UST Students Find Trouble Maintaining Balance Between School and Work

As the University of St. Thomas begins the second half of the 2022 spring semester, it has become evident that not all students feel they have fully encompassed or fulfilled the subject-matter of their current classes. 

For some, this is due to their commitments to full-time or part-time jobs. 

One of these students, freshman biology major Karina Bautista, feels she has been struggling to balance her work with school. As a community college transfer student, Bautista says attending school full-time at the University gave her a “reality check.”

“I’m not able to do school full-time anymore. You know, the classes are a lot more rigorous than they were at community college, so it’s very hard,” Bautista said. 

Bautista, who works full-time as a manager at T-Mobile, said she failed a biology class last semester because of the high demands her job entails. 

“It was my first biology class that I’d ever taken, and it was really hard to concentrate with studying and doing well with that, when I have Black Friday and stuff ,” Bautista said.

Bautista says that sometimes, especially in the fall semester, her work schedule conflicts with her classes, and she has had to skip class in favor of going to work. 

Such decisions have obviously impacted her academic performance.

“Last semester, I had to skip a Friday morning class, because I had to run a conference call, so unfortunately I had to make that sacrifice to do that,” Bautista said.

“That specific day we did go over some very important materials that when I went back into class Monday morning, I was so lost and  confused and I didn’t know what they were talking about.” 

Assistant Professor of the UST Psychology Department Aaron Pomerantz says that if students find themselves in situations such as Bautista’s, they should speak with their professors.

“You gotta go to your professor about it, because assuming you’re doing this in good faith, it shows them you care,” Pomerantz said. 

“I think showing that respect, if anything, will have positive benefits for you as opposed to ‘well I’m just going to skip the class,’ because it communicates two entirely different things to just skip class versus trying to find a way to work it out.”

Pomerantz does acknowledge that students face a hard choice to make when deciding whether to skip class for work, and says he has noticed that students will often join his hyflex classes through Zoom while they are busy at work. 

There’s a difference, he said, between juggling conflicting obligations now and then, and trying to work a job while class is being held.

“I’ve had people who would do it once or twice, and I know they don’t have any choice, and that’s one scenario. And then I have people who seem to think, especially if it’s a hyflex format, that they can just not have to be seen in classes, or ‘attend’ classes. They just stream it online and that’s a completely different scenario,” Pomerantz said.

Based on different class syllabi and requirements, some  students say they find it easier to  skip class altogether on days they need to work. 

Senior piano performance major Victoria Kramr, who recently quit her job as a marketing associate, used to run social media for a local company. Because her job required her to attend and document all of the company’s events on social media, there were times when work events would overlap with  classes.

“They were having a ceremony that interfered with one of my classes,” she remembered. “Because during the class there wasn’t a quiz or exam, and the prof. didn’t put much weight on attendance, I decided to skip,” Kramr wrote in an email.

“Last semester, I almost did not attend one of my classes almost at all because it was in the morning and my work shifts ended at 2 a.m.”

Juggling different school and work schedules is exhausting, and sometimes the exhaustion itself leads to more skipped classes. Kramr said that in the past, if a professor didn’t take attendance, she would occasionally skip their class because she was too tired to attend.

“I think the most difficult thing is working on school when I’m tired from work,” Kramr wrote. “The balance [between school and work] isn’t the most difficult thing. It’s just when you get home from work, knowing that you still have to work on school, [it] can be demoralizing cause you’re so tired.” 

But jobs aren’t the only obligations competing for students’ time. Junior international development major Tamara Lutta holds leadership roles at UST that include serving as presidential ambassador, an international studies society officer, and vice president-elect of campus community. She also works at a Chick-Fil-A near her home, and all of those obligations compete.

“There are times where I will prioritize student leadership work over class,” Lutta said.

“There have been many times this semester where I didn’t physically go to class, and maybe I logged on but turned my screen off, and in the background I’m like, ‘OK, this event is this week, I need to get going on this, or we have to plan for our luncheon coming up.’”

 Lutta says it can be difficult to manage UST events while working off-campus and commuting to school, but she says she needs to for financial reasons.

“I haven’t really been open about my financial standing, but you know, single family household, gotta help Mom pay her bills; Covid came in and didn’t really help anything,” Lutta said.

“So I do have to work, but I do enjoy working because of the people I meet.”

Kramr, who lives on her own off-campus, also says she works because she has to.

“I work so I can eat food, have wifi, take my cats to the vet, have electricity, and just take care of myself in general,” Kramr wrote. 

Bautista, who also lives on her own, says that her main priorities are making good grades to graduate while  maintaining a certain “grade” of work so that she can pay her bills. 

However, it’s hard to “do really well at both,” she said, and it means lots of compromises.  “Sometimes you’re going to have to sacrifice some things like sleep,” Bautista said. 

“It is hard, but you just have to sometimes sacrifice your personal life to be able to do well in other things.”

Pomerantz advises students to work out scheduling conflicts with their advisors, especially when they meet for scheduled academic advising.

“The answer is not just ‘quit your job’ and the answer is just not ‘quit your class,’” Pomerantz said.

“A lot of students at UST are in [this] situation, and a lot of your professors are going to be willing to work with you and try to find a way forward for that. If you genuinely care about both, then at least try and figure out a bigger solution.”

The working student population has always been prominent at UST, and UST assistant professor of communication Cesare Wright said he has noted a difference between the obligations UST students carry in comparison to his previous institution, Rice. 

“Most students at Rice, not only do they live on campus but most of them do not work jobs, and if they do, it’s usually at a student-worker capacity,” Wright said.

In contrast, he said, “ a lot of my UST students are working. A lot of them are working at least one job– I would say most of them–if not multiple jobs.”

Wright says that UST students who work are learning life skills such as holding responsibilities and managing stress. However, this “real-life experience,” comes at a cost. 

“It comes at an expense of what else they could be doing on campus in terms of clubs and teams and extra courses,” Wright said.

Wright says that when he assigns group projects or assignments, it is harder for his students who work to meet with their groups  because of their varying schedules, which then  hinders students’ engagement. 

“To me, one of the most valuable things that happens at a university is not what happens inside the classroom, but how you take that classroom learning and extend it beyond the classroom. That has to be one of the most important things you gain from being in college, and when students have these other obligations, it limits their ability to do that,” Wright said.

However not all working students feel this disengagement. 

Lutta, who has recently co-founded the Celt Women’s Network organization at UST, says her work as a student leader has allowed her to build connections with other students and faculty.  

“I think [my work] has hindered my social life, in a way, off-campus, but I think it has helped my social life on campus to build these UST networks and connections because I’m working really closely with other student leaders,” Lutta said.

Further, she said,  her job provides a needed break and “slow down” from classes. 

“I’m always like, ‘Oh I love coming to work’ and [my coworkers] are always so confused… but I’m like ‘No, this is a lot less stressful than a typical day at school, and I love it,” Lutta said. 

And while Kramr has found it difficult to dedicate time to school because of her previous job, she is now finding relief in balancing her schedule as she prepares for a new job.

“Recently, I quit my new job as a Marketing Associate,” Kramr wrote. “I’ve found I can dedicate so much more time to my studies and I feel like I can finally learn, absorb, and give 100% to my classes…it has been very nice.”

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