They Pay Me to Do This

Campus jobs aren’t what they used to be.

For many students, the University of Utah is a second home. They eat, sleep, study, and even work here. In fact, one in four undergraduates (about 6,000 students) are employed in one way or another by the U. These jobs not only help students pay the bills but also help get them on a faster track to graduation. Compared to their counterparts, students who are employed through campus jobs are about 12 percent more likely to graduate within six years or less.

Why would working campus jobs help students graduate quicker? It’s all about making connections, says Mike Martineau BA’08 MS’12 PhD’13, director of institutional analysis at the U. “Does someone other than a professor know your name? Students who work for the U are often more engaged, with more friends on campus, more mentors, and just more connections,” he says.

From fish feeders to salt enthusiasts, meet some of our students with the most unusual, interesting, and rewarding jobs that leave them remarking, “Wow, they pay me to do this!”

[Editor's note: When we prepared this issue, we didn't know of the soon-to-come COVID-19 precautions that would shift students to online learning and close most of campus, unexpectedly impacting many student jobs. We hope this article serves as a reminder of the fantastic work our students do at the U. We look forward to welcoming them back to campus and their jobs as soon as possible. We miss U!]

Study Salt

Jeremiah Bernau is obsessed with salt. The doctoral candidate has been studying it for years across several states. In Utah, Bernau has been making treks out to the Bonneville Salt Flats for three years now. It’s dirty, challenging work that goes on, come freezing brine or blinding salt. And it’s a two-hour drive. But it’s worth it, he says. “The salt flats tell an important story,” he explains. “It’s a system that connects scientists, other people, and nature.” His group is investigating how humans interact with the varying landscape and environment. Whether it’s speed racing, mining, or the changing climate, it all affects the flats, he says.

Set Routes

Abby Emerson keeps the U’s rock-climbing community on their toes... and fingers. She and nine other route setters curate the boulder problems and roped routes snaking up the walls of The Summit climbing gym in the Student Life Center. As head route setter, Emerson ensures that route styles and difficulties challenge all climbers, from beginners to the U’s competition climbing team. She also wants to inspire more women to take up the profession. “Climbing is pretty even in terms of men to women, but route setting is male-dominated. But it’s getting better,” says Emerson. “I hope to open my own gym to show that women can do it.”

Predict Weather

Andy Park was a Hotshot. That is, he was on the Lone Peak Hotshots fire crew that fights the most intense wildfires in the West. Seeing how weather could impact fires sparked a passion in Park. The senior, studying atmospheric sciences, works for his department maintaining weather stations around the Salt Lake Valley. He also works on air quality monitors on the valley’s TRAX light rail. He’s gaining a greater appreciation for what goes into forecasting. “It takes years of experience to understand the weather station data,” he says. “This job is helping me do just that.” After graduation, he wants to be a meteorologist in Alaska or maybe Oregon.

Feed Fish

Undergrad Carolina Lozano-Ashton double-checks the tanks for more than 150 researchers on a regular basis. “And I find their mistakes sometimes, too,” she remarks. Her title? Fish feeder level II. The senior studying mathematics works in a zebrafish facility with more than 6,000 tanks housing 120,000 fish. The fish, which share about 70% of our genetics, are used for studies on everything from diabetes to cardiology—even an experiment from the dean of pharmacy about how zebrafish respond to opiates. “I love my job,” she says. “I’m responsible for thousands of fish. And I love that I get to make a difference while learning so much.”

Fly Drones

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a drone. And they’re used for a whole lot more than hobbies these days. In fact, graduate student Bonnie Erdenekhuyag BS’18 is one of the first students to use drones as part of a mining engineering master’s program. She recently finished an internship at Rio Tinto’s copper mine where she used drones to create extremely accurate (within just a few centimeters) maps of the region. The research assistant originally from Mongolia is now using drone data to examine different mineral makeups in a region of Utah.

Drones have made a massive impact on the mining industry, she says. They can be used to determine vegetation and for environmental monitoring. And with cages to protect them, they’re able to fly into caves and in confined spaces. “Drones are the future of mining. They’re going to make it safer and more efficient and have less environmental impact,” she says. “And it’s a pretty fun way to make a living.”

Be the Hawk

If there were a degree for Swagger, he’d have a doctorate. But in the meantime, he’s a super senior studying communication and dance. Swoop is a red-tailed hawk, a bird respected by the Ute tribe. He enrolled at the U shortly after hatching at the first basketball game of the season in 1996—hence the jersey #96.

Like most hawks, he’s a social creature and covers a lot of ground. He makes an appearance at almost every important U event both in and out of state. Let’s just say his calendar is booked solid (and the only reason he can keep up with his studies and his job is because there are actually three human students trading off the role, but shhh, don’t tell).

Although Swoop doesn’t say much, we were able to talk to some friends to discover a few little-known details about our beloved mascot. His personal record for the number of push-ups he can do in a row is 156 and a half, which he’s very proud of. His favorite foods are small rodents, Froot Loops, and Cocoa Puffs. Originally, Swoop wanted to study aviation science, but he decided that would be too easy, being a bird and all, so he changed majors. He says he’ll be a U student for life. But if that doesn’t work out, he could always pursue a backup career as a GQ model.

Probe Arctic Waters

For doctoral student Ryleigh Moore, math is a way to understand the world, and have a lot of fun. Last fall, as part of Moore’s job at the U, she joined an international collaboration of researchers traveling to the Arctic to map and measure the melting of sea ice. They used fractal geometry and satellite imagery to examine the impacts of rising temperatures. She led the installation of equipment that will collect data for scientists to use all around the world. Of course, they also did some drilling to measure the thickness of ice floes.

“A lot of people may think math is boring,” she says. “But I took a Russian research vessel out of Norway and made it all the way to the Arctic. I’d say that’s pretty exciting!”

Short Takes


Patient Actors—These students get to refine their theatrical skills by playing out different medical scenarios and conditions for health professionals in training.


Book Observer—Yes, it’s a job. These Marriott Library employees accompany visitors who are there to look at very old and rare books, photos, papers, and even diaries in the Special Collections.


Football Videographer—This lucky duck gets to travel with the team to learn how to capture and edit video used to help the athletes improve their game.


Red Butte Gardeners—These interns aren’t afraid of a little dirt. They pull, rake, plant, trim, pinch, and sometimes wade in waist deep pond water—all for the sake of the plants.


UMFA Security Guards—Their duty is to help protect a collection of more than 20,000 objects and artworks and to provide excellent customer service to thousands of visitors each year.


GoGirlz Facilitators—As part of the Women’s Resource Center, these students get to work with underserved girls in local schools, helping them learn more about pursuing college.


Child Caretakers—With numerous preschools and day cares on campus, U students have plenty of opportunities to get paid to nurture mini humans.


Hospital Valets—These students get in shape quickly, walking up to 10 miles per day. Some who have gone on to careers in health say their valet beginnings at the hospital helped open doors for them.


Kids’ Court Coordinators—Law students get to run a program that helps underserved middle schoolers around the state train for moot courts, where they get to visit the U’s law school and argue or judge a mock case.


Art Models—This student job has one simple task: to model (in draped or undraped poses) for three hours at a time for classes in the Department of Art & Art History.


SafeRide Drivers—They transport fellow students from point A to point B on campus between 6 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. weekdays (think campus Uber, but free).


Zoology Digitizers—These students have a pretty long to-do list helping the Natural History Museum of Utah digitize 350,000 specimens, artifacts, and records.


Sustainability Interns—Students can hone their green thumb as a campus garden steward. Or they can opt for a transportation job, which involves a lot of counting: bikes, skateboards, scooters... anything that rolls across campus, really.


Comments are moderated, so there may be a slight delay. Those that are off-topic or deemed inappropriate may not be posted. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

  1. It was the sixties & I worked at the Villa Cinerama Theater as a cashier. Unusual for a movie, the tickets were reserved seating & cost the outrageous price of $2 & $2.50. For those of you who don’t know what cinerama movies were, Google it. My evening & weekend hours fit well with my campus life at the U.

  2. When I was attending law school (Class of 1966) I obtained a job working as a surgical orderly at the University Hospital. It turned out to be one the best experiences of my life. My job was to be available in the operating rooms to provide any type of assistance the doctors or nurses might need, such as wheeling in a patient, moving a stool, or whatever. I watched hundreds of surgeries of every type, gained tremendous respect for those involved in surgery, and learned a tremendous amount concerning the human body, disease, trauma and the like. It was such a great opportunity I’ve often said I shouldn’t have even been paid for doing it. I loved it.

  3. As a work study undergrad from 1987 to 1991, I managed the instrument inventory for the band program and designed the pre-game and halftime show formations. I learned things about running a music program that weren’t covered in any classes, and the show design work turned into a lucrative summer job that has helped me survive as a public school teacher.

  4. I was a student at the U from 1962 – 1966. The first year living in the dorm, I had a car. My dad took away my car the following year.
    Thus, I needed a job on campus. My first job was mopping the hallways of the U buildings in the evening. My supervisor made sure that I didn’t hurt my back while working. He showed me the “proper way” to mop a floor. Always learning, even doing the menial task.
    When mopping was finished, we moved on to polishing desks on upper campus. Not so boring there. Was assigned to the bungalow where all the research was being done on the “first artificial heart machine.” The external machine was hooked up to a cow in the building where I worked. We became good friends.
    Eventually, my dorm mate Bill (William) DeVries who eventually completed his U Medical School and Residency studies in thoracic surgery became the first surgeon in the US utilize the external heart device in a patient.
    I was in Pharmacy School at the U. Eventually I was hired as a pharmacy intern/clerk at University Pharmacy on 2nd South, just below the Park Building. A great experience, not only learning more about the profession, but building a relationship with then owner/pharmacist Boyd Parish. Such a kind and giving person.
    Of course, there were some funny experiences: One that I remember took place on a very snowy day in SLC.
    I had to deliver some medications to a patient via the pharmacy’s VW Bug. It was snowing so hard that I couldn’t read the street name on the street signs-they were covered in snow. Actually had to shimmy up the pole and rub the snow off the sign.
    (This was before GPS etc.)

  5. I was on the crew that spent days on elevators and in the shelves with book carts, moving the library collection from the old building (afterward the Utah Museum of Natural History and now the Crocker Science Center) to the brand new Marriot Library. The trucks backed up close to the doors for a while, but it was discovered after a short while that the northern-most of the two elevated walkways had begun to crack; when the basement area was expanded, the current plaza was created and the bridges replaced. It snowed a few times, too, because it was between the Fall and Winter quarters. Everything was ready to go by the start of Winter Quarter. After the move, I worked in the fourth-floor audio-visual area.

  6. I was a microbiology major in the early ’60s and got a campus job that was the beginning of and inspiration for the rest of my career! I was employed as a lab assistant to 2 graduate students, John Stanton and Joel Dalrymple, who were researching western equine encephalitis virus, an arthropod-borne virus that was a serious public health concern in those days. My duties included setting up primary chick embryo cell cultures each week and using these to assay infectious virus and antibodies that neutralized the virus; field trips to the freshwater marshes on the east side of Great Salt Lake to catch snakes, caring for those snakes in the laboratory, including feeding them, extracting blood from them, and monitoring mosquito feeding on them; maintaining the mosquito colony (Culex tarsalis) on weekends; rescuing baby bats that had been abandoned by their mother; transporting baby chicks in my 1950 Plymouth; making morning coffee; and other duties as they arose. My participation in the research aspects of this job resulted in my honors thesis, and the mentoring of Joel and John and my absolute immersion and fascination in this environment led me to pursue a PhD degree in molecular virology at the University of California and to my eventual employment as a professor at Colorado State University studying and teaching arthropod-borne viruses and mosquitoes!

  7. In the mid 1980s I was a calf sitter for calves that had had the Jarvis artificial heart implanted. I cared for 2 to 6 calves at a time cleaning their messes and taking readings of blood pressures and other vital signs. Also kept the lines that entered the calves clean. This was at the old St. Marks Hospital on Beck street.

  8. For most of my time at the U (1969-70, 1973-76, 1976-78) I worked part-time as a work-study student in the Records Center of the University in the basement of the old library on the quad. Ferdinand Johnson was the director (his wife, Mary Lorraine, was in the Utah Legislature). Other full-time employees included John Sillitoe and Hynda Rudd. I typically worked 20-hours a week while carrying a full academic load. One summer, I switched it up and worked as an intern in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research for R. Thayne Robson. Both of these opportunities allowed me to complete two degrees at the U, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *