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!]
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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!”
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.