A little more than 25 years ago, Larry Benedict, dean of Homewood Student Affairs, was about to embark on a career in teaching. In fact, he had already started to interview for various faculty positions when his life took a slight detour. Benedict, in his last year of graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, needed financial support, and the school's dean of students, for whom Benedict had previously worked, told him he could help.
"He called me and said, 'We liked you so much, why don't you come back and work for us?' " Benedict said.
Benedict was hired to develop a telephone survey, similar to the Gallup Poll, that would randomly choose students and solicit their opinions about aspects of campus life. Benedict completed the project, a system that is still in place today, and spent the next 18 years at UMass working his way up to associate vice chancellor for student affairs.
As a student employee, Benedict not only solved his financial situation but also learned some valuable skills that he would later turn into a career.
"I never considered a job in this field. I didn't even know these kinds of jobs existed," Benedict said. "I guess you could say I came in through the back door."
Benedict told his story at the 1999 JHU Student Employee of the Year awards ceremony held April 7 in the Garrett Room of the MSE Library at Homewood. The ceremony was part of National Student Employee Appreciation Week, an annual event whose purpose is to enhance awareness of student employment and the important role it plays in higher education.
The ceremony is also meant to offer thanks to the roughly 4,300 graduate and undergraduate students who hold Homewood campus jobs, a work force without which many of the university's offices, programs and departments could not operate, said D. Lynn O'Neil, director of Student Employment and Payroll Services.
"I don't think we could offer the services and the quality of services that we do unless we have students helping," O'Neil said. "It's also a two-way street. For the student, it's more than just a paycheck--it's an extension of the classroom where they can actually apply what they have learned."
The weeklong celebration includes daily prizes, contests and food and culminates with the Employee of the Year ceremony. This year 28 individual nominations and nine departmental student groups were honored, with the Student Employee of the Year Award going to Kelly Vikstrom, a senior majoring in mathematical sciences.
Vikstrom worked at the Waverly branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where she participated in and coordinated three different youth education programs aimed at improving reading skills and computer literacy. The summer reading program in which she was involved provided an opportunity for kids to discuss the books they had read, and it offered incentives to children who raised their reading level. Vikstrom also participated in the Whole New World and Kid's Corner programs at the library. The former is aimed at teaching middle school children how to use email and the Internet; the latter allows young children the use of educational software such as "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"
Branch manager Linda Schwartz, who nominated Vikstrom for the award, said that Vikstrom not only understood what was expected of her and did it but went well beyond the expectations of the position.
"She had a variety of responsibilities," Schwartz said. "We just could not have trained the number of people to do what she did, or had the number of programs over the summer, if Kelly hadn't been there to help us."
Schwartz added that Vikstrom also helped in behind-the-scenes preparations for library events and was able to juggle all these responsibilities in addition to her school work.
"She is co-captain of the swimming team as well. But she said she would make this a priority [and that] 'this is my class schedule and you will know ahead of time if I have a swim meet and I will contact my student if I have to reschedule,'" Schwartz said. "That is what we are depending on. She is ideal."
Vikstrom also is able to deal with her sometimes impatient clients.
"She has an incredible rapport with kids," Schwartz said. "Normally, we know a lot of the kids we will eventually work with, and we pair the students with certain volunteers. I know I can always take a student who might have great difficulty concentrating and give that child to Kelly. She can always see it through. She is enormously focused and patient."
As winner, Vikstrom received a $200 savings bond and will compete in the state and regional Employee of the Year contests sponsored by the National Student Employee Association.
In addition to Benedict, other speakers at the ceremony were Jerome Schnydman, executive assistant to the president, who offered a proclamation from the President's Office, and George Kibler of Homewood Security Services, who presented the awards for group recognition. Those honors went to the student employees in Career Planning and Development, Office of the Registrar, Student Financial Services, Security, Special Events, Summer Conference Office and the Student Activities offices at Scheduling/Levering, E-Level and North Charles Street. Benedict presented the awards honoring individuals in various departments.
Judges this year were Antoinette Burton, associate director of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Center; Steven David, associate dean for academic affairs, Arts and Sciences; and Marguerite Hill, administrator, Homewood Human Resources.
Although not all the students' work training will lead directly to a career, said Benedict, the experience they gain and the relationships they forge will help them in whatever they do.
"Your employers come to know you very well and in ways that faculty can't. They come to know your character, work ethic and personal skills," Benedict said to the students. "It's an opportunity to get to know a staff member, a supervisor, a faculty member, a department head. And guess what--that comes in very handy this time of year for those seniors who want to go on to graduate school or get a job."