University of Vermont

Interview: Student Employment Office Coordinator Mary McClements

McClements photo
Students who want on-campus employment but don't have Federal Work-Study funding can turn to the Student Employment Office, a new campus resource under the leadership of Mary McClements. (Photo: Alison Redlich)

Starting new ventures and taking them to fruition seems to be Mary McClements’ calling. After teaching high school art in Colorado, she relocated to Vermont and launched an art school in Hinesburg, complete with a gallery, three classrooms, kiln room and robust enrollment. Her next stop was Champlain Valley Union High School, where she served as the first coordinator of a new program called Career Start. Her next start-up challenge came at the Community College of Vermont, where she coordinated the experiential learning aspects of three brand new degree programs designed to get students back into the workforce. And now she's establishing – from the ground up – UVM’s new Student Employment Office, which opened in September. 

Because research shows a clear link between on-campus employment and student success and satisfaction, the SEO is an important element of the Career Success Action Plan – meriting its own heading and list of critical recommendations – that Honors College dean Abu Rizvi and a team of colleagues developed in 2012 at the request of UVM president Tom Sullivan.

Under McClements’ leadership, the SEO has many components, all geared to helping students succeed at UVM and after. The Federal Work-Study program is housed there. The SEO runs a financial literacy program for students in partnership with SALT, a national nonprofit.  And McClements envisions one day helping students develop entrepreneurship skills – near and dear to her heart – by making the SEO a center for student-conceived business ventures.

But McClements wanted to talk with UVM Today about another facet of the SEO, its mandate to help grow the number of non-work-study jobs available to students -- since many on-campus readers are in a position to work with the office to create and market those jobs. 

The SEO does a lot of things, but a big part of your mission relates to non-work-study jobs. Why is that?

A key reason the SEO came into being was to fill the growing need and desire by students and parents to have more on-campus jobs available for students who didn't get work-study. There are about 1,600 work-study students on campus, which is a good number, but it's not even a quarter of our undergraduate student population. Since Aug. 26, 528 students have been hired into non-work-study campus jobs through the SEO. That’s good, but I’d like to see many more of these jobs.

The quality of the jobs, as well as their number, is also important, right?

Yes, we don’t want students just counting posters or folding towels but having jobs that build meaningful skills. In the past, it was kind of a wild west at UVM when it came to non-work-study jobs. Every department was doing something different. There needed to be a central place that could develop a policy around the jobs and around supervisors and student accountability – as we have with work-study jobs – and that’s what SEO provides. Students were not always being well served by the old system.

What do campus employers need to do know about the new way of doing business?

In the past, employers were using what's called a temp form. We’ve had to dissuade them from doing that. Anyone who is going to supervise students will need to become a supervisor in our jobs board database, called CSO. So in our jobs board, which can be found on our website, they'll be able to create and post jobs that they can then hire for. Supervisors then have to create a thorough job description and pay on an hourly basis. They're going to be held to a higher standard of offering meaningful jobs -- our office approves all jobs and all hires.

How easy to use is the new system?

It's actually pretty easy, and many people find the system simple to navigate. The process of becoming a supervisor and posting a job and hiring for that job takes less than five business days if all the fields you're asked to fill out are filled out properly.

What about a case where the employer has a particular student in mind for a job?   

They still need to create the job in our system, but they can then hire that particular student. Of course it's preferred that all students get an equal opportunity, but that's not always the most realistic for someone who needs a student fast or knows the exact student that they want.

I see the benefits of the new system for students. How about for employers?

There are a lot of benefits for employers. The CSO database is a central location to house all of their jobs and easily add new ones -- for as long or short as they want. Students will be guided directly to these jobs after signing into the myUVM portal. So there's free advertising, a larger pool of applicants and more qualified applicants. Employers have the support of everyone who works in the SEO office, including our student employees who are trained in how to help folks with their questions. And we provide regular trainings on becoming a supervisor in our system

You’re passionate about student employment. Why?

There's a lot of research that shows campus employment to be a powerful predictor of student satisfaction and the likelihood of having students continue through college to graduation at the same place. Some studies have also noted that students who work a moderate number of hours, between six and 15 hours, do better academically. Students also gain fundamental work experience, a strong work ethic, specialized work skills and valuable training. It helps to ease the burden of college expenses. Finally, it affects the day-to-day operations of the department and the quality of service on the campus and the community.

Will anything change about the Federal Work-Study Program now that is located in SEO?

Two of the most significant changes I see are work-study will have the backing and support of the SEO to make sure that the work-study jobs create meaningful job skill experiences. That’s a process that’s been ongoing under the leadership of Sydnee Viray, our Federal Wok-Study coordinator, but it will continue. I think it will also give Sydnee an opportunity to extend our off-campus nonprofit work-study offerings. We have a good number of off-campus work-study jobs now with nonprofits, but I would love to see that number be a lot larger.

Anything final words for campus employers?

I’m excited to see more departments get on board with the SEO. Even though budgets are tight, there’s room for departments to think creatively to be able to offer work to our students that will enhance their growth, lead to success here and help them get better jobs post-college. I’m looking forward to meeting individually with departments across campus to talk about possible opportunities they have for our students. It's fantastic to go out and get a job, but it's even more gratifying to go out there and create jobs for other people.

The SEO will be hosting a workshop every week in January for anyone who wants to become a student supervisor. The workshop will teach future supervisors how to create an account on the SEO Jobs Board, how to post jobs, and how to hire students for the jobs. Watch the SEO website for the dates.