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Professors’ first jobs offer hope to nervous grads

Ask seniors what they fear the most this spring, and the answer may vary from thesis presentations to student loans to making it across the stage without tripping. Yet one fear that most seniors are likely to agree on is the status of the post-graduation job.

What they may not stop to realize, however, is that they are not alone in this fear now, nor would they have been a full generation ago.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to do anything with all that work I did in graduate school,” missions and anthropology professor Dr. Eloise Meneses said. “I was very nervous about the possibility that I might never get a job in my field.”

After spending six years in graduate school, Meneses spent an equal amount of time teaching part-time at five different colleges and universities in Arizona.

“I was racing off from one place to another. It was more stress than I have ever expected to do,” said Meneses, who often referred to herself as a “freeway teacher.”

“I thought of getting a business card,” Meneses joked, “with the slogan ‘you name it, I teach it.'”

English professor Dr. Chris Bittenbender also found himself taking what he could get after college. He followed his girlfriend to New York City, where he answered a Sunday New York Times help wanted ad for a publisher’s assistant with Smart Living Magazine.

“It was an incredibly underpaid position but it was a job, so I took it,” Bittenbender said.

The work, however, turned out to be quite different from what the magazine had advertised. Part of Bittenbender’s job was a monthly ride in the back of his boss’s limousine to deliver 10 boxes of the publication up and down Park Avenue and 5th Avenue in Manhattan to give them to doormen of casinos and upscale apartment building. Bittenbender was accompanied by a chauffer and his boss’s boxer dog, who rode shotgun each time, and “would lean over the seat and drool all over me,” Bittenbender said.

However simple his job description, Bittenbender’s actual work was not easy. The free publication was rarely wanted.

“The doormen would see me coming; they would put up their hands and say no. I would have to come up with sly ways of getting this magazine in there,” Bittenbender said, like waiting until the doormen turned their backs so he could fling the stack of magazines in the lobby doorway.

Later, when the company went bankrupt, Bittenbender, the only employee not fired, continued to work for the ad agency, where he would “call radio stations to see when they had aired ads for things like men’s hair pieces,” Bittenbender said. “It was just horrible.”

For both Bittenbender and Meneses, post-graduation jobs were rough starts in their careers.

“I didn’t go to college to drive around Manhattan delivering magazines from the back of a limo,” Bittenbender said.

According to Meneses, graduates are commonly “too panicky” about finding work related to their fields.

“Students [come to me and] say ‘what can I do with this major?'” she said. “Their parents are even more concerned.”

The harder part of her job as a professor, Meneses said, is helping people understand that a liberal arts education is not always career specific.

“There’s a false conception that liberal arts are directly related to a specific profession. The purpose of liberal arts is not necessarily training you for a certain job. It’s really hard to convince people of that,” Meneses said.

“If we evaluate [success according to] whether people get the job in their field right away, it’ll look real bad.”

English professor Dr. Betsy Morgan agreed that working a summer job to keep the cash flowing is nothing to be ashamed of. Morgan worked as a chamber maid, waitress and dining hall manager at the same rustic resort five summers in a row well into graduate school.

The working crew of Christian college students was small.

“We didn’t want too many people to share the tips, so we worked every day of the week,” Morgan said. “If you were in the dining hall, that meant three meals a day.”

In spite of the amount of work, Morgan still enjoyed herself and found humor on the job.

The rustic resort she worked at with her current husband and sister-in-law was run and visited by Jews, some of them Holocaust survivors. Most of their guests were older folk.

“You would find these huge bottles of Maalox on their dressers. It used to crack me up,” Morgan said as she recalled specific guests and their secret nicknames and quirks, some of which she can still imitate.

“We [staff members] were kind of merciless, but we really loved them,” Morgan said. “When I get together with my sister-in-law, we still reminisce.”

Morgan came away from the job with much more than kitchen managerial skills.

“They were always very interested in us,” she said of the Jewish guests, “in how Judaism and Christianity interfaced. They tipped us very well because they were very aware they were helping to pay for our education.”

Morgan found that working with people unlike herself enriched her life.

“Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone of being with people you know and understand,” Morgan advised. “Look for a job that takes you out of your milieu.”

Finding such a job is usually a lot of work, however, and should be dealt with cautiously, Bittenbender said.

“Be very careful with help wanted ads–they’re really deceptive, usually placed by companies that are really desperate,” he advised. “Do a lot of research.”

Yet even when hours of research bring nothing, the time spent in college was not in fact wasted, according to Meneses.

Borrowing the words of Tony Campolo, Meneses said, “You’re not just going to college to get a job–it’s to train your mind to think.”

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