Go Ask Alumni

Gainful Employment

“The odds are good,” goes the old saw about dating at the U of C, “but the goods are odd.” So are the jobs, we learned when we asked alumni to tell us how they made ends meet in college. The jobs also offered their own education.


Much of our studies in the College was theoretical. Yes, most of the time it was a joy to be “stuck in books.” However, being involved with incredible diverse groups of kids as a teacher in University Theater's School Partnership Program brought alive the theory. Reading Shakespeare is nothing like exploring it from the inside out with a class of fifth-graders, seeing them overcome their prejudice to literature, and even getting to the point where they understand and enjoy acting out the roles. Most important, we often worked in schools where the arts programming was cut or nonexistent. It's incredible, as well as saddening, to see how much the arts add to children's lives, and to see how the lack thereof will affect coming generations. It was good to get off campus, meet the community, interact with children, and give them something that was so second-nature to us, and so vital to them.

—Irene Sharon Hodes, AB'01

In the spring quarter of my first year (1962), I was the attendant for the tennis courts near International House. The duties were minimal, locking and unlocking the gate and monitoring court reservations. My real work was being a volley partner for stray students from I-House, at the time mostly African students. I was just completing the three-quarter Social Sciences II sequence, a survey course that included substantial readings on “new nations,” from standard anthropology to W.W. Rostow's book on stages of economic growth. Meeting and interacting with modern Africans whetted my appetite to somehow learn more. In 1978 I took my family to Kano, Nigeria, for two years, to help start a sociology department in a new federal university there, and have maintained a relationship with that institution ever since. The only downside is that my continuing relationship with Muslim-named Nigerian academics, including many former students, seems to have qualified me for the TSA watch list, so my airport security checks are always a bit more tedious than those of most other travelers. This is a small price to pay for that wonderful tennis court experience.

—William R. Morgan, AB'65, AM'67, PhD'70

The commute between my two campus jobs was but an elevator ride. Early mornings in the dank and acrid basement of Cobb Hall at the eponymous coffee shop meant brewing pot after pot of grounds-filled coffee for alternately gracious and oblivious regulars, sneak-studying behind the cash registers, sneak-cigarettes behind the dumpsters and sneak-eating in front of everyone; crossword puzzles, experiments with tip jars, gossip, giggles, and the endless stocking of Arizona iced tea.

In the afternoons, I would ascend from the basement to the 4th floor, from coffee to art. At the Renaissance Society, the University's contemporary art museum, the buzz was of a different sort: here was the silent chattering of objects and images, and the audible whispers of artists and viewers, curators and critics. Here were the readings and slides of my art history classes made relevant anew. And it was here that I came to understand how big things can happen in small places, how the stuff of the fracas below, with some refinement, could one day sit in this airy space above.

Nearly each day, my boss from the Renaissance Society, curator Hamza Walker, would come down into Cobb Coffee Shop for his usual red-lentil soup (no crackers) and can of Squirt orange soda, like an eager comrade from on high, toting old art magazines to line our shelves, CDs too obscure for us to know, and the claim of a regular's discount. Holding up the line behind him and the pile of work above him, he would gather our news and share his own, and in doing so, deftly erase the five floors of space between these two worlds.

—Kaitlin Pomerantz, AB'08

As a third-year College student, I worked as a diener in the morgue, assisting on autopsies on the weekends. Although some parts of the work were scary (no need to go into details), it reinforced my desire to go into the medical profession (and work with the living!). Another job even more memorable was as a second-year at Burton-Judson working evenings at the front switchboard, transferring calls to the only phone on the floor and announcing visitors; I met Nick Spirtos coming to pick up friends—and the rest is history! And then there was the job being a test subject in audiology: a dark, warm room, hearing sounds and trying to pinpoint where they were coming from (probably a covert study on sleep induction to see how long before vulnerable sleep-deprived undergrads dozed off). Now I can watch Mike and Alex, currently third-years in the College, have equally interesting opportunities. The U of C was, and still is, a great education, both in the classroom and in real life.

—Tanya (Koscianowski) Spirtos, AB'75

I had several memorable jobs as an undergraduate at U of C (fall 1976–spring 1980) to keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach. By far the funniest job I had at the U of C was the work-study job hand-setting pins in the bowling alley in the bowels of Ida Noyes Hall. You got double pay if you covered both lanes, which involved jumping back and forth from lane to lane to remove pins that had been knocked over, or set them back up for the next frame, and rolling the balls back. It could be exhausting, although I must say that as I remember it, most of the bowlers weren't very good, thank goodness, which kept the job manageable!

—Teresa Friend, AB'80

I worked in the Cosmic Ray Lab in Ryerson from 1958 to 1961. There were many scientists from South America and Europe. It was a wonderful experience to meet all of them, and to be a part of basic research, in a small way. We used scanning microscopes to find high energy particle collisions on photographic emulsion plates, part of research into particle physics that led later to a 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for Masatoshi Koshiba, acting director of the lab from November 1959 to August 1962.

—Roberta Jacobson, AB'61

My best jobs at the U of C had nothing to do with “the Life of the Mind.” One great work-study job was as a “car-hiker” for the U of C Security Department. My dear friend Kim Kalkowski, AB'77, got me the job and we worked with Fast Eddie Miel, AB'77. Our job was to maintain the police vehicles. Well, actually, it was to drive them to the garage in Hyde Park and let them maintain them. It always took a very long time to get back and forth from the garage! Somehow we had to stop at the Point, or get lunch at Morry's Deli (before it was in the bookstore) or Harold's Fried Chicken Shack. Between oil changes, gassing up, spring and fall tire changes, and washing the fleet, we stayed busy. I did have to change a tire once, and learned how to do it the right way, which has come in handy on deserted Alaska roads. Studying was not encouraged on the job, and neither was driving around in the car with your bare feet hanging out the window when it was 98 degrees (It only happened once. I swear!).

—Barb Brink, AB'78