Post-spring break weeks at Illinois State University can often lead to a time of reflection, and four Redbird graduates recently sat down to discuss how they felt on-campus employment not only helped them with additional spending money during their time in Normal, but also prepared them for their careers. Gianna Velazquez ’20, Chris Melecio ’20, Michael Catalan ’16, and Megan Barnash ’14 noted that jobs on campus can build so much more than a weekend burrito fund and personally gave them experience and responsibility that would catapult them forward in their current fields.
“Regardless of the field you will eventually choose,” says Barnash, a middle level education major with a focus in mathematics and psychology, “when you are in college you are learning who you are, and then learning from your boss what it takes to be a professional and develop time management. One of the realities that I have found now working full time is that you spend a lot more time with your coworkers in real life than you may even spend with your friends. Learning how to navigate those working relationships now (while in college) will benefit students several times over when they make it to their career job—I know it has worked that way for me.” Barnash recently worked in Arizona advising 29 schools as an instructional tech coach, before accepting her current position as senior technical training designer for a global cybersecurity firm.
Catalan, a nursing major during his time at Illinois State echoes this sentiment. “The position that I had specifically bridged the gap from school to the hospital. Starting at Advocate Christ on Chicago’s south side, and already having that experience on campus not only working in the simulation lab, but also working on professional communication skills and navigating conflict paid off in my first professional role and still today.” He noted that there was a marked drop-off at times in new professionals entering the field during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic who had not had the opportunity to work in a professional or preparatory setting. Catalan is beginning work as a nurse practitioner, while still fulfilling shifts at local hospitals.
Velazquez, now working in healthcare administration and pursuing an advanced degree in that field was convinced by her close peer Radiance Campbell ’20 to take a position with the Gamma Phi Circus while at Illinois State. She noted that the benefits of working on campus include schedule flexibility, expanding her circle of influence and understanding of time management, and of course—getting out of her comfort zone. “Serving as the assistant director at the Junior Gamma Phi Circus and circus camps through Thomas Metcalf School gave me the opportunity to tailor messages and navigate conflicts with multiple audiences including children, parents, and administrators. I actually used my work as experience for answering questions in different interviews for my preceptorship selection.” Velazquez (who also worked at Alamo II during her undergraduate experience) goes on, “and managing work time with classes, jobs, an RSO (registered student organization), and social activities was big for my growth, plus let’s be honest—the big lesson here was also budgeting for rent!”
The collective positions that the four graduates held during their time on campus included working at the laboratory schools (Thomas Metcalf School and University High School) for summer camps and with lunch and afterschool supervision shifts, managing students in the nursing simulation labs, and work at The Autism Place running social groups for local children. Each had the opportunity to see how the campus and community interacted and see their time on campus as a real living laboratory of sorts.
Melecio, who is now serving as a school psychologist intern and soccer coach at Palatine High School, valued his time learning how to focus on collective effort while working on teams during his undergraduate employment. He also noted the inherent flexibility he found for positions on campus and advocated for both parties being open and up-front with expectations. “Speak to people who have those jobs and ask good questions. They understand you are a student first almost globally, and they work with you to make flexible schedules that will work for the both of you.” He continued, “No day at work felt the same, which made for an interesting variety of experiences, and the extra cash didn’t hurt when it came time to head uptown for a burger basket.”
Whether it was about Dr. Teresa Novy or Nina Posada at Mennonite College of Nursing, “Mr. Nick” Lisowski at Thomas Metcalf School, or College of Applied Science and Technology’s Gamma Phi Circus Director Marcus Alouan, all of our former Redbirds were quick to give credit, praise, and shout-outs to those mentors who helped establish a sense of belonging and growth as employees, students, and human beings. “They provided an open-line of learning and communication,” noted Barnash. “I often felt that he pushed us to not only perform, but to reach for leadership opportunities outside of our current roles,” said Velazquez. “Learning to communicate professionally and give critical feedback that didn’t feel punitive started with my experiences from my supervisors on campus” relayed Catalan.
Jobs on campus are just a click away at Jobs.IllinoisState.edu. Internships and off-campus employment are located at Hire-A-Redbird, and getting involved in an organization where you can also build up your business skills can be found at RedbirdLife.IllinoisState.edu.