Marissa Williams interned for ACTA in the Summer of 2017 and recently graduated from the University of Akron in Ohio. I spoke with her over the phone to discuss her experience and perspective on a four-day class week and the advantages she enjoyed at the University.
Tell me about yourself: Where are you from? What is your major and what are your career interests?
I am originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, but relocated to Akron for school. I’m a double major in political science and economics. And I am leaving for the Peace Corps in August, but once I return, I would like to pursue a Master’s in public policy.
What made you want to work for the Peace Corps?
It was a dream that I’ve had since high school. I did some mission trips when I was younger in the Dominican Republic, and that’s where I’m being placed. Also, I’m working as a youth development volunteer, and while I’ve been an undergrad, I’ve done a lot of work with youth in Akron. I have a passion for working with youth.
Would you look to get a career helping youth after your Master’s degree?
I’ve always had an interest in how the education system works. So I’ve thought about pursuing public policy with a focus in education policy, but I have not made any definitive choices yet.
What went into your decision-making process to attend the University of Akron?
One of the biggest factors was that they offered the biggest scholarship package of any of the other places I applied, and I had applied to state schools within New York as well. I also really liked the Bliss Institute through the Political Science department. The Bliss Institute focuses on providing internships for students, and I thought they offered really good opportunities.
I’m an Honor’s College student here as well, and the support system Akron offered when I came here and visited—I thought it would really foster my interests and help me learn.
What sort of professional pressures do you face as a student? What do you participate in outside of class?
I technically have three part-time jobs. I work about seven hours as a student assistant, which I really enjoy. I get to do my homework during that time. I am also a boxing instructor at the Rec Center so that’s about six hours. And then I have an internship with an organization called The Akron Women’s Network, which is independent work. I meet with my supervisor once a week. She gives me jobs to do and then I’m responsible for logging my hours and getting it done when it fits my schedule. That’s been really nice to have; it is a paid internship and it’s funded. We have a place called The EXL Center, inside of our library, which focuses on providing those external internships and on-the-job experiences. I’ve really enjoyed that internship.
What encouraged you to take those internships?
I took the internship I have right now both for the experience as well as because it’s really interesting. We’re working on a project about the gender wage gap in Summit County, Ohio. We’re collecting data, making surveys from nonprofit and for-profit institutions, and logging the demographics for those individuals to understand their backgrounds. It’s really been a learning experience because I have a minor in women’s studies and this caters to that area of my study.
Recently you commented on our blog about the University of Akron moving to a four-day class week. How will this extra day help you, as a student who is involved in a number of opportunities outside of classes?
I think for a student like myself, it will really help because we have the same time in our classes. Probably the best part of it is having more time to go to office hours of instructors, because sometimes I just can’t make them. I would have to miss a class to make office hours.
I also think it would help a lot for individuals who are struggling to fit an internship into their schedule. The first two years I was here, I only had two-hour gaps between nine and five, and it was just impossible to justify driving fifteen minutes to spend an hour somewhere. So I think that will help.
Will this benefit other students in the same way?
I brought this up with some of my friends. Some of them are engineers and have some concerns about the four-day week, because even though they’re taking sixteen or eighteen credit course loads, some of the one-credit labs are four hours in length. My friend did the math, and she said that if it passes, they’re going to have four eight-hour days of class. The difference with the engineers is that they go on co-op, so they don’t have internships. They take a semester off to work full time. I can see there might be issues for the engineers, but for those in the Business College or Arts and Sciences like I am, I think it would be more beneficial because we don’t have the co-ops that the engineers do.
Have your professors expressed interest in moving office hours to Fridays to accommodate that schedule?
My boss at one job said it looks like it’s going to be a requirement that instructors have some kind of office hours on Friday for students.
Have you felt that the University has prepared you well to get a job after graduation or move into your preferred educational pathway?
We have Career Services on campus and I take advantage of it a lot—for instance, for resume reviews, and they do mock interviews. At the College of Business, which I joined within the past year for my econ degree, they are really good about trying to get people to update their LinkedIns, and communicating what opportunities there are. In this area, we have Smuckers, Goodyear, and a lot of big businesses, and they hold events all the time to get students engaged with them. So the university does give a lot of these opportunities.
As a senior, I’ll talk to the freshmen in my boxing class and say, “You really need to take advantage of these services.” I think the error in higher education is that sometimes services are there but students don’t take advantage of them, and then it’s too late. They find out about it too late or they just don’t think they need it. I always encourage people to use the Career Services and just reach out and see what opportunities are available.
Do you think universities, in general, could do a better job of promoting those sorts of services to their students? Or do you think it goes both ways?
At Akron, I think it’s more of a student issue. Our Career Services is right in a student union. I would guarantee that everybody passes it at some point during their undergrad. They put it in our emails all the time; we have the weekly newsletter always talking about a professional etiquette dinner, what Career Services are offering, or what companies are going to be on campus. I can’t speak for every campus, but I think a lot of students don’t think they need to do those things, or they don’t see the benefit in taking the time to do them.
Have you noticed any trends at Akron that reflect a broader change in the higher education landscape?
I think Akron does a really good job of protecting free speech. We have an area on campus where I’ve seen people hold protests or give rallies from all across the political spectrum. I know there were issues with one anti-abortion group and there were some people who were pretty upset about—they had some signs up that were pretty graphic in nature. I know that they had written to our president and expressed their concerns, and the president basically said, “Hey, this is a public university. They’re allowed to do it.”
So I think our administration really upholds that idea of “This is a campus. We’re allowed to have a diversity of ideas.” I also think that, because we’re a public institution, we have other rules to go by and they’ve done a really good job of holding that up.
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