Alumni return to Whitman as staff, learn how a competitive college operates

by Lizzie Norgard
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

As ’06 alumnus Evan Carman puts it, working for the college as a former student offers a “unique perspective.” Many recent graduates connect to Whitman in new ways as they take on positions with the college staff, learning about the mechanics of the college and relating to the community in ways they never did as students. Alumni Lindsey Gehrig, Lea Simek and Evan Carman shared their experiences.

Lindsey Gehrig, who graduated in ’05 and majored in Politics, works as an Administrative Assistant in the Development Office. Located in the Memorial Building, the Development Office is in charge of procuring funds for Whitman in the form of gifts, endowments and non-monetary donations. Gehrig does work for several different branches of the Development Office. Her job involves research and writing, filing, special projects and other office work.

Gehrig was contacted about the job last year when she was teaching abroad in the “Whitman in China” program. She had worked for the Development Office when she was a senior at Whitman, so she already had a connection with the people and the work. Gehrig’s interview took place over web-cam while she was still in China, and she began working in August, shortly after she returned to the U.S.

Gehrig said that the people she has worked with in the Development Office have influenced her decision to return to the job. “For me it doesn’t matter what I’m doing as long as I admire and respect the people who I’m doing it for, and that’s certainly the case here, so in that regard I would come back in a heartbeat,” she said. Gehrig plans to work for the Development Office until she attends graduate school, which she anticipates will be next year. She plans to earn a master’s degree in International Relations and Foreign Policy.

When asked what she has learned about the college since she started working this year, Gehrig said, “As a student I didn’t understand in full what the Development Office does … I think it’s easy as a student to get wrapped up in your course work, and your assignments and your deadlines—and of course that’s what you’re supposed to do, you’re a student—but at the same time there are so many other things going on to make the college a successful institution.” Gehrig is currently involved in the process of financing the Center for Visual Arts. She also said that she has come to appreciate the people at work behind the scenes from her contact with staff from other offices in Mem, and described it as “a great environment.”

Lea Simek, a graduate of ’06 who majored in Psychology and German Literature, currently works part-time at the library as a Circulation Supervisor. Simek also worked in the library as a student. She said that much about her job remains the same, though she has “more responsibility” in her current position. “The only real difference is that I supervise student [workers], and instead of working at the desk with patrons I process reserve materials in the back,” she said. Simek’s job entails working weekends at the library processing reading reserves for 20 different classes. She also serves as a link between the students and Bill Huntington, the Circulation Manager, who is out of the library on the weekends.

Simek began working at her current position in September. She found the job advertised online and said it was easy to get hired. “I got the impression when I was interviewed that they were already planning to hire me and that they were helping me out,” she said.

Originally from Croatia, Simek said that she plans to continue working at the library until her work permit expires in June, at which point she will return to Europe and pursue an M.A. in International and Comparative Education. She said, “I want to have a career in organizations that stimulate international student exchange and that open up education to disadvantaged populations.” Regarding her career plan, Simek said, “It’s not necessarily connected to the job [at the library], but my role of making information available to students is basically what I would be doing in international education.”

When asked about how her view of Whitman has changed since she started working this year, Simek said, “As a student I was never really thinking about the relationship of Whitman to staff. At Whitman the staff are treated as a family.” Simek mentioned several benefits that full-time staff receive. She said that her sense of Whitman’s “community feeling” has been “reinforced” by her closer interaction with the staff.

Evan Carman, an ’06 graduate with an Economics major, is one of seven recent alumni who work for the college as Resident Directors. As RD of the Interest House Community, Carman works with the 11 RAs of the IHC and meets with them every week to discuss IHC issues. He also goes to the interest houses for dinner as often as he can. “The students are one of the great joys of the job, and I really enjoy getting to know them,” Carman said.

When asked when he decided to apply for the job, Carman said, “I thought about it when I was an RA, and as the time came nearer to apply it seemed like a better and better idea. I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do after college, so this is a great way to stick around doing that I really enjoyed as a student, but in a much different context, and also a chance to make a difference here and give back to the community that’s given me so much.”

With regard to how his job as an RD relates to further career plans, Carman said, “I think it’s a great experience to be in a more supervisory role. I’ve learned a lot about what my working style is and what other people’s working style is, and in general it calls for a lot of interpersonal skills, which I think are applicable to a number of different fields.”

Carman also said that he has learned more about college administration since working as an RD. “Stuff like budgets and where money comes from I hadn’t even really considered has a student, because, why would you? Things run smoothly and that’s it. … We have meetings every other week with people from Student Services, so it’s really great to see what people around campus are doing. I’m learning a lot about what other staff members of the college are involved with, and that’s really interesting.”

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