University of Iowa makes plans to limit COVID-19 spread among thousands of student employees in fall semester

More than 7,000 students are employed by on-campus organizations. As the university makes adjustments to prevent the spread of COVID-19, student workers will adapt to a new work environment.


Jenna Galligan

Cambuses pick up and drop off passengers at the WCTC stop on Monday, April 20, 2020.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

Bryan Mulrooney has worked for University of Iowa Transportation since August 2016. The fifth-year senior works as a Cambus student supervisor and continues to provide transportation — deemed an essential service — amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mulrooney is one of more than 7,000 students employed at the UI, according to University Human Resources. As the start of the fall 2020 semester nears, many students are anxious to see how the university responds to COVID-19’s possible effects on their employment, as well as their education.

“These organizations employ students in a variety of positions, from research to community engagement, tutoring, food service, and driving Cambus,” UI Director of Internal Communication Tricia Brown said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “… These organizations and others that employ students have been affected in different ways by COVID-19. Some were able to offer remote work, while others were not. The nature of the job determines whether remote work is possible, and each employer makes its own decision.”

While numbers may vary from one employer to the next, Brown anticipates overall campus hiring will decrease due to the pandemic.

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Cambus Operations Supervisor Mia Brunelli said Cambus is almost entirely student-run and employs about 160 students total.

According to the UI Parking and Transportation website, passengers are expected to board the bus through the back door so they can socially distance from the operator. Riders also must wear personal protective equipment and are encouraged to spread out on the bus. Cambus has provided drivers with PPE and cleaning supplies to disinfect their area before and after their shift.

“I don’t feel in danger to be honest,” Mulrooney said. “… Our buses have never been cleaner — literally. We got a new disinfectant sprayer to make sure that we’re getting disinfected on anything that anybody would ever touch, including walls, so I have no concerns [for] myself as a driver.”

Because classes will move to an online format after Thanksgiving, students may elect to finish the fall 2020 semester off campus. Cambus Manager Brian McClatchey said the employment of Cambus workers who opt to complete online classes at home after Thanksgiving break will not be adversely affected.

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“Employees might have concerns about potential exposure, but I think, for the most part, our employees are very grateful that there’s been employment available,” McClatchey said. “A lot of student positions around the university were just suspended and have still been suspended.”

Jill Irvin, director of UI Dining, said similarly in an email to The Daily Iowan that a student applicant’s plans for completing the fall semester on or off campus won’t prevent them from being hired.

Irvin said dining halls will implement touchless payment, physical barriers between staff and students, and the discontinuation of self-service food. There will also be an online system where students can order food for pick up as an alternative to eating inside the dining halls. Custodial procedures will follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is obviously an unprecedented time, as everyone keeps saying, and so our goal has really just been to try to be as accommodating as possible,” Brunelli said.