Opinion | Service jobs teach college students valuable lessons

Service jobs teach students empathy and that they are worth more than academic achievement.


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Asian nurse taking care of mature male patient sitting on wheelchair in hospital. Young woman and old man wearing surgical face mask for protection of The COVID pandemic. Girl talking to elderly man.

Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

College students with the time to work should consider service jobs — any job that provides a service to others.

These jobs, like tutoring and nursing, can teach students to think about others and help them learn that they are worth more than their GPA and standardized test scores. At least, that is what my summer job as a direct support professional (DSP) taught me.

A DSP is someone who provides assistance to people with disabilities with daily tasks, like cooking and cleaning. During one of my shifts, I worked less than 24 hours before taking the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). My anxiety for the exam put me in a mentally bad state during my shift, but halfway through, one of my clients colored me a picture that helped alleviate my anxiety.

That moment reminded me that my GRE scores do not tell graduate schools anything about my empathy or how well I work with people — how my clients respond to me does. College students are worth so much more than the numbers the word of academia gives us — a message service jobs can teach them.

Elli Decker, a University of Iowa fifth-year student majoring in psychology, works as an overnight crisis intervention specialist (OCIS) at the Community Crisis and Food Bank in Iowa City, where she does text and online crisis intervention with people who are either suicidal or in need of someone to talk to.

Decker said in an emergency situation, there are “yes-or-no” questions she has to ask in order to make sure the person is safe. The crisis intervention hotline serves as a place for people to talk about whatever they need and receive unconditional positive regard.

Decker said her job has taught her empathy.

“I feel like it has made me a lot more understanding and accepting of people,” Decker said. “It gives you a lot more perspective about what people are going through.”

Decker said her favorite part of the job is when the person feels better at the end of the conversation and thanks her.

Decker said she wants to be a clinical psychologist and would recommend a service job to anyone who wants to work with people.

As someone who also wants to be a clinical psychologist, I can relate to a lot of what Decker said about her job with my DSP one.

Despite dealing with my own emotions and grief because of things that happened during my job, I had to focus on my clients at work. Part of my job included being an emotional support system for them.

I needed empathy and to be able to try to imagine what they are going through. My favorite part of my job was knowing I was helping people.

While college teaches us academic success, service jobs can provide life skills.

And they do, which is why college students who have time to work should consider them. The greatest lessons college students can learn is empathy, which can’t be taught in a classroom.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.