My job description includes fulfilling administrative tasks, uploading content to Moodle, and assisting other admins. I didn’t realize that means standing behind a video camera and yelling at President Scott to “Keep dancing!”
I joined the NECO community as an administrative assistant in the last week of August, and it was a completely new role for me. Last year, I served in a service-based inter-generational literacy program that paired K-3 students with retired adult reading mentors from their communities. For between nine and ten hours each day, I was at a local elementary school and at a local Boys & Girls Club. My job was to make sure the students were skipping fun activities with their friends to meet, as planned, with their older adult coaches. (Spoiler alert: it’s impossible.) It was also one of the most rewarding years of my life. Some of the mostly black volunteer mentors had marched with MLK or participated as Freedom Riders. One was thrown bodily out of a Black Panther conference because he had straight hair. One eighty-eight year-old woman’s grandfather had served in the Civil War. The AMERICAN Civil War.
I spent my days scheduling, chasing after, disciplining, comforting, re-scheduling, making faces at, and calling the parents of the 70+ student participants and their friends. And I experienced the best feeling there is to feel: building a relationship with a struggling child and harnessing that connection to help them learn.
But the year came to an end, and I wasn’t sorry. I learned more than I could have possibly expected, but I was ready to put on my big girl pants and make a sustainable, living wage. I bade the hard-core non-profit sector good-bye and gritted my teeth. It was time to find a Real Job ™.
Unfortunately, some young idealists think that a Real Job is synonymous with selling out. That people who work in the Real World are pasty automatons with an existentially unsatisfying existence. After an exhausting year of unsustainable service, I had a left-over version of that feeling. I was also completely broke.
Then a friend from Brandeis told me about the job opening at NECO. I knew nothing about optometry, and, full disclosure, hated eyeballs. (Seven months on the job, and I still think they are gross.) Still, I was intrigued by the samaritan nature of the profession and the kinds of students that would pursue it. Not to mention the regular salary.
During the interview, I was drawn further by the fact that I would be working alongside creative people. People that not only seemed happy to be alive but interesting, funny, and imaginative. My supervisor, Catherine, is a writer and avid reader. Steven is an artist. Me and my bachelor’s degree in music would fit right in.
I quickly learned that NECO is a warm place. Not only am I able to recognize most students; they are always a pleasure to interact with. The tight-knit nature of working at a small college makes it easy to communicate with other departments. This college has given me many opportunities that I did not expect to have, like taking an active role in the developing NECO social media platform and organizing a staff video for skit night. (That’s where the yelling at President Scott comes in.)
The people themselves are phenomenal. I love walking on the fourth floor to dueling blasts of bluegrass and intense electronic music, emitted from the offices of Dr. Mertz and Dr. Gutner, respectively. Catherine always lets me know when she bakes cookies because she knows how excited I get. My fellow admins give me all the validation I need and plenty of great book recommendations. And I always enjoy commiserating with my largely politically like-minded co-workers whenever the occasion presents itself.
But mostly, I am floored by this staff and faculty that are willing to put themselves out there and participate. Who know my name and interests and are always willing to help. And are so close to the student body and clearly devoted to helping them succeed. It makes me proud to work here.
Sometimes I miss the underfunded, highly idealistic non-profit sector. There is no bonding experience like sharing one big office with fifteen like-minded people. But then I look at my gorgeous view of the Charles in an office of my very own. I can use all the paperclips I want and not get into trouble. That’s another huge perk.