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Antioch seeks local jobs for students

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Antioch College leaders face huge challenges getting the college up and running at a time when many liberal arts colleges are struggling. And as leaders of a school that places work at the heart of its educational experience, they face an additional challenge. In this economic downturn, Antioch leaders aim to create local jobs for its first class of students.

Leading this effort is Susan Eklund-Leen, the college’s director of work, and Tom Haugsby, the former head of the college’s co-op department who has come out of retirement to help Antioch. They seek Yellow Springs community members who might either already have a job appropriate for an Antioch College student, have the ability to create one, or simply be interested in brainstorming about possibilities. They plan to hold a luncheon or workshop to address the topic, and invite villagers who would like to attend to contact Nancy Wilburn at 319-6065.

Creating co-op placements for Antioch College students in town offers a variety of benefits for all involved, according to Eklund-Leen, beginning with stronger ties between the Village and the college. Many in the Yellow Springs community link the vitality of the village to that of the college, and work collaborations helps to solidify that partnership.

There’s also a financial benefit to Yellow Springs.

“We’d love to get more tax dollars to the village,” Eklund-Leen said.

Specifically, the two co-op professionals seek placements in the village or area for Antioch College students for a three-month period beginning in April 2012. (Only 17 or 18 placements are needed.) Co-op leaders ask that the students work 30 to 40 hours a week, and be paid the entry-level wage, or about $10 hourly. While the initial co-op time commitment is only three months, they would be happy if the employer chose to offer the job again next spring or on a regular basis, according to Eklund-Leen.

Potential co-op employers might include those who want to make a difference in a young person’s life. As someone closely involved with co-op for over three decades, Haugsby emphasizes that an Antioch College student’s work experience can be critical to his or her learning.

“The central question most students are wrestling with is, ‘is there a place for me in the world?’ Haugsby said. “On a job they learn how to belong. It helps students learn how to be proactive, intentional, purposeful.”

Eklund-Leen and Haugsby are seeking a variety of jobs for the co-ops, but note that many of the students have an interest in sustainability and environmental issues, and there’s always an interest in social justice work, the arts and media. Some of the potential area jobs he’s pursuing include positions at the Mid Ohio Food Bank and the Ohio Farm Bureau, he said.

Haugsby encourages anyone interested in offering a position to not let the cost of hiring an employee eliminate the possibility. While the purpose of co-op is to have students enter into the work world on its own terms, it’s possible the college could help to subsidize a co-op job.

“I’ve raised money before to help offset the cost,” he said. “We want to do good work and be responsible partners and if that means having to step up and sometimes do extraordinary things, we do that.”

Created in 1921 by renowned Antioch College President Arthur Morgan, the school’s co-op program has now been in existence for 90 years. Antioch is the only liberal arts college in the country that requires off-campus co-op work programs of all students. During co-op, students have the opportunity to learn new skills, discover new passions or reinforce passions they already have, according to Eklund-Leen.

Overall, the first group of the revived college’s students are a mature bunch, according to Eklund-Leen, who noted that out of the first group of 35, about a third have already lived abroad, and 10 are over 21. Some came to Antioch as upperclassmen from other colleges, she said.

“They’re a very savvy group with a strong sense of community,” she said. “They’re very respectful and not afraid to express opinions, but they do so respectfully.”

Since they arrived on campus in September, the new students were required to work 10 hours a week. This new component of students’ experience reflects the college “taking seriously its responsibility to ready students for the next step,” Eklund-Leen said, by making sure they’ve had a work experience before they leap into a full-time co-op job. And with their jobs the students are also helping to fill in the gaps on a campus where everyone is working hard to help the college revival succeed. These campus jobs include positions on the Antioch Farm, in the advancement office, the new community dining room and the office of community life.

Ten of the new students have Miller Fellowships, grants funded by the bequest of longtime Antioch College professor Nolan Miller and his brother, Richard, to fund jobs in village nonprofits. Miller Fellowship students will continue at their current placement, only fulltime, during spring quarter.

It’s also new this year that new Antioch College students’ first co-op is located in the village or surrounding area, rather than anywhere in the country. The local placement is linked to the college’s admissions needs, as current students are needed nearby when prospective students visit in the spring, Eklund-Leen said. And the local placement is also due to the college wanting to give students a more supervised co-op experience before sending them out to different parts of the country.

As well as seeking the local positions, Eklund-Leen and Haugsby are also working to find jobs in designated metropolitan areas for the first quarter next fall, both by re-activating relationships with former co-op employers and creating new positions. College alumni have been extremely helpful in finding new co-op positions in the major areas of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

Haugsby and Eklund-Leen are undaunted by the challenges of creating new jobs in a troubled economy. Their hard work is worth it, they say, because with their more than 50 years of combined experience at Antioch’s co-op department, they know the value of putting work at the heart of the learning experience.

“Arthur Morgan thought higher education was valuable but not in isolation from the work world,” she said. “Having work experience allows students an opportunity to reflect on how what they learned in class applies to their jobs and vice versa. It’s a powerful way to be educated.”

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