The Best (and Unexpected) Perks of Working at a Community College

by Jaclyn Y. Garver
Ivy Tech Community College Northeast
Fort Wayne, IN

Earlier this month, I participated in my first graduation at my college. The marketing and communications office and an army of campus volunteers planned the commencement ceremony at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Indiana, and it was quite the affair. My co-worker who specializes in community engagement and special events and our executive director spent countless hours, weeks and months planning graduation, down to the moment the chancellor stepped foot onto the arena, leading the year’s graduating students.

Me? I helped on the sidelines, ready to go where directed, to do as needed. It was a 13 ½-hour day, and it flew by in an instant. Sometime during those hours, before commencement started but after students started to file into the Memorial Coliseum, something dawned on me: These students I’d met over the last year, the ones I enjoyed running into in the halls, the ones I liked emailing and calling to help with this or that, to interview for this or that … they were leaving. They would be accepting jobs, or moving on to get their bachelor’s degrees at another school, or leaving town. I would not be seeing them anymore.

First off, how did I not realize this before seeing my favorites in their caps and gowns, smiling as if they’d just won an all-expenses-paid trip to Cancun? As the years pass on, I will remain at the college, and these amazing students I get to serve will move on, out and up.
I consider that the single biggest, unexpected perk of this job – the connections and relationships I make with the students.

As I sat on the sidelines at commencement, while 500-plus students took their seats, I spotted one of my favorites, Cassius Stallings, who is transferring to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (literally across the street from us) to pursue his bachelor’s degree and take part in the National Student Exchange. He was waving wildly to his friends in the stands. At one point, he placed his hand to his mouth, and his eyes filled with tears. I did not see what his friends had done to elicit the response, but this 19-year-old’s reaction to the support of those he loved was the single greatest perk I’ve had in a year of work – and that’s the greatest in a long list of perks.

Which leads me to this list:  The best (and unexpected) perks of working at my community college (in no particular order).

Massages. Because students in the therapeutic massage program need people to practice on.

Food. Because the students in our hospitality administration program need people to feed.

Staff retreat. Once a year, the boss takes us some place fun to work on team building (which isn’t all that bad when you like your co-workers), laugh and eat.

Cedar Point. We arrange fun, morale-boosting bus trips for students and employees a few times a year, and this is a popular one. It requires two chaperones, and if you chaperone, you’re “working.”

NCMPR conferences. Coming from the land of journalism, if I wanted to go to a conference, I had to pay the fees and pay for gas and food. At least I didn’t need to take a vacation day? In community college land, of course, budgets are tight, but conferences are professional development, which is part of the job. When I asked if I needed to pay for the trip to New Orleans in March, my co-workers laughed at me. It was a delightful sound.

Getting better acquainted with my community. We partner and work with so many local companies that I feel more connected to Fort Wayne than I did when I worked at the daily newspaper. As a result, I’m seeing my city in a much sweeter light. I’ve always liked it here, but it’s becoming more home, which is pretty cool for a girl who’s called three states and six cities “home” in her life. (I’ll tell you a secret: They don’t always feel so homey.)

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about the best unexpected perks of your job.

Jaclyn Garver is assistant director of marketing and communications at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.

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