What It Is Really Like to Work for ASWWU?
By Annaliese Grellmann
ASWWU contains 14 departments with over 100 employees,  making it the largest source of campus employment and a defining factor in campus culture. While ASWWU helps to create the culture on campus, it also has its own subculture for employees that differs between departments.
One of the most well-known facets of ASWWU is The Atlas, a specialty coffee shop on the corner of Whitman Drive and College Avenue.  Ryan Rojas, a second-year Atlas barista, also works for two other ASWWU departments: video and photo.  He said that The Atlas is quite structured and consistent, whereas photo and video are jobs that require more independence and self-motivation. He said, “The Atlas is running like a machine. ASWWU video is very efficient. Same thing with photo.” When asked what determines the efficiency of the department he said, “It just depends on who’s the leader for them.”
Hannah Stonas, the ASWWU chief of staff, echoed the influence that a good leader has in creating a positive working environment.  As chief of staff, she works closely with ASWWU President Eric Welch. Stonas said that because Welch is welcoming and helpful, it has made her job much more enjoyable. Stonas had a similar experience working on the spiritual team during her freshman year. She said that the environment felt supportive and welcoming because the head of the department was both of those things.
Stonas also said that having coworkers who were welcoming and ready to help made starting the job as chief of staff less nerve-wracking. She said, “It’s a very supportive environment. So even if someone has an idea that we’re not sure if it can happen or not, we have a very open environment where nothing gets shut down. Everyone’s expressing what they feel or ideas they have.”
According to Stonas, a positive experience in partnership with administration makes for a more positive working experience with ASWWU. She said that knowing there are supportive adults, such as David Iwasa, the ASWWU sponsor, makes employees feel more empowered in their job.
Amber Smith is a sophomore who works for ASWWU outdoors and Senate.  As an employee for outdoors, like Stonas, Smith’s job is heavily reliant on administration. Smith’s job requires filling out the risk and safety paperwork for each trip, which must be approved by the safety committee and signed by three different individuals. This takes lots of “time and coordination” which can make things feel rushed and redundant.
In addition to working for outdoors, Smith is also in her second year working as a Senator. The Senate meets once a week to discuss issues on campus and vote on bills to fund campus improvement projects. Smith said that she is hesitant to write bills because “if it doesn’t come to fruition that is a waste of students’ money and I think we have had a couple of occasions where senators do get paid to write bills that might not be necessary.” She said that productive and efficient meetings are important because, with so many people clocked in at once, each minute of Senate costs ASWWU a lot of money.
Like Rojas and Stonas, Smith emphasized the value of good leadership. Senate is chaired by ASWWU’s Executive Vice President Wils Haffner. Smith said, “Wils is very supportive and forgiving when people forget to have their committee meetings.”
It was Haffner who encouraged Lauren Vizcarra to apply to work for ASWWU.  As a freshman, Vizcarra has worked for both the Senate and The Collegian. Like Smith, Vizcarra emphasized the importance of making sure that Senate is run efficiently so that employees’ time and ASWWU’s resources are used productively, as well as the importance of making sure that all bills fulfill the purpose of Senate, which is to improve the campus. She said that she’s been impressed by how enthusiastically and seriously students take the Senate.
Sophie Sherwin works for one of the most well-known ASWWU departments: social.  Her job includes lots of brainstorming, planning, and running events on campus. Sherwin talked about how the social team has the difficult job of trying to plan events that bridge the gap between upperclassmen and lowerclassmen, which is a division that has only deepened because of the pandemic. The social team is largely upperclassmen, which makes it difficult to relate to the lowerclassmen who have no understanding of what spring quarter on campus is usually like.
Sherwin pointed out that it’s not just the social team, but all of ASWWU that consists largely of upperclassmen. She said that one of the challenges ASWWU faces is the lack of representation from the lowerclassmen. She said, “The thing that ASWWU could really use is diversity, as always; different opinions, different ages, and openness to different ideas.”
Although applications are open and advertised to everyone, it’s often friends of people already working for ASWWU who receive encouragement to apply. Stonas, Smith, and Vizcarra said that the only reason they applied for an ASWWU position was due to the encouragement of a friend. Finding ways to reach out to new students and encouraging them to apply would diversify ASWWU.
A more diverse perspective wouldn’t be the only benefit of hiring more lowerclassmen. It would also help create consistency from year to year. Throughout her years on ASWWU, Sherwin said that the reason she’s seen “a very changing ASWWU is because every year is a reconstruction.” The lack of consistency is a challenge ASWWU employees recognize.
Vizcarra commented on how there is a learning curve for new Senators who don’t know the proper procedure, which slows down the efficiency of meetings. Smith also commented on how nervous she was during her first year as an ASWWU employee. Like Stonas said, having experienced employees that are ready to help new employees makes the learning curve more enjoyable. Greater consistency from year to year would make jobs less nerve-wracking for new employees, which would result in more productive and effective departments.
Each employee spoke of how much they enjoy their jobs, largely because of how it allows them to interact with students and have an influence on campus life. Rojas said that working for The Atlas is special because it’s one of the few places on campus where the University and community mingle. “Forming those connections, even though I’m behind bar, is a really fun part of the job,” he said.
Sherwin finds her job fun because it’s an easy way to get involved and meet new people.  Stonas has enjoyed seeing what goes on behind the scenes because before working as chief of staff, she didn’t realize how intricate ASWWU is. Vizcarra said she enjoyed both jobs because of their similar goals. Both jobs influence campus because Senate has the power and resources to make changes, while The Collegian is able to communicate with the student body.
Each employee who was interviewed emphasized that one of the most important factors in creating a fun working environment is the department head. Sherwin said, “The head really sets the tone. If the head is really involved, then everyone wants to be involved.” Department heads determine how welcome and supported new employees feel, which impacts how comfortable those employees feel to speak up.
Students are drawn to working for ASWWU because of the jobs’ ability to have an impact on campus. Being a part of a supportive and welcoming team, led by an enthusiastic department head, results in a positive influence on campus and a positive work experience for ASWWU employees.
- ASWWU. Departments. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2021 from https://aswwu.com/pages/departments.
- ASWWU. The Atlas. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2021 from https://aswwu.com/atlas.
- R. Rojas, personal communication, April 6, 2021
- H. Stonas, personal communication, April 5, 2021
- A. Smith, personal communication, April 5, 2021
- L. Vizcarra, personal communication, April 6, 2021
- S. Sherwin, personal communication, April 6, 2021.