The Pitt News

Working retail isn’t the only thing to do this summer

By Macie Ellis / Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Erin Ludlow couldn’t imagine spending her summer working in an office. 

Instead, Ludlow, a sophomore marketing major, prefers to spend it working at a summer camp where she can spend her days helping kids, running around outside, playing games and working with her friends.

While many students spend their summers working at internships or typical summer jobs, such as food service or retail, some Pitt students use the extended break as time to gain experience in different types of jobs that provide benefits other than resumé building or money for monthly bills.

Internships and summer jobs help students attain skills like professional communications, technical experience and teamwork, Cheryl Finlay, director of the Office of Career Development and Placement Assistance, said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of employed youth (ages 16 to 24) increased by nearly 12 percent from 2.1 million people to 19.7 million people between April and July 2013. 

According to the report, the sharp increase in working youth is common during that time of year because students are finishing school and graduates are entering the workforce.

For students who prefer to stray away from internships and cash registers, there are many other money-making options, such as working as a summer camp counselor, an organic farmer or an au pair in a foreign country. 

Ludlow said she loves her job as a counselor in training at International Sports Training Camp in East Stroudsburg, Pa.

Ludlow described ISTC as a “magical” place because she gets to have fun and help kids make lasting memories. She said she wouldn’t trade her time there for anything.

“For me, every time I get to go to ISTC, it’s like a kid going to Disney World for the first time in their life,” Ludlow said.

Katie McMullen, a senior English writing major, also worked as a summer camp counselor at the YMCA Camp Onyahsa at Chautauqua Lake in western New York.

“I really love my job,” McMullen said. “I love it because it’s a real community you feel you are contributing to all the time. You get a sense of belonging.”  

McMullen warned that while being a camp counselor sounds like fun, it is still a lot of work. Besides taking care of a new group of kids every week, she also runs the rock wall at the camp — a huge responsibility because of its potential for danger.

“Don’t [be a counselor] if you are looking for a job where you can slack off, because that is not the way it is,” she said. “There was this big camp movie craze where you would see this fun, luxurious lifestyle, but that is not what it is … it’s still fun, but you can’t work at it half-assedly.”

Ludlow also had a warning for interested camp counselors.

“Don’t take being a camp counselor lightly, especially if it is at an overnight camp — it is a 24/7 job,” Ludlow said.

Ludlow and McMullen said they’re not in the job for the money, but for the experience. The mean hourly wage for a camp counselor in 2012 was $10.70, according to, a website that compiles job listings and offers career advice. 

“I was fully aware that I could find a better paying job or some internship,” Ludlow said. “But, honestly, I love camp too much.”

For McMullen, the devotion has paid off and helped in her future endeavours. 

McMullen said the time she spent at Camp Onyahsa helped prepare her for her new job at Teach for America, a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate educational inequality, where she will start teaching in the spring of 2015.

Other students see the summer as a chance to travel abroad without having to worry about classes and homework. 

Morgan Walbert, a 2014 Pitt graduate with degrees in political science and history, spent the summer of 2011 after her freshman year working at Moulin de Braux, an organic farm in rural France.  

Walbert heard about the opportunity through a friend who worked on the same farm the previous summer. She connected with the farm through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — an organization that connects organic farms around the world with volunteers.

 As of 2010, WWOOF had 11,899 hosts farms and 80,014 volunteers.

Walbert said the fieldwork she did on the farm varied daily.

“I would work in the field from 8 until around 2, when we broke for lunch,” Walbert said. “Some days, we would plant thousands of onions. Others, we would harvest spinach and beans or prepare produce for the weekend markets.”  

Walbert described her experience on the farm as demanding but interesting and, although the work was hard, it was extremely rewarding.

“I would definitely encourage people to consider this experience. It’s extremely unique and not many people have the courage to put themselves out there in such an unfamiliar situation,” Walbert said.

Nahja Martin, a 2014 Pitt graduate in political science, also had an international summer job experience.

Martin, a 2014 Pitt graduate with a degree in political science, was an au pair in Valencia, Spain, for three months the summer after her junior year. An au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country who helps with housework and child care in exchange for room and board. Martin found her host family through, a website that connects host families and au pairs.

Aside from the challenges of living abroad with a family she met only recently, Martin said building a connection with the family’s 4-year-old daughter improved her experience.

“It’s taught me so much about myself that I don’t think I could have learned anywhere else,” Martin said.

Spending summers in jobs that take you out of your comfort zone can look good on a résumé, as well as strengthen a person’s character.

Finlay said that students interested in child psychology or teaching could gain meaningful experience working as camp counselors and that working on a farm could benefit environmental studies majors.

Experience related to students’ prospective career fields should be the primary goal, Finlay said.

“It should be every Pitt student’s goal to have at least one experience related to their field in order to be considered a competitive candidate for full-time positions,” Finlay said in an email.

Walbert said she hopes to eventually work in international relations, so her work on the organic farm is indispensable in her prospective field.

“Immersing myself totally in a foreign culture and language is definitely an experience that you can’t get at an internship or summer job in the States,” Walbert said.

Walbert said she mentions the foreign culture and language aspect of working on the farm in France during job interviews. She said that spending four weeks alone in a foreign country shows independence and a willingness to try new things.

As an au pair, Martin learned how to deal with setbacks in a professional environment. She also became nearly fluent in Spanish.

“I had been learning Spanish since sixth grade at that point and still wasn’t exactly fluent. I’ve come out of that experience with a much better grasp of Spanish and can speak fluently with just about anyone,” she said.

Ludlow also learned many professional skills working as a CIT, including responsibility, teamwork, leadership, communication skills, patience, creativity and how to make a killer friendship bracelet.

Meghan Dashe, marketing director for ISTC, said the staff learns a lot of different skills during the summer such as team building, problem solving and communication with adults of all backgrounds. 

Dashe said she believes that working at a summer camp prepares staff members for a career later in life.

“It teaches you how to be responsible for not only yourself, but for other people too,” Dashe said. “The summer camp mentality is incomparable to any other out there. I can assure you that the camp mentality will carry over into any post-camp career.”

Like Ludlow and Walbert, McMullen said she learned many professional skills — customer service, time management and work ethic — throughout her time at her summer camp position.

“People criticize me for not being career-oriented,” McMullen said. “I’ve worked a variety of different jobs and I don’t think there is another job where you learn so much in so little time.”

Leave a comment.

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper
Working retail isn’t the only thing to do this summer