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So Much More Than You Expect: the Wisconsin Union Job Experience

While you are probably familiar with our fantastic staff at hotspots such as der Rathskeller, Carte or Strada, the Wisconsin Union job experience does not stop at the counter. Students are involved in every aspect of the Union from the weddings we host, to the food we serve, to the events we plan.

What you do here as a staff member at the Union, whether that be behind-the-scenes or at the forefront of operations, applies far beyond these hallowed halls. Here at the Union, students come first.

“We want to teach them, we want to encourage them, we want to give them skills that maybe the average job won’t give them, and we really try to take the time to encourage that,” Hattie Paulin, the Union’s wedding director, said. “I think that’s the best part about my job. It’s so neat and so rewarding to develop these students.”

Student worker serving up ice cream at Daily Scoop.

Paulin oversees four wedding interns, who each serve as the day-of coordinators for the many weddings that take place at our buildings, Union South and Memorial Union. One former wedding intern shared that when searching for a job after graduation, she was told she stood out because of her catering and wedding experience. She was told by the prospective employer that if she could handle a wedding, she could handle anything.

“It’s really rewarding and fun to have a student start as a freshman, who doesn’t know how to have a conversation with a customer. Or doesn’t know how to make a cheese tray or serve a table,” Paulin said. “By the end of their years here with the Wisconsin Union, they’ll know all of that.”

From skills learned to memories made, the Union serves as a harbor for many staff members, introducing them to people they would have never met otherwise.

“There’s a sense of family,” Emily Sykora, catering staff member and wedding intern, said. “Before I started working here, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a job with a lot of people, and they’re all older than me and scary.’ But it really is like a family, and you go through all the tough times together.”

Caring supervisors are a given at the Wisconsin Union, and they do not take their influential roles lightly.

Take for example Rob Gretzlock, the assistant director of restaurants at Memorial Union. With a background in both the restaurant business and education, he brings his abundance of experience to the Union. After working here for the past six years, he says that the best part about his job is the opportunity to aid in the development of students’ lives.

“Students love to question ‘Why?’ With my education background, I love answering the ‘Why?’ I love being able to provide an opportunity for somebody to take what they do within our restaurants and be able to apply that to whatever chosen profession that they’re going to go into,” Gretzlock said.

The development of students beyond the classroom is one of the core elements of the Union. That means taking their hands-on experience working in a familiar, comfortable place like the Union and applying their gained knowledge to their next professional endeavors.

“We ask student employees questions to help us give them the best employment experience possible. Some of those questions are, ‘How can I help you? What path do you want to take? How can I help you develop into whatever professional you want to be?’” Paulin said.

The dining set-up at a Wisconsin Union wedding, which is often completed by student employees.

Gretzlock also said that student employees’ real-world experiences are important and unique at the Union.  He added that schedule flexibility is also valued by students and their supervisors. The flexibility of working as a student at the Union is often surprising to many, Gretzlock said.

It’s not just the real-world skills and knowledge gained that are special at the Union; it’s also the many relationships and bonds that are formed during student employees’ time here.

“I will have students come back six years later and say, ‘I’m still best friends with this person,’ or ‘I met my husband in catering,’ and we really do try to create a culture that is not only rewarding on an educational level but on a fun level, too,” Paulin said.

Sykora, a rising third-year student, shared that she is going to be roommates next year with one of her catering co-workers. She remembers their first shift together — they “immediately clicked” — and added that “the people” are the best part about the Union.

“The Unions are a really big part of your student experience here [at the University of Wisconsin-Madison], and working here makes you feel like, ‘There is where I work. This is home.’”

The best place to work is hiring! For more information about Wisconsin Union jobs, visit our website.

Author: Katherine Kermgard

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