Forward Thinking

On the Clock: Students Gain Specialized Work Experience Without Leaving Campus

Gary Fincke

Every year, a handful of first-year students are offered a special kind of financial aid that allows them to work with a faculty or staff member and graduate from Susquehanna with four years of professional work experience.

Helen Nunn, director of financial aid, watches the students in the assistantship program polish their professional skills and work ethic through the years. “It’s a great thing to watch over time, and especially to watch it culminate,” she says.

Gary Fincke, professor of English and creative writing and director of the Writers’ Institute, has employed five assistantship students since the program’s inception in the mid-1990s. The Writers’ Institute, a fledgling program when Fincke hired his first assistant, has grown exponentially through the years.

“There’s plenty of work to do here,” Fincke says, noting that what used to be a luxury—a helper who was nice to have around—has become a necessity. He says his assistantship students learn interpersonal and public relations skills, along with the “nuts and bolts stuff” that can apply to any major or career.

“It’s always good to know how to write a news release,” says Sarah Andrews’12. A sophomore business administration major, Andrews says she is adding a public relations minor to her degree in part because of the experience she is getting working with the Writers’ Institute.

Hannah Leavens ’12, a creative writing major and biology minor, says her assistantship allows her to explore her interest in science without majoring in it. Leavens works with Associate Professor of Biology Alissa Packer, helping upperclassmen with their research. “The assistantship is really helping me gain experience similar to that of a biology major,” she says.

Packer says the assistantship program is an invaluable resource. “This program is an enormous help to faculty in that it allows us to work with the same student, one-on-one, for four years,” Packer says. “It helps my research and other work move forward at a faster pace because I do not have to retrain someone new each year.”Professor of Biology Matthew Persons says the program gives him “a colleague to work with for four years.” His assistantship student, biology and chemistry major Alex Sweger ’10, acts as both a research assistant and sounding board. “He comes up with a rough experimental design. I modify it, and he adds to it and refines it,” Persons says.

In January, faculty and staff submit proposals outlining the four-year positions they have to offer assistantship students. A committee evaluates the proposals and screens accepted incoming students for academic and leadership qualities. Finalists then are notified of the available assistantships, and the matching process begins, culminating in a new group of young professionals for faculty and staff to nurture.


Contributing writers to The ‘Grove are Heather Cobun ’10 and Billie Tadros ’10.

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