Cal U Students Donning Multiple Hats

Students at California University of Pennsylvania discuss the hardships of juggling multiple hats during the pandemic- being an online student and an essential worker simultaneously.


photo via Upsplash by William Iven

“The pandemic definitely makes it harder to balance school and work,” said Smitley.

Johanna Eisel, Staff Writer

With the coronavirus still in swing, multiple students at Cal U say that they are worried when they log off after a day of Zoom classes and head to work to serve the public.

“My job was like at least a thousand times less stressful before the pandemic,” said Samantha Smitley, chemistry major at Cal U. “The most exhausting part of my job nowadays is arguing with customers over wearing masks and having to listen to them complain about it. It is mandated at my store, yet we still have customers that refuse to wear one and we have had instances where we had to call the police.”

As a cashier, Smitley said that she handles cash transactions for eight or more hours in a shift. With limited availabilities to wash her hands, Smitley said that her work has added additional stress to an already stressful school semester.

“The pandemic definitely makes it harder to balance school and work, solely because I’m more exhausted after work and even before work, knowing I have to go in and deal with the mask-wearing situation,” said Smitley. “My store has also never been so busy. We’ve had about a 50% increase in sales since the pandemic started and eight months later, our sales still haven’t dropped.”

An Arby’s manager, Thomas Caton, said that his main difficulty is finding time to get homework done before starting his shift at work. Before the pandemic, Caton was able to work for the university in a work-study program. Since work-study isn’t available to him this semester, Caton struggles to find time for homework amid his 40-hour workweek.

“The big challenge is getting all my assignments done and balancing work,” said Caton. “My schoolwork comes first before Arby’s work and it can be stressful at times trying to get so much work accomplished before leaving for my actual job.”

Caton said that he has noticed an increase in customers during the pandemic, which adds the additional worry of contracting the coronavirus, while at work. Caton said that his Arby’s is only fulfilling orders through the drive-thru, which lessens some of the risk of getting infected.

“We do have the plexiglass installed in the drive-thru window and I am always wearing a mask and gloves to keep myself safe,” said Caton. “I tell myself constantly, ‘I don’t know where these people have been.’ I worry because someone could be sick, and you would not know it. Then I could possibly be exposed to it and pass it onto my family members, and that is the last thing I want right now.”

Senior at Cal U, Kennedy Johnston, said she initially balanced three jobs, before the pandemic: working at a bar, a restaurant and a work-study job at Cal U. Johnston said her stress originally stemmed from trying to make enough money from her waitress job at Hills Restaurant.

“I typically do well with balancing school, work and sports, however, the pandemic has made it more stressful but a lot easier,” said Johnston. “Since most of the time I rely on tips, I’ve found it harder to make enough to pay rent, especially when it isn’t busy. During the pandemic, I was able to move up to a chef position which ensures that I am making enough money to live.”

Johnston said she worries about getting her or her family members sick, due to her job in the service industry.

“My nana was diagnosed with cancer a few months into COVID-19, which caused me to not visit as often out of fear,” said Johnston. “I have to work in order to pay bills though, so I had to do what was necessary. The only other concern I had was getting sick and not being able to work.”

Through all the stress that the semester, the job, and the pandemic causes among essential workers, Caton said that essential workers are trying to do their best to serve the public in this difficult time.

“Please treat all essential workers with respect,” said Caton. “They have been the real heroes during this pandemic. A little kindness can go a long way. Essential workers are putting themselves at risk and possibly exposing themselves, from customers or other co-workers, to do work for you. Whether they work in a fast-food restaurant, like me, or the grocery or department store, please, please, please treat all essential employees with respect and kindness.”