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Dining employees balance work, student obligations

Victor Quiroz, a 27-year-old full-time chef at the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, is also a student. Quiroz, who started cutting fruit for Coffee House (CoHo) crepes when he was 14, is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in accounting at San Francisco State University (SFSU). By his senior year of high school, Quiroz was a full-time employee working night shifts.

Some dining hall employees juggle their work obligations with time spent pursuing a degree. (LORENA RINCON-CRUZ/The Stanford Daily)

“I never saw myself cooking,” Quiroz said. “It was just a weekend job.”

When the CoHo temporarily closed in September 2007, Quiroz moved to Stern Dining, where he learned to cut vegetables and chicken. Now he runs the omelette bar and grill at Arrillaga Dining.

Quiroz is one of many dining hall employees who moonlight as students, several of whom don’t feel Stanford Residential and Dining Enterprises supports or encourages them to pursue a degree.

 

‘The other guys think I’m crazy’

Up until this year, Quiroz worked at night and attended classes in the mornings while earning his associate degree in accounting from Foothill College. Now he works at Arrillaga from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and takes classes towards his bachelor’s degree at SFSU after work.

Quiroz said he usually has time to take three classes per semester and is currently taking marketing, Japanese history and ecotourism.

“One time I took a lot of classes and I ended up failing because it was too much work,” he said. “But even taking three is kind of hard. I basically am either working or studying.”

Quiroz’s biggest challenge is time management.

“Last week, I ended up getting off at work and staying here until two or three in the morning,” he said. “Then I just didn’t even go home because I had to come back here at 5:30 in the morning, so I just did my homework here and came downstairs and started working.”

Despite the exhausting schedule, Quiroz said he has no doubts about finishing his education. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he wants to make the switch from chef to accountant.

“I feel like that is my obstacle: to graduate,” he said. “This job is good, but I want to look for more challenging jobs.”

Although Quiroz said that he is the only full-time chef at Arrillaga who is also a student – “The other guys think I’m crazy because I never get any sleep, and I’m always tired,” he said – the dual role is relatively common among part-time dining hall employees.

 

Part-time scheduling issues

For part-time employees, working shifts at inconsistent times makes it difficult to schedule classes and find adequate time to study. Ruby Segura, 19, works at Wilbur Dining and takes sociology and English at Foothill College.

“If you’re working somewhere else, you can start at a certain time and finish at the end of the day,” she said. “But here it’s set differently every single time. If you want to take a class in between that time, but you can’t work at a different time, then sometimes you can’t work at all.”

Stephanie Ortiz, who works at Stern Dining and is a student at Foothill College, said her dining managers take her class schedule into account.

“Sometimes we’ll let them know if we have an upcoming test. I remember on Wednesday I had a chemistry test, and I couldn’t come on Tuesday, and they were really flexible about that,” Ortiz said.

In addition to chemistry, Ortiz, 22, is taking microbiology, history and yoga. She is majoring in nutrition and international relations and is currently pursuing local internships focused on nutrition.

Other part-time employees expressed a different sentiment about encouragement from the management. Stephanie Martinez works at Wilbur Dining and takes classes at Cañada College.

“They don’t really support us on that side,” Martinez said of her educational commitments. She added that while management is understanding of conflicts, there is little encouragement to pursue education.

Martinez plans to transfer from Cañada College to SFSU and study to become a nurse.

“At first I wanted to be a pediatrician, but it costs a lot of money, and I’m not really in that position,” she said. “I think for someone who grows up with the money, it’s easier. I have to actually work for myself to go to school.”

Dom Lacy is planning to start classes at San Jose City College in the spring. In addition to working at Wilbur Dining, he works part-time for UPS in San Jose.

“They don’t really encourage it [at Stanford],” Lacy said of his choice to pursue an education. “At UPS, they give you a $2,000 reimbursement for school. They really, really push you to go to school, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m going. Here, people tell me I should go to school but only as a personal thing, not business.”

Lacy hopes to complete the general education program at San Jose City College, transfer to San Jose State University and eventually find a career in law enforcement.

Stern Dining employee Silvia Ramirez, a psychology major at Foothill College, hopes to transfer to Santa Clara University and become a guidance counselor at a middle school. Despite the challenges of balancing a busy work and school schedule, Ramirez said that getting her education is worth it.

“You just have to prioritize,” Ramirez said. “What’s more important to you: school or work? For me, it’s school.”

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