Highlighted Student Employment Initiatives

In the hours before dawn, while most of the city sleeps, Howard Tang patiently listens to complaints from those who are still awake.

“During the night shift, the most common calls are definitely noise complaints,” says the 21-year-old CCNY economics major. “During the morning shifts, you get a big variety: Questions about earned income tax credits, complaints about trash that didn’t get picked up, people who want to know what train to take to get somewhere.”

Howard Tang, a junior economics major at City College, is seen here working one of his three weekly 311 Center shifts.
Tang is one of several dozen CUNY students fielding calls at the city’s new 311 Citizen Service Center, which takes non-emergency calls from New Yorkers and routes them to the proper agencies for assistance, just as the familiar 911 system handles emergency calls.

The CUNY/311 Project is one of several major University initiatives to help students meet the costs of their education. A new, easy-to-use web site (http://www.cuny.edu/studentjobs) carries job postings from all 19 CUNY campuses and provides information on scholarships, paid internships, jobs at government agencies and private companies in the metropolitan area. Recent “CUNY Metro Job Bank” listings on cuny.edu/studentjobs include positions as dance instructors, waiters, registered nurses, television news writers, warehouse workers and a research assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unique CUNY collaborations can also be found, such as the Poll Worker Initiative that trains and pays students to staff polling places in cooperation with the Board of Elections.

“Every student needs to know about available job opportunities and financial aid,” said University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, adding that the jobs site and the CUNY 311 Project reflect “the University’s increased effort to give students more ways to defray the costs of their college education.”

Developed by Senior Vice Chancellor Allan Dobrin, the CUNY/ 311 Project is a partnership with the New York City Department of Tech-nology and Telecommunications (DoITT), which Dobrin headed prior to his arrival to the University two years ago. About fifty students are working in the 311 center located in the financial district; this could rise to perhaps 80 over the next few months. Undergrad-uates earn $11.98 per hour; graduate students are paid $14.98 per hour. They are paid, too, for time spent in training.

“ The city gets bright, enthusiastic students who are able to work flexible hours and who have diverse backgrounds and language skills,” the senior vice chancellor said. “Our students benefit in two ways: they get high paying jobs, and they learn about the inner workings of the city.” And students learn about public service. “Our students are helping people in need, which is very much in keeping with the traditions of the University,” Dobrin noted.

Barbara Fleury, who was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and has since “lived in Long Island and every borough but the Bronx,” is another CUNY student working at the 311 Center to help finance her education. She is a junior at Medgar Evers College, with a 3.75 GPA, majoring in environmental science. For the moment, she spends 18 hours a week in the 311 center, helping New Yorkers deal with their New York City problems.

Some of those hours are long after midnight; two of Fleury’s three shifts end at 5 AM. This is typical for CUNY workers; they help to make the 311 service a 24/7 operation. “Very few calls at those times have to do with anything else” but noise complaints, she says – and most are handled the same way, with a report forwarded to the local precinct.

Fleury began taking calls on her first shift, feeling comfortable and confident in doing so. She typifies the characteristics that make CUNY students ideal for the work.

Students are taught to listen to callers to determine what their problems really are – a citizen might be so angry about a flat tire that he might not mention he was calling to report a pothole – while deciding how they can be helped.

They’re taught to listen for keywords – pothole is one of several thousand covered in 311 training sessions – that can be entered in a database that will yield leads to the proper offices and personnel.

The training aims to make workers alert to real dangers that a caller may be facing, dangers that may require that a call be shifted to a 911 operator. Thus, if a caller is speaking in a low voice, it may be that he or she is hiding from someone whom they think may be about to harm them. “You get a lot of angst coming your way,” Tang said.

Shifts are set up so that none begin after midnight or end before 5 AM, so that students will not have to travel at times when neighborhoods and subways are nearly empty.

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