Each week, students in the call center at the University of Mississippi seek support for Ole Miss while also gaining income and valuable experience for themselves.
Five days a week, 40 students reach out to alumni and friends, engaging them in conversations that frequently lead to financial benefits for UM schools and colleges, departments, faculty, programs and scholarships. In fiscal year 2017, callers raised more than $560,000 in pledges and gifts for Ole Miss; the center itself was recently named Call Center of the Month by Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
While the university depends on private support to ensure the margin of excellence expected of prominent educational institutions, students like Deandre Kidd depend on the $8.15 per hour and an opportunity to earn a bonus at the end of the month.
“I can honestly say if it wasn’t for my job at the call center, I wouldn’t be able to have a car or phone on my own,” said Kidd, a senior exercise science major from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who also uses his salary from this and a second job to offset the cost of books and rent.
Kidd works two jobs to relieve his parents’ financial pressure; his father is a restaurant kitchen manager and his mother is a homemaker who takes care of his sister and brother as well as her grandchildren.
“The job is really a form of financial aid, similar to a scholarship because it provides an opportunity for students to earn money while they get an education,” said Wendell Weakley, president and CEO of the UM Foundation. “It really gives them a great deal of support.”
Timber Heard, a senior anthropology major from McComb, Mississippi, likes that the call center pays more than minimum wage.
“I needed a higher paying job,” said Heard, who was a fast-food employee when she applied at the call center. She took the job as a steppingstone, hoping to gain experience that will help her grow professionally. Now, a year and half later, she feels the experience has been invaluable and enjoys talking to potential donors.
“I like getting to know people over the phone, hearing their different stories and learning about where they’re from,” she said. “I like people who have a sense of humor like me; that makes it fun.”
Like Kidd, Heard works a second job while balancing classes. She uses the income from both jobs as well as student loans to pay for rent, utilities, food and clothes.
Similarly, Lakia Taylor of Brandon, Mississippi, depends on the call center job to pay rent. The sophomore marketing major covers other expenses with income from an online personalized jewelry business she founded.
Taylor said the UM job fits her busy 15-hour class schedule and provides valuable networking experience.
“This past Thursday I was talking to one of the alumni about his experiences in school and he recommended that I go meet a professor he knows on campus, so I’m planning to go meet him,” Taylor said. “You never know where opportunities like that could lead.”
By Bill Dabney