A student chance for a living wage

A wage subsidy program encouraging students to pursue career-related summer employment was incredibly well received, with 160 University of Calgary students gaining support.

The Student Work Experience Enrichment Program funded students working in an area related to their studies this summer that paid less than $15 an hour.

“I’m used to going and working in construction for the summer,” said SWEEP recipient Matt McDonald. “[SWEEP] made it more financially viable for me to just focus on research.”

SWEEP was introduced by the Students’ Union in February 2009 to allow students to pursue summer employment in the area of their academic or career aspirations.

Eligible students had to fill out an application to receive the subsidy, which provided a top-up to an hourly wage of $15.

McDonald, in his final semester of an applied math degree, credits his summer work experience with determining his future.

“It’s ultimately why I decided to do a masters degree in what I’m going to do it in, with who I’m going to be supervised by,” he said.

“I was coming up to graduation with so many looming questions. But spending four months in that environment allowed me to answer those questions.”

SU President Charlotte Kingston said the SU often advocates opening positions for undergraduate research, but many students can’t pursue such opportunities because the compensation over the summer is not enough to offset the cost of university during the year.

“We hoped that by topping off their pay that these academically desirable employment opportunities would become financially feasible,” she said.

SWEEP recipient Mia Jovic spent her summer working for a doctor in the faculty of medicine at the Foothills Medical Centre, setting up a health nutrition program at a hospital in the Dominican Republic.

“I loved it, it was amazing,” Jovic said.

“If I hadn’t got [SWEEP funding] I would have got a job working something random just to pay the bills, as I’ve done in previous years.

“This makes it possible for students to do the type of work that’s going to help them in their careers.”

McDonald echoed such sentiments, saying that most students he knows go to school for eight months and then get an unrelated job for four in order to make as much money as possible.

“That’s fine, but it doesn’t give you experience related to your studies.”

Kingston explained the SWEEP program was incredibly well received and filled up fast. Applications stopped being accepted once the funding limit had been reached.

About $400,000 was spent on the program, through the SU Quality Money Initiative.

An application to continue the funding has been submitted and the SU will know in March if the program will continue. Applications will be accepted shortly after if it does.

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