High school students get the ‘Lehigh experience’ as employees on campus

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First college experiences come a couple of years early for high school students like Jessica Rodriguez and Steven Rosario, who work for Sodexo Dining Services in Lehigh’s dining halls.

Courtesy of Jessica Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a junior at Liberty High School in Bethlehem. She has been working for Sodexo since the end of November as a chef at Salsa Rico, a Mexican food station at Upper Cort.

“I like how everyone is really nice to each other, and you have friends here,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not like at regular fast food places where everyone just does what they have to do.”

For Rodriguez and other high school students, the second floor of Lehigh’s University Center has become home. Almost all of the employees in the food court either go to Liberty or Freedom High School, Rodriguez said.

However, some Lehigh students don’t know high school students are dining hall employees. Kareem Eleskandarani, ’20, was surprised to hear some Sodexo employees are in high school but said he supports the idea.

“I guess it’s good for them to get exposure to what their next few years will be like, because they’re going to need to experience what college is like before they come,” Eleskandarani said.

Rodriguez said she interacts with a few students who come to Salsa Rico daily, noting instances where they are unaware of her age. She frequently converses with one student and has become close with her since she started work in November.

“She invited me out for drinks with her friends, but I couldn’t,” Rodriguez said. “She thought I was older. I said, ‘I’m 16, in high school.’”

Spending so much time on a college campus as a high school student can change a person’s perspective on college life.

Rosario, a junior at Freedom, said that once he began working at Lehigh he became immersed in the culture and noticed students were always doing work which he was not expecting coming in.

“This (atmosphere) is different from high school because there is a lot more freedom here, it’s like getting ready to be an adult,” Rosario said.

Initially, being a student in high school while being an employee at a university seemed intimidating, both Rosario and Rodriguez said. However, after a while, they start to feel more accustomed to Lehigh.

“It might be intimidating for (the high school students) at first,” Eleskandarani said. “But, it’d definitely be a beneficial experience overall.”

Working for Sodexo is Rodriguez’ first official job, but Rosario used to work at an amusement park.

“I didn’t like work before, but I can say I like work now. I’m surrounded by good co-workers and good people,” Rosario said. “It’s just a good environment.”

As with employee-student interactions, Rosario is pleased with the politeness and studiousness of the students who spend time in Upper Cort. He said he has never received any negative attention from students, and he really appreciates that. Rodriguez is likewise content with the way she is treated by customers and other students.

“It’s up to you whether you have good interactions with the students,” Rosario said.

Rodriguez said students aren’t the only people who can feel comfortable on Lehigh’s campus.

Rosario said he would definitely apply to Lehigh after being on campus and enjoying the environment. He loves the events Lehigh holds for students, and his favorite part of working for Sodexo is being able to cater those events and socialize with people.

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