Bearcat Chat Needs Student Callers, Creates Incentive to Recruit More Students
Bearcat Chat is a student operated call center used to phone parents and alumni to update them on current events happening around Willamette, as well as to ask for donations or “gifts.” Although the job is described as being laid back, the call center has been experiencing some staffing issues and has turned to providing incentives to hire people on and get them to stay.
Currently Bearcat Chat provides updates on Willamette’s merger with Pacific Northwest College of Arts as well as how the university is handling COVID-19. Donations are targeted towards financial aid and scholarships, but can also be put directly towards a specific program or department if the donor wishes. However, getting gifts can be challenging. Lead Caller, Naydine Lima-Mercado (‘24) says that for the most part they are: “waiting for someone to answer the phone. A lot of people see us as telemarketers and they don’t really want to give to us, but there are people that have really good connections with Willamette and they’re willing to give. We would probably get more gifts if people answered the phone more often.”
In the past, Bearcat Chat was one of the higher paying jobs on campus, but as other on-campus jobs have increased their wages, it’s harder to get people to join. Lima-Mercado said on the staffing issue: “the job can be tedious. You have to wait and you can go a night without talking to anyone and just hear the phone ring. I think it just drains some people and not a lot of people like the office job. It’s also only three hours a day, three days a week and some people need more than that. That’s not enough to pay the bills for people who live off campus.” In terms of working for Bearcat Chat, Lima-Mercado said: “I love working there! It’s a very laid back job. There’s some stress in hearing the phone ring, but my biggest comfort comes from when I do talk to alumni. All the good things they say about Willamette just makes me feel like I chose the right school.”
There are incentives used to get students to stay on at Bearcat Chat, such as bonuses. Callers can be awarded bonuses if they have perfect attendance, write down new emails of people they’ve talked with or if they get a gift after asking three times. A new incentive was created in order to recruit and hopefully keep more students on as callers: recruitment from fellow peers. If a current employee recruits a new hire and they stay on for the duration of the semester, the recruiter receives a $100 bonus at the end of the semester. This is a more effective way to reach out, as people are more likely to apply after hearing from a fellow classmate or friend that the job is enjoyable, rather than a manager.
Assistant Director of Bearcat Chat, Delaney Melhorn, stated that, “one of the cool things is a lot of alumni graduate and they don’t stay very connected, so they could answer the phone and this could be the first person from Willamette they’ve heard from in 20 years and since it’s a student, there’s already that connection there.” Melhorn finds her job very rewarding as she gets to see those connections made, as well as gets to see first hand how students are impacted by the work that Bearcat Chat does. According to Melhorn, it is typical for three or four students to quit at the beginning of the year. Often it's due to schedules being too full, mental health or the job just not being a good fit. Melhorn stressed that student employees are students first and foremost. The current hours available to work at Bearcat Chat are set up to be as accessible to students as possible so that their studies or classes don’t feel like a barrier. Classes and grades are more important, so if academics are slipping, then the job should be the thing to go, which also ties into turnover.
Due to COVID-19, Bearcat Chat runs out of Shepard House, which is right next to the visitor parking lot, rather than the basement of Smullin like it used to, so that students can have their individual offices and can call without needing to wear a mask. This has unfortunately hindered a sense of community for the callers, especially for new hires, as they are isolated from one another. Melhorn encourages callers to come out of their offices during breaks to help try and build that sense of community, but it is not as easy to get to know one another as it used to be.
Overall Melhorn believes that this semester isn’t necessarily facing a greater staffing issue compared to previous semesters. It is due to the call center's new recruitment approach that Bearcat Chat’s help wanted sign has come across Willamette students' radars more frequently than it has in the past. This at least shows that in terms of outreach their new approach is more effective, and current callers will be more likely to continue to reach out and encourage students to stay on.