Crosswords and cardboard: A day in the life of a Hitzeman student worker

| Contributing Writer
A student wearing a mask pushes a large cart full of cardboard packages.

Sam Schwartz has worked at Hitzeman Mail Services since his freshman year. (Holden Hindes/Student Life)

“I can help who’s next!” 

These are the words sophomore Sam Schwartz utters every time a student walks into Hitzeman Mail Services. 

A quick scan of their student ID is followed by a package lookup on the computer, where Schwartz habitually crosses his feet on top of each other in concentration. The phone rings in the background. Colleagues stack boxes in the periphery. Schwartz moves past them with ease to retrieve parcels amidst a sea of alphabetized cardboard. Package secured. On to another: “I can help who’s next!”

Schwartz is a work-study student who has been employed at Washington University mailing services since last year. On most work days, he’ll wake up at 9:30 a.m. to coffee and the New York Times crossword — both the mini and the full size. Undoubtedly a cruciverbalist, Schwartz’s record is 10 seconds for the mini and eight minutes for the full. With caffeine consumed and both crosswords complete, Schwartz typically cracks down on coursework before heading to his 11:00 a.m. statistics class. 

With the exception of ultra-quick crosswords, Schwartz’s morning fits the bill of a typical WashU student’s routine — coffee, studying and class. But unlike many others, he has an additional factor to consider when scheduling his days: working at the South 40 mailroom.

During Schwartz’s senior year of high school, he started thinking about paying for college. His financial situation is, in his words, “more complicated than most.” Schwartz grew up in a wealthy Connecticut town where both his parents worked as private school teachers. But between living in faculty housing — which took a large cut of his mother’s paycheck — and his three younger siblings, Schwartz knew that he had to factor in tuition costs when looking at colleges. 

“Where I was going to school was going to be reliant upon how much aid I got,” he said. 

When he arrived at WashU, Schwartz applied for various jobs. Top of the list: barista, intramural sports rep and research assistant. Assignment? Hitzeman Mailing Services. Schwartz took it in stride, growing to appreciate the built-in face-to-face interaction it provided him amidst the COVID restrictions of his freshman year. 

This year, Schwartz returned to Hitzeman. He is friendly with his fellow employees, and appreciates their flexibility with him prioritizing his academic schedule. The work itself is comforting in its consistency and keeps him on his feet. Still, there are slow days. On those, Schwartz is often able to cram in a quick computer science reading between package pickups.

A student places a brown package into a tall white cabinet.

The Hitzeman Mail Center is the primary location where students living on the South 40 send and receive mail. (Holden Hindes/Student Life)

Sometimes, there are breaks from the usual. One time, Schwartz said, a two pound package of weed arrived at Hitzeman. How it made it past the U.S. Postal Service remains a mystery. More commonplace are the cringing expressions of students who are sent flowers. 

“It’s funny when we deliver these really gaudy flower arrangements [to students],” Schwartz said. “They’re embarrassed because they have to walk through campus with this, you know, ‘Happy Birthday, Love Mom’ and it’s always the same reaction: ‘Oh man, you know, I told my parents not to send me this…’”

Schwartz works at Hitzeman six hours a week, and spends an additional three tutoring McKelvey students. Altogether, Schwartz makes about $180 every two weeks, about $40-$60 of which gets taken out of his paycheck every month for student loans. The rest goes to essentials like groceries, as well as pocket money.

Often, Schwartz’s financial calculus requires trade-offs. If he needs to save for a plane ticket home, he’ll take that into account and trade eating out at a restaurant for a BD dinner. 

Although Schwartz thinks that the majority of WashU students are respectful of work-study students, he wishes some were more aware of others’ financial means. He feels this most acutely when trying to balance his budget with an active social life.

Things like going out to dinner, going to a nicer dinner…that’s accessible to a fair amount of people here [but] that isn’t really accessible to everyone most of the time,” he said. “So, you know, just be wary of when you could be alienating people.” 

After a shift at Hitzeman, Schwartz likes to unwind by playing Mario Kart with friends before going to Ultimate Frisbee practice at 8:00 p.m. And he finally makes his way to bed at midnight, nine hours away from tomorrow’s crossword. 

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