Your alarm clock rings; you stumble out the door in sweatpants emblazoned with mascot patches; the clock ticks slowly through an hour of class; you trek across campus and slide into a well-worn chair in an out-of-the-way office, clock in, and prepare to answer a phone that never rings. For many college students, work study is a monotonous, banal event in their everyday lives, serving no purpose other than a meager allowance to offset their mounting debts.
But what if work study was something more? What if going to work could mean investing yourself in a future career or learning more about your culture’s past? At the College of the Ozarks, that’s just what students get to do on a daily basis. Nicknamed “Hard Work U” by the Wall Street Journal in 1973, the college has embraced the epithet and pushes its students not only to build character through hard work, but to enjoy their contribution to their local society.
Founded by James Forsythe in 1906 with the intention of providing a valuable, Christian education to local Missourians “who are without sufficient means to procure training,” the College of the Ozarks still holds steadfast to those original intentions. Unlike many modern American colleges, the College of the Ozarks openly discourages debt and instead provides seemingly limitless opportunities to its students to earn their keep—and their education.
Student work programs are manageable but strict. Students are required to work fifteen hours per week at conveniently located on-campus work stations, as well as two forty-hour work weeks during breaks. And for students who wish to remain on campus over the extended summer break, there are work programs for them too. The College of the Ozarks has developed a series of unique attractions that not only draw in visitors and revenue, but also provide plenty of positions that students are able to fill, many of which embrace a back-to-the-land, farm-to-table, or historical aesthetic.
Whether your interests lie in agriculture, the arts, or construction, you won’t be bored with your work at this college. Since its early days, students invested their time on the college’s farms and canning their produce, which was then sold to the local community. Today many students get to enjoy those same projects: produce grown and picked by students, like tomatoes, herbs, and peppers, are often used in the college’s restaurant, and the results are fresh, flavorful and healthy. Other produce makes its way to the Baker and Jelly Kitchen, where another regiment of students turns the fresh goods into fruitcakes and preserves. The college sells twenty-five to thirty thousand fruitcakes and thirty to thirty-five thousand jars of jellies, preserves, and apple butter annually, providing plenty of revenue for those hardworking students.
If students want to work on the other side of the food line, there’s always a position open. Dobyn’s Dining Room inside the college’s rustic Keeter Center provides some of the finest, tastiest dining in Branson—and some of the finest service, provided by students. Before sending it out in the steady hands of student servers, a troop of culinary kids in the kitchen whips up those local veggies and school-raised meats (we’ll get to that later) into flavorful meals that the most refined palate would enjoy. Thursday through Saturday night Dobyn’s even has live entertainment provided by—you guessed it—student performers. Guests often choose to stay at the Keeter Center’s Mabee Lodge, a luxurious hotel manned in part by more youthful workers.
Now, as for those meats: the College of the Ozarks raises their own cattle and hogs for milk and meat. Not even the dirty work is spared for these students; they can sign up for a position as a Beef Cattle or Hog Production worker, where they care for the animals, feeding and providing health care, as well as performing other tasks like calving cows, dehorning, castrating, and breeding. Dairy workers get to milk the cows, process and package the milk, and deliver and sell their product. Students lucky enough to work as Processing Plant Workers get to slaughter the animals, process the meat, and cure or smoke it. It’s a dirty job, but somebody—or more accurately, some student—has gotta do it. All their meats and produce are naturally and organically grown, supporting the modern tenets that encourage a farm-to-table lifestyle. Students get a first-hand perspective on how their food is made and can invest themselves in a worthwhile movement.
Students interested in the traditional history of the Branson region can work at the college’s Edwards Mill. As a Millings or Weaving Student Worker, they can work at a fully-operational, historically-accurate grist mill, where they can mill-grind products and make mixes, weave at looms, and even weave baskets. Others have the opportunity to learn the arts of candle-making and staining glass. The goods they produce are then sold as souvenirs of the college and the Ozarks to eager tourists. When students work here, they’re not only earning a living and an education, they’re upholding traditional art forms that are easily lost in a fast-paced, modern lifestyle.
Of course, there are plenty more routine tasks at hand for students. Every office, from admissions to foreign languages, needs assistants. But there are also real-life occupations available to train eager minds, like art gallery assistant or a variety of positions in construction (from electricity to heating and air to painting).
Regardless of the position, the end result is the same. When students enroll at the College of the Ozarks, they’re signing up for a lot more than an education or frat parties; they’re choosing to cultivate a lifestyle and a sense of character that is rare in America today. Whether they’re prepping meat, hanging paintings, or weaving baskets, these students aren’t just learning—they’re living.
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