Real world: 2 jobs, 1 internship, more classes

WINONA, Minn. -- Elisabeth Golat's Thursday morning starts like the three previous ones: Her iPhone's alarm rouses her at 6:35 a.m. from six hours of slumber. She wants nothing more than to roll over and fall back asleep. Instead, she crawls out ...

Elisabeth Golat
Elisabeth Golat interns Feb. 16 at the Family and Children's Center in Winona, Minn., 12 hours a week. Golat is pursuing an administrative assistant degree at Southeast Technical.

WINONA, Minn. -- Elisabeth Golat's Thursday morning starts like the three previous ones: Her iPhone's alarm rouses her at 6:35 a.m. from six hours of slumber. She wants nothing more than to roll over and fall back asleep. Instead, she crawls out of bed and faces another day as a full-time student and full-time worker.

She brushes her teeth and hair and puts on a black suit and pants -- business professional for her job at the Family and Children's Center in Winona. She feeds the cat, changes the litter, does a bit of laundry. She's ready by 7:15 a.m. and if she's lucky her fiance, Dean Smith, has cooked her breakfast. Not today. Elisabeth grabs a toaster pastry for the drive from Rushford to Southeast Technical College.

On her way to the car she slips on the deck steps, only managing to catch herself at the last second.

She begins preparing for a bad day, even before it really starts.

"You know those days when you just know things are gonna go wrong?" she says.


Elisabeth, 24, is a student in the administrative assistant program at Southeast Tech. She already has a four-year degree in marketing, from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, but she entered the job market in 2009 with the recession in full swing and competed against professionals with years -- or decades -- of experience.

"It was horrific," she said. "I have a box full of rejection letters. It gets to you after awhile."

She returned to school in 2011 to try again, the Winona Daily News reported ( ).

Elisabeth goes to school full-time and she works -- a lot. She has two jobs, at McDonald's and Benchmark Electronics. She also has an unpaid internship. She regularly clocks more than 50 hours a week.

She pays her student loans from River Falls, pays bills, pays rent, pays for groceries. The expenses add up, about $1,000 a month. And she's covering half the expenses -- $5,000 -- of her wedding planned for October.

Elisabeth's schedule and expenses may startle many who attended college and entered the workforce in earlier times, never facing some of the challenges present today, like rising tuition costs coupled with declining aid and the struggle to find steady work in a recession.

Her life looks all too familiar, however, to many of her contemporaries at both public and private schools.

Elisabeth arrives at Southeast Tech 10 minutes before her 8 a.m. lab on spreadsheet concepts.


She sits down at a computer and pulls out her homework -- for another class, business communications. Some class periods the instructor allows a work day, which she's hoping for. Since she's already finished her spreadsheet homework, she could finish work from another class.

No such luck. The instructor reviews the homework Elisabeth already finished. She follows along and asks a question at one point, but she's also multitasking, studying her planner to see what she has to get done this morning.

Her planner, its pages for previous days heavily worn and written on, is one of many essential tools. She records all assignments and tasks in the lines, and fills the margins and white space with lists, notes, and occasional to-dos for her wedding.

"I love my day planner," she says. "I like that sense of accomplishment when I can cross things off."

At 8:45 a.m. Elisabeth moves on to another computer lab, where she begins working on her typing class. She listens to a Kelly Clarkson song that has become her anthem for the semester, with the line she loves: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." She turns the music up loud enough to drown out the noise so she can work.

Unlike other students in the lab that morning, she doesn't have Facebook or Twitter open.

"I only have so much time to get everything done," she says.

Her last class at Southeast Tech Thursday is a database class at noon. She asks a few questions and stays alert, not yawning once during the midday lull that appears to capture fellow students. She receives a test from last week. She scored 72 out of 75 points.


Elisabeth is a straight-A student. Her grades are higher than when she was an undergrad at River Falls -- and working much less.

"Even though I have more on my plate, it seems I am more focused on my grades now," she says. "I have a goal for a 4.0."

Elisabeth ducks out early at 1:15 p.m. to get to her internship at the Family and Children's Center, where she's an administrative assistant, answering phones, processing mail, entering data. The contents of her desk are meticulously organized with binder clips -- another essential tool.

Aside from her relationship with her fiance and his son, she gets most of her social interaction at these three-hour shifts. She jokes frequently with co-workers and staff members and talks about her day.

"You breaking stuff?" she jokes with a staff member working on a computer with a wireless Internet problem.

Elisabeth's internship ends at 4:30 p.m. She's put in a full day of school and work.

She's not done.

She arrives at Winona's west-end McDonald's at 4:45 p.m., where she quickly changes into a blue polo top, black pants, and black no-slip shoes. She stows her business clothes in her truck and eats two McChicken sandwiches. Her shift begins at 5 p.m.


Elisabeth is a crew trainer and has worked at McDonald's for about two years. Today she's training a new employee on how to work the drive-through. She takes orders while the trainee watches, then gradually lets them take more responsibility, turning over her headset and letting the trainee take orders while she continues to work the touchscreen.

Around 8 p.m. Dean and his son, Gavin, arrive at the restaurant. They usually stop by to see her after work. She calls them her support system.

After they grab a quick bite and catch up on the day, Elisabeth follows them home. She arrives at 9 p.m., more than 14 hours after she left. She's tired, sore, and ready to collapse into bed.

But first she showers and spends time with her family. She's able to because she doesn't have homework for the weekend, a goal she tries to keep each week.

"I feel right now that half of our relationship is over the phone," she says. "And I can't remember the last time I turned on the television."

Elisabeth heads to bed by 10 p.m., where she reads for a half-hour to unwind.

The feeling won't last long. She'll wake up before dawn Friday for her weekend job -- full-time work at Benchmark.

Her shifts run 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


"You try not to reach the breaking point," she says. "It's hard when you are not getting enough sleep. I know I can do better and get a better job after this is all over."

Elisabeth recently saw an ad for administrative assistant work at the Mayo Clinic. It would be a dream job. She just has to finish school first -- then hope the job market is more forgiving than last time.

"I just really hope to be in that comfortable job that I can enjoy," she said. "I just want to be able to enjoy recreational activities again."

Before she falls asleep Thursday, she sets her alarm for 4:30 a.m., when she'll wake up, want nothing more than to roll over and fall back asleep, and then rise to face another day

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