Students serve coffee, wait tables, attend to customers, give campus tours, assist in offices, conduct research, advise their peers, clean floors, and much more. On-campus, off-campus, earning a wage, earning credit, or taking unpaid internships, most college students work during school. Our project asks: Are they students or workers first? How do they find balance between their many responsibilities? And what happens when they don’t?

While a college degree is increasingly necessary to achieve social mobility, its rising costs mean more students need to seek employment to pay tuition and rent. Yet few entry-level and service jobs offer good wages, security, or positive working conditions, in large part because there is a constant surplus of student workers. Internships and assistantships only sometimes provide the valuable experience they promise. Today’s students are in debt, underpaid, and overworked.

All Worked Up seeks to explore the lives of working college students, the factors that lead them to pursue work while in school, and the conditions of their labor. Our goal is to spark conversations among students, faculty, administrators, and policymakers about the roles and realities of undergraduate labor in U.S. higher education.

It’s time to hear what student workers have to say.


Academic Research

All Worked Up is first and foremost an academic research project that seeks to explore key questions regarding student labor and begins to map out the different factors that have led to the current roles, wages, and conditions of undergraduate labor.

An Online Space

This online space serves as an exploration of the working student experience and includes short snippets of interviews with current working students, experts in student labor research, and professionals who hire student workers.

A Documentary

Our long-term goal is to create a documentary that pulls together the different factors, themes, and conclusions that come out of our research.

Exploratory in nature, this research project will evolve according to developing themes and discoveries.


"I did college the Mexican way. In college, you learn about what it means to come from an underprivileged background but you also know you still have to work incredibly more than other students."


Elizabeth Muñoz

Public Policy, Class of 2016

Elizabeth lost count of the number of jobs she worked throughout college. She worked at a theater, a legal office, a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a bar, among other roles. A daughter of Mexican immigrants, Elizabeth is a first-generation college student and American. To her, the knowledge and cultural capital attained in college is a form of empowerment and she looks forward to giving back to her family and community.

"All these external things that happened outside of school took me away from dealing with school. My father passed away and I never had time to work through it.... It became too much and I dropped out of school for a bit and worked."


Michael Kile

Chemical Engineering, Class of 2018

Micheal says that he has bad luck. He had to sleep in his car for several weeks after his apartment suffered a bed-bug infestation, and he got laid off from work due to corporate downsizing. Combined with other personal challenges, Micheal finds it hard to keep up with his school work and has been placed on academic probation several times. Despite this, Micheal is a passionate campus activist and helps his Guatemalan mother pay her rent.

"I recognize that I'm really lucky to walk out of college with no debt, so I might as well take advantage of it. Instead of getting a job right after college, I can spend time traveling while figure out what I want to do."


Evan Wilbur

Math, Class of 2017

It takes Evan anywhere between one and two hours everyday to drive from his class at UC Riverside to his job as an after-school teacher in Arcadia. The work doesn't pay the bills and his hours are irregular, but he continues to work for the "love of it". He comes from a family of doctors who support him financially while in college and considers the college degree a minimum requirement for a middle-class lifestyle.

“I work more that I study. I shouldn’t be spending more time making sandwiches than I am reading Karl Marx. It should be the other way around.”


Ashley Baker

Film & Media Studies, Class of 2017

Ashley tries not think about the debt she's accumulated. Last time she checked, she owed $50K to student loan providers. She refuses to let financial matters get in the way of her goals, however, and has completed many unpaid or for-credit internships in the hopes of building a professional network in the film industry. She recently returned from an academic leave of absence and is optimistic that she will be better able to handle the stress that comes from too much work for little pay while in school.

"As a student, you are already open to exploitation. Once you are vulnerable to one form of exploitation, other forms of exploitation follow. In my case that was sexual harassment."


Nastacia Schmoll

English & Slavic Studies, Class of 2014

Nastacia considers herself lucky that her tuition is payed for by her veteran parent's Tuition Fee Waiver. Under the waiver, Nastacia is only allowed work for a limited amount of hours per month, leading her to work under the table in order to further supplement her income and graduate debt-free. She found a job at a pizza parlor that agreed to pay her both formally and informally, creating a relationship dynamic that exposed her to exploitive situations, including sexual harassment.

"College is full of opportunity. You just have to seize it."


Andrew McMaster

Psychology, Class of 2017

Andrew thrives in college. He balances academics, work, and an active social life successfully, attributing his success to personal qualities and motivations. He considers travel and meeting new people a prerequisite to cultural capital and is determined only to work jobs he finds meaningful. He comes from a family of academics and deems the college environment an incubator for "holistic growth".

the team.

Chelsea Brandwein

Chelsea (‘17) graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a major in Classics and a minor in Professional Writing. She is currently working in talent management and serving as a freelance writer and editor. For three years, Brandwein worked as a Resident Assistant (RA) in UCSB’s campus-owned housing and knows all too well the strain on college student workers to maintain a healthy balance. To All Worked Up, Brandwein brings skills in journalism and lifestyle writing, along with a deep appreciation for the sacrifices students make to include paid employment in their undergraduate experience.

Erika Carlos

Erika graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with degrees in Psychology and Comparative Literature. She worked about 16 jobs throughout her time in college and is excited to share the stories of other students that also consider themselves workers first and students second. She is a writer and multimedia designer, and will soon serve as the Digital Editor for the Santa Barbara Independent. She is the project's co-director and designer.

Heather Steffen

Heather is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Chicano Studies Institute and the Department of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her primary field is critical university studies, and her research focuses on academic labor, the history of the U.S. university, and twentieth-century American literature. She is currently writing a book called Useful Work: Imagining Academic Labor in the American University. She is also a collaborator on the NEH-funded project "Limits of the Numerical: Metrics and the Humanities in Higher Education." She is thrilled to be collaborating with Chelsea, Erika, and our undergraduate teammates as the All Worked Up project's mentor and co-project director.

Special Thanks

Our project is supported by Raab Writing Fellowships from the UCSB Writing Program and a UCSB Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Grant. We are truly grateful to Madeleine Sorapure, Director of the UCSB Writing Program, and Karen Lunsford for their help facilitating our project. We would also like to thank Nastacia Schmoll for her ideas and contributions as a core team member during the first year of the project.


“Digital Installation: Exploring the Lives of Student Workers” Erika Carlos, Affects & Effects: A Feminist Meta-Conference, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA. April 2018.

“Enacting Solidarity with Student Workers and Students in Debt,” Chelsea Brandwein, Erika Carlos, and Dr. Heather Steffen, Cultural Studies Association Conference, Washington, DC. May 2017.

“All Worked Up: A Project About Student Labor,” Co-presented with Chelsea Brandwein and Nastacia Schmoll for the Raab Fellowship Presentation Showcase, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA. May 2017.

“All Worked Up: A Project About Student Labor,” Chelsea Brandwein, Erika Carlos, Nastacia Schmoll, and Dr. Heather Steffen for Undergraduate Research Colloquium, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA. May 2017.

“Writing the Lives of Working College Students,” a research poster presented by Chelsea Brandwein, Erika Carlos, Nastacia Schmoll, and Dr. Heather Steffen, Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), Portland, OR. March 2017.


We invite you to share your story and reflect on how your current academic, social, and financial responsibilities and expectations have influenced how much or how little you work, and under what conditions and wages you do so.

By exploring why students work and the effects of academic labor on the undergraduate experience, we hope to reveal the factors that have contributed to the indebted, underpaid, and overworked, yet often ignored and maligned, status of Millennial college students.

We look forward to hearing from you, and we hope you’ll join us to draw attention to the issue of undergraduate labor and to promote fairer academic, hiring, and working conditions for students who work.

What You Will Do

Your participation would include filling out an information sheet and doing 2-hour videotaped interview that can be made public online and possibly in a documentary. You will have the option to choose whether your interviews, info sheet data, or any parts of them are used publicly, and we are willing to capture your experience through other means or anonymously if you prefer.

Spread The Word

We encourage you to refer other students who might be interested in participating. Click on the flyer to download.

All Worked Up Flyer