U of M students work nights to make ends meet, pay tuition

What does the normal college sophomore do at 10 p.m. on a Friday night?

For University of Memphis sophomore Austin Gatlin, it’s time to wake up from a quick nap and go to work. He drives down American Way to Democrat Road to start his six hour work shift.

Gatlin is a tug driver for FedEx at the Memphis Airport hub. He has been working nights Monday through Friday for six months now and is still having a hard time adjusting to his new sleep schedule.

“Sleep is a nightmare and my weekends are shit,” Gatlin said. “I don’t really have a sleep schedule. It’s sleep when you can. It’s sleep out of necessity or just collapse.”

For Gatlin it’s sleep when he gets the chance. He may get a few hours in the morning and a few before his shift. Since he does not work on the weekends he has time to sleep but may give up any chance he has to socialize.

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“I don’t really have a sleep schedule. It’s sleep when you can. It’s sleep out of necessity or just collapse,” Gatlin said. Gatlin takes a quick nap before heading back to class.

“Saturday you can either choose to wake up and enjoy your Saturday and face the consequences of being a zombie or you can sleep in and waste your weekend,” Gatlin said.

Although Gatlin works different hours than most students, he is not alone at the U of M. Daniel A. Bureau, the executive assistant to vice president of student affairs, said that about three out of every four students work while taking classes.

“Many of our students work and have families for which they care for,” Bureau said. “We know that about 2,000 students or about 10 percent of our overall student population works directly on campus.”

The 75 percent of students that while attending the U of M is a little higher than the national average. According to a study by Georgetown University in 2015, 70 percent of college students worked part time while enrolled in school. The study does note that 40 percent of those working students are older and less traditional students.

Gatlin is a mechanical engineering major from Olive Branch, Mississippi. He is currently taking 15 credit hours at the U of M.

A normal weekday for Gatlin today seemed foreign and terrible to him before he started working for FedEx.

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Gatlin does his homework at the Sigma Chi fraternity house. There he gets help from other fraternity members who have taken the same classes as him

He leaves work at 4 a.m. and arrives home around 5 a.m. He will either come home and take a nap or do homework.

At 7:15 a.m., he heads straight to campus for his 8 a.m. literary heritage class.

Gatlin does his homework at the Sigma Chi fraternity house. There he gets help from other fraternity members who have taken the same classes as him.

“I kind of zone out but I try to participate,” Gatlin said. “Normally by the end of the class I’m finally fully awake and getting in a grove for the grind of my day where I know I have to do my work.”

After literary heritage, he has physics at 9:10 a.m. He then has a three hour break to eat lunch, finish homework, or try to take a quick nap before he heads to Intro to Mechanical Engineering. There he sits in class and struggles to say awake. Once that class is over, he goes straight to general biology from 2:10 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

“That class is almost unbearable,” Gatlin said. “It is so long and the lecture is so intensive. By the time I get to biology I’m ready to collapse but I sit there and take notes to stay awake. I force myself to take notes and that helps me to learn and stay awake.”

After all of his classes, he heads to the Sigma Chi fraternity house, where he has been a member for a year. There he finishes up his homework before heading home to eat dinner and get a few more hours of sleep to make it through work. He wakes up, gets ready for work and leaves his house in Olive Branch around 10 p.m. so he can make it the hub and be clocked in by 11 p.m.

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Memphis sophomore Austin Gatlin works hard every day to get his school work done during the day before he goes to work. He works at the hub from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.

Gatlin did not know what to expect when he first started working at the hub. He first learn about the opportunities that FedEx offers at night when he was in high school. A friend’s father, who worked at FedEx, told him all about the job and the benefits that FedEx offers their employees that are college students.

FedEx offers health, dental and vision insurance. As well as a $1,500 per semester tuition reimbursement on top of a well-paying starting salary. The tuition reimbursement is one of the many reasons Gatlin decided to work at the Hub.

“I pay for college myself,” Gatlin said. “One of the reasons I chose to go to the U of M was financial. Memphis gives me a great dean’s scholarship which is $1,500 per semester. So with both the dean and tuition reimbursement my schooling is almost completely paid for.”

After Gatlin got the job, he was still concerned about working nights at the hub. He didn’t really think he was going to fit in there. “There are not a lot of white folks out there and I was nervous because I’m just the young skinny kid out at the hub,” Gatlin said.

Once he started there, he realized everyone was there to work. He said he likes everyone he works with.

On his first day, he was in awe of how big the hub was the airport. He described it as a city within a city. U of M junior Andrew Moss described the hub in the same way.

Like Gatlin, Moss said the benefits of FedEx outweighed the sleep problems. Moss is a 20 year old business management major who has been working for FedEx since his freshman year. He currently works as a team leader from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday.He is in charge of taking packages off of a plane and replacing them with new packages.

“The benefits are great,” Moss said. “There is not another job out there available to college students that provides the benefits and salary that FedEx provides.”

Although the benefits are worth it to Moss, he says the problem with the lack of sleep never really goes away.

“I don’t think it’s something you ever really get use,” Moss said. “I know people who have been out there for 20 or 30 years and they are still just as tired. I feel like it’s something your body is not meant to do.”

One of those people Moss is referring to is manager Richard Kelsey. Kelsey has worked for FedEx for 26 years and started back in college for the same reasons as Gatlin and Moss. Now being a manager he says he likes to work with college student.

“College students tend to be more organized and willing to come in and get the job done,” Kelsey said. “I know that it is challenging due to sleep and school but overall they seem to be better employees.”

Kelsey does not necessarily think FedEx targets students but he said that they encourage them to work at the hub with the $1,500 tuition reimbursement.

Kelsey said that FedEx wants college students to start out with them so they can train them and allow them to work their way up through the company. FedEx provides jobs in many of their employees’ field of studies.

Both Gatlin and Moss can see themselves working for FedEx after graduation. But for Hayden Moore, a junior business management major at U of M, a career at FedEx is exactly what he wants. Moore has worked for FedEx for close to a year as a material handler loading and unloading aircrafts.

“FedEx is the place for me,” Moore said. “My plan is to go into the FedEx maintenance school so I can work on the aircrafts. With my management degree from the U of M, I’ll be able to be a manager in the maintenance hanger.”

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Gatlin uses these ids everyday through work and school. At FedEx an employee is not allowed to work at the hub without the proper identification.

All said that U of M students are different than other college students in the mid-south. “The U of M students are forced to grow up early,” Gatlin said. “The majority of us are working our way through college. We are in a city environment and around the adult world 24/7. We are forced to grow up and fit into our community.”

Even though all of these students agree that the hours are not the best and they don’t get enough sleep, they all seem to be happy working for FedEx.

“Every time I go to work at FedEx I’m happy,” Gatlin said. “I love going out there, the people are cool and I know that I am good at it. I like going out there because I know it’s something that I’m good at.”

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About the Author

Drew Barrett
Drew Barrett is a producer at Sports 56 WHBQ and member of the Sportsdesk on WUMR were he calls University of Memphis football and men’s basketball games. Along with his jobs in radio, Drew also does a weekly sports podcast called Arguing with Drew and Devin. He has also been published in the Daily Helmsman and Tri-State Defender. When he is not hard at work in sports radio, he enjoying spending time with his fraternity brothers of Sigma Chi, watching sports and trying new types of beer

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