When Benjamin Parks ’14 chose to attend Earlham he questioned if he was ready for the independence college offers, but during his visit to Earlham he felt he had arrived at a place where he could stay on course and keep distractions to a minimum.
When he graduates in May with a major in Human Development and Social Relations, he will have gained a maturity beyond that of most college graduates.
Although there are a few more steps in the process, Parks eventually hopes to be a human resources director.
“I want to help the workers and the companies they work for avoid conflict,” Parks says. “I understand that there will be differences, and some differences you may strongly agree or disagree with, but in that same breath you have to find common ground.”
Earlham’s diversity and rigorous academics strengthened his listening and speaking skills.
“At Earlham I have learned to have an open-mind toward everyone’s perspective and to listen and think about what the other person is saying before speaking,” he says. “I think why I want to work in human resources is my ability to address difficult situations. I am able to listen for actual solutions and not just hear the anger.”
On the job learning
Three summers working for HIS Constructors in Indianapolis also have helped shape his perspective about workforce dynamics.
Parks attended Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis, where counselors strongly encouraged higher education.
“We felt like it was college or die there,” he jokes. “When we graduated they set up these interviews for jobs that required hard labor to show us what life might be like without a college education.”
During those interviews, HIS found a valuable summer employee in Parks, who learned about unions, fair work practices, and the grueling labor of bridge building.
“I learned that the benefit is not worth what you have to put into that kind of work,” he says. “In the end the sacrifice is far too great to make it worthwhile.”
Parks was a union employee who often was given the grunt work or sent on errands for non-existent tools or materials by employees who resented that a college student there for only a short time had taken someone else’s job for the summer.
“It was tough, strenuous work,” he adds. “Workers would pass out, and there were health concerns about inhaling the asbestos.” He admits the most valuable job-site wisdom came from the older laborers.
Lessons from elders
“Some of the older workers, some who had been there for 30-40 years, were making a bare minimum because budget cuts had caused pay cuts,” he says. “They told me to get out while I could. They told me that I wouldn’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Additional summer work experience with a small commercial paint company taught Parks about shadow economics, which is the basis for his senior thesis.
After graduation, Parks will work for City Year in Greater Philadelphia, where he hopes to improve his speaking skills and to begin the graduate school application process.
“I’ll be a teaching assistant in an inner-city school that really needs the help,” he says.