Sunday Apr 02, 2023

From Delivering Milk to Repairing Radio Transmitters, Lessons from First Jobs – Duke Today



Cherry picker.

Fish cleaner.

These are some of the first-ever jobs held by Duke staff and faculty before they ever came to work at Duke.

For Labor Day this year, we caught up with some colleagues who told us about their first jobs and lessons that have carried over today.

A Budding Love for Tech

Bryn Smith credits her first job as a radio engineer assistant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for helping her realize her budding interest in technology.

Starting at age 16 in 1988 until the summer of 1990, Smith traveled around in her green Volkswagen Beetle to about five regular music radio station clients on AM and FM frequencies within a two-hour radius, providing regular maintenance to equipment and fixing problems that kept the stations off the air.

The work took her to remote areas to repair radio transmitters in cow fields. She knew then that she was destined for a career working with technology infrastructure, a dream she now lives out at Duke, where she has worked for 16 years.

“I did things like cleaning tape-deck heads, coiling cables, organizing tools, and going around to radio transmitters to do regular tests and read meters,” said Smith, an IT analyst in the Office of Information Technology (OIT). “I learned to do simple repairs on electronics and electrical switches, and even air conditioners.”

Finding Appreciation Picking Cherries

Decades before he became a professor of Cultural Anthropology, Dr. Lee Dr. Baker rode his bike about 10 miles in each direction over the summer to pick cherries at an orchard in Corvallis, Oregon.

At 14 years old in 1980, he made about $20 per day picking the ripe fruit alongside friends and migrant workers during the harvest season. At the end of the summer, Baker was proud he’d saved up to purchase a boombox and Michael Jackson and Donna Summer cassettes.

He took with him an appreciation for the hard work of people he worked alongside.

“I learned a lot and gained a huge amount of respect for Latino migrant laborers,” Baker said. “That was my big takeaway that still sticks with me today.”

Starting a Journey at Duke

At age 15 in 1985, Jennifer Solomon was hired as the Duke University Hospital Emergency Department’s first dedicated messenger. She transported patients, ran tests back and forth to the lab and completed other non-clinical errands.

As the daughter of Duke alumni Dr. Robert “Jess” Peter, a cardiologist, and Mary Ann Peter, the director of Nursing, she started her first job working in the hallways where her parents spent their entire careers.

Among her favorite tasks was checking in new patients in the emergency room, where she learned about customer service and dependability – all lessons that now serve her well as a nurse practitioner at Duke.

“I enjoyed the fast pace, learned the importance of working as a team and developed a strong work ethic at an early age,” Solomon said. “Lots of fond memories.”

Years later, after graduating from nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991, Solomon returned to Duke to continue the …….


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