Miami University dining services has been so much more than an employer for first-year assistant manager, and Miami alumna, Whitney Claypool.
“When I first came to Miami as a student, I was really intimidated because I was coming from a small town,” said Claypool. “I kind of felt like a fish out of water, but that heightened my experience, because it pushed me to try to find people who might be more similar than different to me, and I found them in dining.”
Claypool first arrived on the Oxford campus as a junior in high school to participate in the Junior Scholars Program. She knew at that point Miami was her school of choice. Claypool began her academic career as a RedHawk in fall 2012 as a first-year student from the small town of Lucasville, Ohio.
“Lucasville is a tiny town, kind of on that little awkward tail at the bottom of Ohio. Most people don’t really know where it is,” said Claypool. “There are two stop lights in it and if they’re both green, you can get through the town in under a minute. The culture shock coming up here was insane.”
While Claypool, a first-generation college student, adjusted to Miami University, she relied heavily on her work ethic and got involved on campus.
“I was grown to be a hard worker,” said Claypool. “That’s my background. My mom always said that if you help others, they’ll help you. I am constantly working for my best.”
Claypool started working as a tutor during her freshman year. By the spring, she had caught on in dining services, working at 1809 in Shriver before working at the newly opened Maplestreet Station the following year where she earned the title of student manager. She would work in dining through the remainder of her undergraduate studies.
“I just loved the people there,” said Claypool. “That’s where I found the people most like me. Other students who were experiencing, firsthand, the difficult balance of trying to pay for their own school and the pressures that come with that on top of your regular school work. I just loved the experience.”
As Claypool bonded with her coworkers and managers, she learned what she could about the food operation, particularly as it related to students like her.
“There were a lot of hard-working managers who I know wanted to give us the best experience they could,” said Claypool. “I took notes from them and then tried to come up with my own unique ways to work with students, while recognizing that they are students first, before anything.”
Claypool found that perspective invaluable when she began working full-time at Garden Commons in August. As an assistant manager, Claypool has various responsibilities like ensuring guests have everything they need and pitching in elsewhere when needed. Claypool is also tasked with managing the student managers.
Early in the fall, she reached out to her student managers, looking for ideas and ways to help them, particularly as they dealt with the stresses of a new school year. One such idea has since been implemented by Claypool at Garden Commons in the form of a House Cup, inspired by the merit system used at Hogwarts in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
“I wanted to bond with them on that level and help them develop professionally. I’m a big nerd, so I thought Harry Potter was obviously the best option,” said Claypool with a smile. “I’m so close in age to a lot of them, and we all understand what’s needed.”
Claypool’s House Cup is a perk-point system, rewarding different teams with points for completing job tasks like taking attendance, signing up students, hosting orientation sessions and more. Rewards, like pieing the managers in the face, laser tagging, gift cards and first pick on fall shifts are set aside for the winners.
“It encourages them to work with people they haven’t really worked with before,” said Claypool. “They’re on different shifts, so they really have to communicate. They really like it so far. They’re really, really competitive.”
While she’s no longer a student-employee herself, Claypool has settled into her role as a resource for her student managers.
“As the fall semester went on, I started to realize that even though I’m in this management position, I can still relate to them,” said Claypool. “That’s been my strong point, because then they rely on me. They can come to me and know that because I have that background as a student, that I’m going to understand those concerns.”
Once a little fish in a big pond, Claypool found dining services to be a place where she could connect with people like her and grow individually. While she still finds herself learning and developing professionally in her new full-time role, she now uses that firsthand experience to help the next round of students do the same.
“When this job opened up, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to really grow,” said Claypool. “I thought it would help me a lot and that the things I would learn here would carry with me. I’ve only been here since August full-time and I’ve learned a lot. It hasn’t always been easy, but that fresh perspective of just graduating has really helped me.”
The Hard Questions
Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?
Prepare – I would say it’s a tie between sour cream enchiladas and this garlic lemon tilapia. They’re very different, but I just love cooking. It’s fun. Chef Scott and I get along really well, so he’s always throwing different recipes at me. Yeah, it’s a tie between those two.
Eat – Oh, that’s so easy. My mom makes the best biscuits and gravy in Ohio. It’s her biscuits and gravy. I’ll say it. I’ll put it down there. So, so good.
What’s something that’s on your bucket list?
I definitely want to see more of the world. I’m really into doing different service projects and helping people out. So, there’s one that I was involved in a couple years ago that sent people out to help build houses in Nicaragua. I wasn’t able to go because I was sick, but they’re doing it again, so I’m trying to get involved in it. I just want to help out as much as I can and, even here in the states, we did some work in Arizona and things like that. I’d really like to do that, help out more places. I’d definitely like to get published and hopefully become a professor one day.
What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?
When I changed my major from pre-med to english, that was a really big stepping point for me. People always say, “What are you going to do with an English major?” My thing was that I’d rather be happy and struggling than struggling to be happy. That was my big lesson, and it’s definitely held up to this point in it’s value.
What would you want to be famous for?
I think being a voice to doing what’s right and helping those who might not have a voice. We’re in a lot of strife and things, especially in our country right now. I always want to be that voice that always tries to unite people for the greater good and be an ally for those who need it.
When are you happiest?
When it’s raining, and I’m curled up by the window with a book. Definitely.
If you were an animal, which would you be?
Hedgehog. Totally. Totally a hedgehog. I’m a little obsessed. Not going to lie.
What’s the title and genre of a book about your life?
It’d probably have to be Graceful: An Ironic Tale, because I’m not … I always find myself falling and slipping.
Cat or dog? Hedgehog really, but I’ll take dogs.
Cake or pie? Pie. Always pie.
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