Interview by Elizabeth Vietor
Among the student jobs at Hillsdale, working at the President’s Office is one of the lesser-discussed. Student workers make it into the President’s Office in one of three ways: as a Churchill Fellow, a George Washington Fellow—both of these groups work on specially assigned projects—or as a general office worker who performs various tasks to keep the office running. Joseph Toates, a Churchill Fellow, is one of twelve students who works on the Churchill Project, the effort to produce a definitive biography of Winston Churchill in 23 volumes. Dr. Arnn took up the project from Sir Martin Gilbert in 2004, and it has been Hillsdale’s goal since then to complete it. Madison Moore, who works as the executive assistant to the president, was a general student worker in the office until she graduated, and now works full-time in her current role.
Describe a typical day at work.
Joe: The Churchill project started in 1965 and just ended last year. My work consists primarily of footnoting, indexing, proofreading, and transcribing research for all the documents. During my time, I’ve worked on volumes 19-23, and there are 23 volumes total. Now that all the volumes are published, we’re doing preliminary work for future projects and working on the Churchill website, which offers an overview of the project, a timeline, a sample of each volume of the biography, and selected art and articles that relate to Churchill.
Madi: As a student, I was a general President’s Office worker. My office work consisted mainly of writing and editing, which suited my English major. I worked there sophomore and junior year, but senior year I was on WHIP and could only work for the beginning of my last semester.
Now, my official title is Executive Assistant to the President. Essentially, I make his job easier by organizing travel, logistics, events, senior dinners, and Broadlawn functions. I am the funnel through which Dr. Arnn communicates with the rest of the staff: basically the go-to person for administrative tasks that involve the president.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Joe: The attention to detail and constant pressure can be hard. Since this was a published biography, there was a demand for accuracy and high standards. At the same time, though, I felt a good deal of personal ownership over the project. Now that it’s published, I can go into the volumes and find footnotes that I wrote. And my name is in the acknowledgments in the front!
Madi: It can be tough to help the president balance a job that’s kind of overwhelming. Sometimes there’s not always an easy answer to a hard question. Becoming an effective resource for Dr. Arnn has been a learning curve, and it’s still in progress.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Joe: Volume 20 of Churchill’s biography unfolded entirely while I was there, and I enjoyed answering research queries and being a part of the whole process. Finally I got to see the final copy, and it was amazing to see a beautiful finished work that I was proud of.
Madi: I loved meeting interesting people at the board meetings and hearing fascinating stories from the trustees, which is not something you have access to as a student. I get to expand my understanding of the Hillsdale community through these experiences. The College is a complex institution. It’s a microcosm of society with all the features of a society factoring into it. It’s by nature unspecialized, because it houses the entire lives of students, and I love to see the work that goes into it.
I had never realized the variety of positions available for student workers at the President’s Office. If you enjoy research and office work and want to share in a small part of Dr. Arnn’s life—whether in contributing to the research he’s passionate about or helping to keep his office running smoothly—there is definitely something for you here.
Elizabeth Vietor, ’20, is a Latin major with an affinity for thrift shops, butter, and scrunchies. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, originally, but now that she’s here, doesn’t know how she existed for so long without seeing the leaves change every fall.
Published in May 2020