A Perspective from Blake Milstead, RAM Federal Work-Study Student

By Blake Milstead

In the summer of 2022, I was preparing to start my sophomore year at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where I study Computer Science. I knew I needed to find a job during the semester to cover my living expenses, because I was, to put it nicely, strapped for cash. It’s not like I could have predicted that two summer trips would have been super expensive and non-conducive to an unemployed college student’s lifestyle. Suffice it to say when I received my financial aid package from UTK and saw they were offering me the opportunity to participate in a federal work-study for both the spring and fall semesters, I was beyond ecstatic, a little nervous, and confused by what that meant.

To meet my excitement, calm my nerves, and answer my questions, I began researching the federal work-study program at UTK. I found out they provide specific jobs that are located on and off campus that qualify for the program. The interesting thing is that the on-campus jobs pay less than the off-campus jobs, and the off-campus jobs are all non-profit/volunteer based. As I’m sure you can imagine, for a recently broke college kid, the choice was a no-brainer.

I began looking into the listed non-profits and found two that piqued my interest: Ijams Nature Center and Remote Area Medical (RAM). My role at Ijams would allow me to work in nature, and my role at RAM would allow me to work with computer science, both of which I have a real passion for. All that was left to do now was to apply to both and hope to land an interview; luckily enough, I received invitations to interview for them both. RAM scheduled their interview with me first, so I wore my best interview outfit, sponsored by Khols, and walked right into RAM Headquarters.

I was nervous about this interview, because it was the first real one of my professional career. All of my nerves were gone, however, as soon as I was greeted by the members of RAM who were to interview me: the development manager/my current boss, Angie John, and the federal work-study coordinator/sports signature connoisseur, Russell Williams. During the interview, we initially discussed all the normal interview-y things such as prior work experience, education, and so on, however, after all this was covered, we began discussing RAM itself. I was told about its legendary founder Stan Brock and many of his exploits, the nature of the organization’s mission “to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need,” and how the organization accomplishes this mission with clinics providing free vision, dental, and medical care to those attending. The most important thing I can remember thinking after leaving my interview was how much passion these people had for the mission that RAM set out to accomplish and that I wanted to help them do it in any way possible.

I was so inspired by RAM’s story, staff, volunteers, and mission that I decided I didn’t need to do my interview with Ijams. This was where I wanted to be. Russell contacted me a few days after the interview offering me the position of Development Data and Research Intern, which I hastily accepted. This was an opportunity to get some real-world experience in my field of study, help people in need, and get paid for doing it.
First days are always nerve-wracking, but mine at RAM could not have been more encouraging and comfortable. I was toured around the headquarters and introduced to many of the staff that I would be working with, all of whom met my nervous smile with a comforting one. It has been just over two months since I started working at RAM. I have created my will, become ordained, found out I am lawful-good in the moral compass test, argued about the value of sharks to the ecosystem, and helped those in need within my community. Every day is an adventure, and every time I leave work feeling inspired by my coworkers and satisfied by my small role in helping this amazing organization accomplish its mighty mission.