By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Audrey Piacsek (Sr., Ellensburg, WA/Ellensburg HS) appreciates the sense of community at Willamette University while working toward a double-major in Psychology and English, and competing as a member of the women's cross country and track and field teams. They also work at The Bistro on campus and are the shop's financial manager.
Piacsek has worked at The Bistro since the spring of 2019. It has become an important part of their life at Willamette.
"I originally decided to apply because I love baking, but between college classes and living in the dorms, I hadn't been able to do very much in the kitchen," Piacsek said.
Now Piacsek has been actively involved with The Bistro for several years and has formed many memories with fellow workers and customers, including many fellow students and athletes.
"Over the last three years, The Bistro has been one of my favorite parts of Willamette," Piacsek explained. "It's a fun time -- you have a lot of freedom to experiment and make cookies and other food that you like. I love working at the counter and seeing all my friends and classmates come by to get a latte and hang out in the space."
Part of the joy for Piacsek is the chance to form friendships with so many people who represent a wide range of Willamette students, faculty, and staff.
"The community of The Bistro is also amazing; everyone who works here is kind and helpful and we take pride in being an inclusive, student-centered space," they explained.
Piacsek's role as the financial manager has increased their involvement with The Bistro while also increasing their responsibilities as an employee. Even so, Piacsek finds time for their other commitments away from The Bistro.
"Working as a manager means doing a lot of troubleshooting, especially as we try to rebound from our COVID-19 restrictions and loss of business last year, but it's also incredibly rewarding," Piacsek commented. "I'm definitely very busy between classes, Bistro responsibilities, and athletics, but I've never had too much of a problem fitting it all in. It's nice to be part of two different communities within Willamette, because they've both given me a chance to meet new people and have different experiences."
Piacsek explained many of the responsibilities that are given to the financial manager at The Bistro.
"The three Bistro managers work together to run The Bistro and a lot of the responsibility is shared, but as financial manager I also have some specific duties," they said. "The main ones are running payroll, which also involves keeping track of hours, tips, and anything else related to paying our baristas. I'm also in charge of filing invoices and tracking our expenses to make sure we're on track financially."
Taking on financial responsibilities at The Bistro has helped Piacsek gain experience and knowledge about the business world.
"I've learned a lot about business just this semester as a manager!" they said. "The Bistro is still recovering from our loss of business last year due to COVID, so the other managers and I have had to get creative this year to try to bring our business back up to previous levels and overcome some obstacles that we're still dealing with. It can be stressful at times, but it's a very valuable experience and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to cut my teeth in the business world in such a safe and fun environment."
Many students, faculty, and staff find The Bistro to be a great place to relax or meet with others while getting a drink and/or a snack. The result is that workers at The Bistro interact with a significant portion of the campus community. As one of Willamette's many student-run organizations, The Bistro falls under the Office of Student Engagement and Leadership.
"I've been working with Audrey in their role as Bistro Financial Manager, and Audrey has impressed me with their commitment and ability to work with others," Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Engagement & Leadership Lisa Holliday said. "This role requires attention to detail and organizational skills, which Audrey demonstrates consistently and professionally. Audrey's peers describe them as "kind and approachable, someone who is always ready to work."
Piacsek fills other roles at The Bistro in addition to the duties of the financial manager.
"I have a few shifts as a cashier/barista, which is nice. It isn't always possible for managers to take regular shifts since we give priority to the other employees," Piacsek noted. "I also sometimes cover other people's shifts in the kitchen or up front, so I get to be involved in all parts of The Bistro. The managers also usually take on cleaning The Bistro before and after breaks and running all the errands and little behind-the-scenes duties that keep The Bistro up and running. For example, we might run to the store if we're out of ingredients or come in after hours to bake cookies for a coffee service."
Working in a cafe while being a college student participating in cross country and track and field, can keep anyone busy. Piacsek is no different, with limited time for other activities.
"This year in particular, now that I have the added duties and stress of being a manager, The Bistro does take a lot of my time," they noted. "It's almost always fun, and I'm surrounded by great people so it's not a negative thing, but I definitely don't have as much free time, and most weeks I have to be very careful about prioritizing work, practice, schoolwork, and spending time with my friends. I think that's a very common experience for Willamette students. We tend to be very involved in lots of things at once!
"I do think that being an athlete prepared me for stepping into a leadership role here," they asserted. "There are a lot of parallels to being on a sports team and being on The Bistro team, and my experience as a captain and leader on my athletic teams since high school definitely helped give me the confidence to try leadership positions outside of sports as well."
Despite all of the demands on their time, and the many duties that have to be completed for The Bistro to function at its best, Piacsek has been happy working in a small, on-campus setting.
"I have enjoyed the community the most," Piacsek said. "If you asked me about athletics, I'd say the same thing -- my biggest reason for doing all the activities I do ... is the people I meet along the way. I'm sure I'm biased, but I honestly think my coworkers at the Bistro -- past and present -- are some of the most kind, friendly, lovely people on campus. Our goal with The Bistro is to create a space where everyone on campus feels welcome, and our entire staff works hard to make that come true. I have made some great friends here and met people who I never would have otherwise. I'm so happy that The Bistro has been a part of my life. When I look back at my college years ... I know that the communities I've found at The Bistro and on my teams are going to be what I remember the most."