By: Marnie Schleicher | The Duquesne Duke
A line of Duquesne students holding to-go boxes forms in front of an unattended Off Ramp cash register with not an employee in sight. One boy finds the courage to approach the small group of workers taking breaks on the other side of the room and asks, “Can anyone check us out?”
Shonetta Ahywood looks up and sees the line at the other register, a smile forming across her face as she replies loudly, “Come on over here, you guys!”
With reading glasses sitting atop her red Duquesne Dining visor, Shonetta swipes ID after ID, asking students about their weekends or how their day was.
Shonetta’s laughter is infectious and rings above the loud chatter after she asks a girl if she studied over the weekend.
“She said she studied. Uh-huh,” Shonetta said. “What’s his name?”
“She’s funny,” RayNisha Addison, another cashier at Off Ramp, says. “She makes the day go faster. I hear students say ‘I love her!’ as they walk away.”
Addison, who is 19, has been working at Off Ramp since August, but she doesn’t get to interact with Shonetta as much as she would like to during her shift. She admires the interactions between Shonetta and the students and wants to be friendlier in her own work ethic.
“I just have that kind of personality. I like to talk to everyone,” Shonetta says.
Her personality is what got her a job at Duquesne in the first place, according to Shonetta.
“I wooed them with my charm at the interview,” she said
Shonetta has worked at Duquesne for six years. She has worked in the Sean Hogan Dining Center as well as Options, but Off Ramp will always be her favorite.
“It’s where I started and I wanted to stay there,” she says.
The 44 year-old is a staple of Duquesne Dining, but she is a self-described homebody. A mother of five, Shonetta has two grandchildren who are never far away. Originally from the Hill District, Shonetta now resides in Mt. Oliver and her children, the ones who aren’t at home with her, live right up the street.
“We are a very close family,” Shonetta smiles.
She always cooks for her family, and Sunday dinners at her house are mandatory. “If they can’t come over, I bring the food to them.”
With her youngest daughter a senior in high school, Shonetta stays busy with volunteering and fundraising for the senior class.
“I’m getting ready to rock their world. I got some plans for them,” she said.
When she isn’t volunteering or making her favorite barbecue ribs, Shonetta reads as much as she can, buying books from Amazon.
Shonetta takes her role at Off Ramp seriously, but she also tries to bring a smile to students’ faces, even when they’re stressed out.
“I’m just getting to know people and trying to brighten up their day, especially around finals time,” she said. “I try to cheer you up as best as I can but my job is to make sure you guys are eating good, at least getting some vegetables in you.”
Molly Montgomery, a senior sociology major, dined on campus for her first two years at Duquesne and even though she lives off campus now, she still makes an effort to go to Off Ramp to see her favorite cashier.
“Shonetta is the best. She always takes time out of her busy schedule to ask how I’m doing to talk to me about life,” Montgomery said. “She has a big heart and an even bigger passion for food.”
Being available to students is a big deal to Shonetta, who always likes to offer any support that she can.
“I make sure that if you guys got something you need to talk about and can’t get a hold of your parents or somebody, maybe somebody might consider coming to me and asking me some questions and I might try to steer them in the right direction,” she says, her tone going from light and playful to something more somber. “I’m not gonna steer them the wrong way cause I got too many kids myself.”
Shonetta smiles, her serious demeanor pushed aside and the fun tone fills her voice again as a group of students pass and say hello to her.
“I love my kids. I don’t always remember everybody’s name but I never forget a face. I give them my own nicknames.”
Students like Montgomery were worried that many Aramark employees wouldn’t be returning this year because of the change to Parkhurst. Shonetta is glad that she was able to come back and help Parkhurst during the transition at Duquesne, and she likes the changes that they have made so far.
“I’m just glad that they did things to make it safer for you guys. A background check, drug tests…” she says. “Safety first. I practice safety.”
Back in Off Ramp, a girl mentions that this is her first time in the dining hall and asks Shonetta about the hoagies and their cost. As she’s wiping down the nearby counter, Shonetta cracks a smile and lets out a chuckle, “I know they’re a bit up there, but I say treat yourself, don’t cheat yourself, baby!”