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Enhancing the Student Employment Experience

Many offices within Student Life employ student workers in roles such as front desk workers, interns, personal trainers, peer mentors, and more. In total, Student Life employs more than 1,700 undergraduate and graduate students across the division. Several Student Life offices see this as an opportunity to create a student employment experience that teaches students transferable skills they can use in their future careers.

The Student Union employs approximately 100 students throughout the year to serve in a variety of functional areas: information desk and administrative office, Central Ticket Office, Union Station Recreation, loading dock, tech team and set up team, and as building managers. When students first join the Student Union staff, no matter the functional area, they attend an all-hands training where they are taught policies of the department and facility, in addition to getting to know the professional staff and each other.

Students sitting at tables in the Student Union

Similarly to the Student Union, RecSports also employs an average of 300-350 students as group fitness class instructors, outdoor trip leaders, front desk workers, lifeguards, office assistants, and graduate assistants. They, too, receive a kick-off training event at the beginning of the year where they discuss topics such as policies and customer service, but also dive into diversity topics, ADA requirements, and gender in the workplace.

“Additionally, RecSports requires each new student employee when hired to attend an hour-long employee orientation that introduces them to the Division of Student Life, each program area of RecSports, and general workplace expectations,” said Jon Janis, assistant director for RecSports. “This helps students understand the broad and meaningful impact RecSports has across the campus community along with their own future work experience.”

Janis and Alison Ward, associate director for the Student Union, both emphasized the importance of student works in the day-to-day functions of their facilities.

“We rely on our student staff,” said Janis. “They are our frontline employees dealing with fellow students. The more they understand the importance of the work they are doing, the better they can help serve their fellow students.”

Preparing Students for Work After College

Both the Student Union and RecSports utilize different training and learning outcomes to best provide their student employees with the knowledge and skills needed for future careers. Over the years, many student employees in these offices have attributed their first or next career steps to the skills they gained.

For several years, both offices utilized National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Competencies, eight career readiness competencies that focus on providing students with skills that are key to ensuring college students are better prepared for their careers.

Previous student employees have noted the skills gained through their work in the department helped them succeed in their professional roles. An intramural manager also explained, “My leadership experiences as an intramural manager were invaluable to my post-graduate opportunities. I was able to learn how to direct and organize people, develop strong time management skills, take on real responsibility where I was the point person on projects, and develop strong interpersonal skills. Working with a multitude of people in a leadership role prepared me for my first job out of college. It also provided experiences that I used in my formal interview process for graduate school.”

“At a university, we are a place of learning,” said Janis. “We want to help them build out students’ foundations for their next careers by providing them with transferable skills.”

The Student Union offers a few programs to help their student employees gain skills and knowledge that prepare them for careers after college. Training and development activities include resume-building workshops, communications development and conflict management sessions, and financial wellness training.

The Student Union with the silhouette of students walking in front

“We want them to understand that it is more than just a job to pass the time,” said Ward. “We want to help them see that what they do here is applicable later. Providing these opportunities and building those connections is paramount to their success.”

The Student Union sees a high amount of engagements with their professional development programs from their manager level employees, student building managers. The managers spend several weeks job shadowing other staff to better understand the importance of their role. Ward notes that several building managers have remarked that not only do they have their careers, but have succeeded in them due to the knowledge they gained during their employment with the Student Union.

“I’ve had several students come back or reach out to me after they’ve graduated and tell me that their experience working here has made them who they are today,” said Ward.

Student managers are taught to use their voice, both to their fellow students and with faculty and professional staff. They are provided a boost of support to build their confidence to better succeed in their role as a manager and student leader.

Student Union Building Manager Wins ACUI Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader Award

Brooklyn Barnes, a senior kinesiology and neuroscience major and student building manager in the Student Union, was recently awarded the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader award by the Association of College Unions International. This award is given to an undergraduate student who has shown a dedicated work ethic in the student union/student activities field. As the recipient, Brooklyn has demonstrated significant contributions to campus and has served as a role model for fellow peers and students.

“I became a building manager about six months after I started working in the Union, and in this role I finally found my place on campus,” said Barnes. “As a manager, I have been able to serve students, faculty and staff, and visitors, as well as build relationships with other departments within the building. I have had the opportunity to build the confidence to speak up for myself and my peers, which I have taken and used in my extracurricular involvement on and off campus. Overall, working at the Student Union has given me the chance to grow as a person and a leader, and I am truly grateful that my coworkers and the professional staff have been so supportive in this process.”

Her nominator, a fellow Student Union student employee, wrote in her nomination of Barnes, “She is the kind of leader that myself and many others strive to be.”