Crafting Student Employment Experience – One Semester In
A reflection on the student employee experience at the Hub, and how it can evolve.
By Nick Noel
Nearly a semester has gone by since I last discussed crafting an intentional student employee experience. This idea grew out of my personal observations, as a former student employee, as well as the past three years managing students. I have notice that the tendency is to devalue the work that students do, while at the same time demanding that they be flexible with their time. This has the effective message of, “what you do isn’t important, but you have to be here anyway.” This doesn’t align with what I think the goals of a University should be in regards to its student employees. We should value the insights and knowledge that they bring, and understand that their time is constrained by a variety of factors and obligations. “Treat the students as equals, but understand that they are students,” has become my personal mantra.
Replace Manager with Coach
There is nothing inherently wrong with the term manager. In fact, management is a necessary aspect of all enterprises. However, at its core, management is about “coping with complexity” (Kotter, 1990, p. 86), and allocating resources. Which doesn’t connote the type of relationship or experience I want to foster for the Hub’s students. Instead, I have begun to consider myself as more of a coach. In this role, I not only delegate responsibilities, but also provide resources and tools so that students are able to “fully develop themselves”, (Cacioppe).
In the grand scheme of things, it is a small detail. However, I think it sets the tone for the type of relationship that I would like to have with the students who work at the Hub. Managers help you find opportunities to progress and succeed. Coaches help you reach your potential, and allow you to determine what your ultimate goals are.
Allow for Long Term Student Reflection
As discussed in the previous post, I have developed several activities designed to give students experiences in the type of work that Learning Designers perform, as well as give them a chance to think about and develop their own career goals. Currently, I have created ten activities that will be spaced across two semesters.
In general, these activities are meant to only last an hour or so. However, the feedback I received from the students was that they would appreciate an opportunity to track and reflect on their experiences. In order to address this, I will be asking new students to keep a semester-long journal of their thoughts and experiences during their time at work. The culmination of this will be a short presentation that all the students give where they highlight their achievements and growth over the course of the semester.
Discontinue the Resource Pool and Mentorship Model
Originally, the way I had envisioned student work being structured was either through a resource pool, or through mentorships. In the resource pool model, I assigned students projects based on the needs of the team. Whereas, with mentorships, a full-time staff person had the opportunity to include a student on any of their work activities and projects. I had the best of intentions when I formulated that model, as I wanted to protect students from being overwhelmed with work. However, I have now chosen to abandon these models.
The main issue that I have found is that these models create bottlenecks by making me the primary person that assigns tasks to the students, so if I’m out of the office, students may be lost as to what they are supposed to work on. It also cuts off the student employees from the rest of the staff. If I want to collaborate with a colleague, I am free to do so, I don’t have to check with my manager first. It should be the same for student employees.
I am still concerned about students getting burned out. We are lucky that our main problem with students is that they take on too much work, not too little. However, this means that we have to be careful not to overload them, and that they don’t overload themselves. So, instead, I have made sure to tell students that they should let me know as soon as they are feeling overwhelmed. I also make sure to check in with them periodically to gauge what their workload is. The effect is the same, but the looser structure allows for greater collaboration among full-time and student staff.
I envision this as a continually evolving process. I’m sure there are aspects that I am going to adjust or abandon over the course of the coming semesters. This could be due to changes in work priorities, the needs of new students, or that I was just wrong in my thinking.
As part of this process, I would love to hear from anyone who would like to share their experiences. What was the most important thing you received from a colleague or mentor? Alternatively, for those that work with students, what programs or practices have you implemented that were the most effective?
Cacioppe, R. What is Workplace Coaching? Retrieved from http://www.integral.org.au/Kotter,
J.P. (1990) What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review Best of HBR 85-96