Crafting the Student Employee Experience
An introduction to the design of a collaborative work experience for student employees
By Nick Noel, Instructional Designer
There has been a great deal of transition within our organization. We have had to develop new processes in order to support the activities of the Hub, and many of us have even shifted offices in order accommodate new duties and better collaborate with project partners. These changes have also led us to reevaluate how we interact with the students who work with us, and what the goals in regard to student employees should be.
Previously, our model of determining when and how to hire student employees was based on our needs for specific skills, or to increase our project capacity. Often, due to the nature of our work, we hired students who were trained in either media production or software development. However, recent shifts to the makeup of our staff have allowed us to adjust how we approach student employment. Instead of employing solely based on specific skills, we are beginning to pay particular attention to creative and interested problem solvers who want to contribute their voice and experience to the projects that we work on.
This has coincided with an effort to provide a guided learning experience for the students we employ. The goal is to ensure that each student who works with us gains insight into their own skills and abilities, beyond what a traditional student employee experience would be. We are not only an organization that creates and manages projects, but a place in service of learning. The way we engage with students who work here needs to reflect that.
At present we are calling this process the “Student Development Plan,” though we’re hoping to come up with something more engaging, and less authoritarian, as we progress. While we are just in the initial stages, and it will surely change as it is further developed, we have drafted a working framework.
Students assignments work one of two ways. There is the traditional way, which we have labeled a resource pool, in which students are overseen by a supervisor and assigned tasks as the needs arise. The second way is through a mentorship, in which a staff member agrees to advise and coach a student for a semester, by involving them as integral contributors to large scale projects.
In addition to re-working the work assignment structure, we are also in the process of developing activities for the students to participate in as a way to explore their own skills and challenge them to think creatively. One of these activities includes creating physical biographies that allow professional full-time employees to learn more about our students, their skills, and the projects they are working on. Another activity includes setting goals that the students would like to achieve with opportunities for cycles of feedback on the progress they are making over time.
As we work through the design of this plan, we have made sure to include our current students in its design. This began by holding bi-weekly meetings for students to discuss their work process and any issues they are having with managing the various activities they are engaged in. We also have conversations with each one on activities that the students would like to engage in during their time working at the Hub.
We have only just started on what will hopefully become a customized working experience that not only gives students real world experiences, but also challenges them to think about their future goals and honestly assess their abilities. Watch for future blog posts that continue to document our changes with this process, including reflections from our student employees about their experiences.