Posted July 13, 2015 by Elizabeth Beltramini 

She Works Hard for the Money

Editor's letter from the July/August 2015 issue of The Bulletin

As higher education continues to face pressure to develop job-ready graduates, experiences where students can gain needed competencies and serve in leadership roles are critical. ACUI is fortunate to have several student employees working in various capacities. Megan Medellin has been our editorial intern for two years and has become part of the Central Office family. She arrives to work early and plans ahead for potential scheduling challenges, working two jobs and taking a full course load.

july 2015 bulletin coverOne day last winter, we received several inches of snow, and many staff members—including me—could not get to the office because the roads were slick. Megan made sure to leave her residence hall early that morning in case the buses were running slowly or weren’t running at all and she’d need to walk. She arrived safely to work and proceeded to assist the skeleton staff with an assortment of tasks. This situation affirmed the trust I have in Megan. I am confident that she will get a job done, even if it’s outside her normal responsibilities and even without direct oversight.

Each year the National Association of Colleges and Employers surveys employers about what they want in new college graduate hires. The attributes most commonly mentioned are leadership, the ability to work in a team, written communication skills, problem-solving skills, and a strong work ethic. Interestingly, these are all nontechnical skills; they could be useful in almost any professional role. Additionally, having held a leadership position influences an employer’s hiring decision more than does what school they attended or their GPA. I know that upon graduation, Megan might not choose a career in student affairs or association management, but her writing skills, collaborative nature, and sense of responsibility will make her an attractive candidate. Megan, like many other students, might not have had the opportunity to develop such attributes solely within a classroom setting. The cocurricular employment experience plays an important role.

This issue of The Bulletin explores student employment, building from where ACUI’s book Enhancing Student Learning through College Employment ended.

The first article on student employment highlights findings from 10 years of student employee outcomes assessment. Maggie Towle and Denny Olsen explain the evolution of the student employment program at the University of Minnesota and how it has benefitted student staff and their supervisors. Many of the outcomes align well with the NACE survey: resilience, self-awareness, responsibility, appreciation of differences, etc. Importantly, examples show these outcomes in practice and how they apply to a variety of roles within unions and activities. Clear expectations and performance management have been characteristics of the program, leading to its success over the years. As some campuses strive to formalize or advance their student employment program as an experiential learning opportunity, the University of Minnesota can serve as a benchmark.

The second article on student employment examines the experiences of alumni who worked in a union during college. The article is based on Matt Ducatt’s doctoral research and features a variety of graduates’ perspectives as they reflect on their development and self-efficacy resulting from student employment in a university union. The dissertation adds to the literature on college unions and points to former student employees’ perceived gains in many of the areas the NACE survey indicated are desirable.

This is the time of year when many departments are revitalizing student employee training programs or onboarding new professionals. These articles, as well as research on professional talent development, specific student demographics such as nontraditionally aged populations, and advice for new professionals can inform such planning efforts. As I prepare for the next academic year, I’m excited to welcome our returning student employees and orient our new ones. Despite having already studied abroad in Ghana, France, and England, Megan is off to Germany for the semester. She’ll be missed, but I look forward to providing a cocurricular learning environment to other students as well.

Elizabeth Beltramini

Elizabeth Beltramini is the Director of Content Curation at ACUI.

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