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Feature

Student employee, Lindsey Willaert, and her supervisor, Johnna Nynas, at the contract post office where Willaert works in Coffman Union.

Student employee Lindsey Willaert, right, and her supervisor, Johnna Nynas, at the contract post office in Coffman Union.

Life skills 1001

A pilot project helps students document what they learn in campus jobs

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, April 6, 2005

Lindsey Willaert is taking five classes and is glad to have the convenience of a job on campus. For 15 hours each week, she suits up in a black Minnesota sweatshirt to work in customer service at Coffman Union. Depending on the day and shift, she might be at the post office or at the Gopher Express convenience store down the hall.

Willaert is one of the 5,600 student employees on the Twin Cities campus who help the University run. But she's also part of a pilot project that is making her job an integral part of her whole learning experience at the U.

Every six months, Willaert and her supervisor, Johnna Nynas, complete an evaluation that links her job performance to seven learning outcomes and characteristics, from accountability to resilience, that are University goals for all students. (See box, below.)

Learning outcomes and characteristics

* Responsibility and accountability
* Independence and interdependence
* Goal orientation
* Self-confidence/humility
* Resilience
* Appreciation of differences
* Tolerance of ambiguity

Helping students develop these learning outcomes is the mission of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), of which the student unions are a part. The outcomes were established under the leadership of Gerald Rinehart, associate vice provost for student affairs.

"We sponsor all these activities and programs for learning outside the classroom, but when we did an assessment last year, we realized that we hadn't focused on student employment," says Maggie Towle, director of the Twin Cities Student Unions (TCSU).

About 250 student employees work for TCSU and hundreds more in the 14 OSA units. The assumption, says Towle, was that students work to make money and benefit from the campus environment of student jobs. But how they benefit was uncertain because no one was measuring their specific development.

Towle and senior associate director Denny Olsen developed Learning Outcomes Assessments for several jobs, which allow supervisors and student workers to rate student performance in seven areas based on the seven target life skills and characteristics.

Willaert says the assessment helps her see progress in key areas and work to improve in others. It also gives her the language to describe the value of her campus work experience and will help her articulate the skills she's learned when she hits the full-time job market.

Office of Student Affairs

OSA's 14 units employ hundreds of students in part-time jobs.

* Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education
* Boynton Health Service
* Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs (GLBT) Office
* Leadership Programs
* Office for Student Academic Integrity
* Orientation & First-Year Programs
* Parent Program
* Recreational Sports
* Student Activities Office
* Student Judicial Affairs
* Twin Cities Student Unions
--Coffman Memorial Union
* St. Paul Campus Career Center
* University Counseling & Consulting Services
* University Student Legal Service

See also the OSA Web site.

"I've had two other jobs off campus, and in neither one did I have an assessment," says Willaert. "I'm a very goal-oriented person, and in this job, I have something specific to work with that lets me compare my own personal job assessment with my supervisor's. It makes it much easier for me to see how I'm progressing towards my personal goals and the goals my supervisor wants me to achieve."

The pilot project, which started in September, has so far included 14 students and 5 supervisors in the student unions. The results have been very positive, says Towle, and she sees the program expanding.

"My ultimate dream would be to connect with academic departments and offer credit for students' work," she says.

Linking OSA's learning goals with student jobs makes sense, say the participating students and supervisors. Nynas says that more feedback is the most common request she has heard as a supervisor.

"Students tend to underestimate their performance and skill development," she says. "One of the most rewarding things about this assessment is the opportunity to show them how well they are doing. Especially with the skill sets laid out, this is an easy way to do it."

Willaert says her campus job is the best she could have--short of an internship in her actuarial science major.

"I like setting goals, being more independent, gaining leadership skills, getting to know people, and learning to be more outgoing," says Willaert. "My favorite thing is the confidence it gives me."

For more information about the pilot project, contact Maggie Towle at towle002@umn.edu or Denny Olsen at olsen013@umn.edu.

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