Instant Replay: Creating Better Results with New Practices in Old Trainings

Would you like to create more energy, buy-in, and professional development in your student employees? Gillian Perry and Stefanie Norris recently shared their experiences revitalizing training from new employee orientation to graduate assistant professional development based on feedback from assessment. They also shared tips for others hoping to revitalize their own programs. If you missed the live program, it has been archived and is available in the On Demand section of the ACUI Library.Staff training graphic

Stefanie Norris is the Director of Campus Life Arts & Programs at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her current role includes overseeing unit operations which include the Association for Campus Entertainment, Campus Life Student Employment, Sharky’s Box Office and Game Room, Lumina Theater and Boseman Art Gallery.

Gillian Perry is the Assistant Director of Campus Life Arts and Programs at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her current role includes oversight of a movie theater, game room, marketing initiatives, and the Campus Life Student Employment Program, which includes all major training initiatives from new employee training to Graduate Assistant professional development.

Their institution has approximately 125 student employees. Their employee programming budget for the year is between $15-18,000 a year. Much of that is due to an endowment. Despite having a sizable budget, they work to keep cost–efficient. Therefore, the experiences they share in the program can be modified to smaller budgets.


UNC-Wilmington stresses the idea that campus life is family. This starts at onboarding. New employee orientation is done online. They were finding that students were working up to a year before they take new employee orientation. Moving online corrected this challenge. Blackboard is used as the Learning Management System to deliver the training.

The objectives are simple:

  • Understand the structure of Campus Life and the responsibilities of each unit within Campus Life.
  • Be able to identify professional staff members in each of the Campus Life units.
  • Be knowledgeable of all the policies and procedures contained in the Campus Life Student Employee Handbook.
  • Understand the expectations and responsibilities of being a Campus Life student employee.

The university is currently transitioning to Canvas, and training will likely be transitioning to that platform, as well.

New employee orientation includes a breakdown of who’s who in Campus Life. This introduces them to the five units within the department. The training covers policies and procedures. There is a brief reflection and evaluation module using the GROW model. They also hope to add basic safety training in the future. Quizzes make sure students are understanding the content. Feedback on the training has been positive. Right now, the training is basic but they are working on adding voice over technology, interactive elements, and gamification to improve the training. If you would like to see what the student view of the online training looks like, check out the video version of this webinar.

All-staff Training

All-staff training is called Behind Closed Doors. The framework is used by Housing and Residence Life to place new Resident Assistants in situations they will likely encounter as part of the job. This is structured role-play that allows student staff to practice addressing conflicts or crisis scenarios. Topic for scenarios include medical emergencies, inter-staff conflict, active shooter, customer service, cultural competency, and Title IX. Service animal training is being added this year. Behind Closed Doors provides a stable framework, while also allowing scenarios to be flexible as needs change from year to year. The overall feedback on this training has also been positive.

If you wanted to implement something like this on your campus. Gillian and Stefanie have some advice for you. There are logistical concerns, including space, human resources and timing, that need to be considered. You will want to map out topics, learning outcomes, and assessment methods. The presenters recommend a large-group warm-up session to relieve anxiety and prevent hazing. Facilitators and actors will need some guidance, and you will need to consider how to wrap-up the training. The students especially appreciate seeing all the professional staff participating.

Building Tradition and Leadership

Utilizing seasoned staff as team captains and Behind Closed Doors actors helps build community. Including some fun traditions also help build community. At UNC-Wilmington they have Campus Life Olympics. Each area has different tasks. BCD teams have to complete each task, such as button-making, trivia questions, or focusing a projector. These tasks can change from year to year. Much like the rest of the training, there is a framework tradition, but the content is flexible.  

Student Manager Training

Eighty percent of the student employees work within six staffs. Each of those staffs has a student manager.  They handle personnel management. It is the highest leadership position. They are always paid at the same rate. In addition to a retreat and refresher, they meet monthly for professional development. Topics include difficult conversation, conducting employee evaluations, and other relevant topics. A graduate assistant plans these trainings. Having a third party conduct the training has been beneficial, as it removes the influence of power that happens when working with their supervisor. The retreat includes team-building, special topics (strengths), and scenarios.

Graduate Assistant Training and Development

The graduate assistant training helps identify personal interests, strengths, values, and skills that inform intentional career decision-making. They learn to communicate Campus Life experiences to potential employers. They participate in experiential learning opportunities. They also use professional reflection to balance their various identities and responsibilities.  

If you would like to hear what else Gillian and Stefanie had to say on this topic, feel free to check out the On Demand version in the ACUI Library. This program many details about the UNC Wilmington programs, future plans there, as well as responses to questions and answers that are not covered in this article. You can also continue the conversation in the Student Employee Supervision Community of Practice discussion forum.

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