The Lifeblood of Campus: Celebrating Student Employment Week in 2021

Every year campuses celebrate student employees during the aptly named Student Employment Week, which begins Sunday and end April 16. An integral part of a smooth running campus, and particularly student unions and centers, student employees work in a variety of areas, often discovering pathways to future careers in the process. The Bulletin has previously covered the benefits of student employment; an article about a study on the positive impact of student employment in unions provides one of many examples.

Despite COVID-19 vaccinations quickly becoming available to all adults, the United States still feels the impacts of the ongoing pandemic. This affects how we hire students, train them, and share in their work experiences, so the celebration of student employees has required some reworking as well. As far back as 2018, The Bulletin wrote about navigating the virtual student employment process, a sign of things to come. It should come as no surprise that celebrations for Student Employment Week continue to adapt to the tide of wearing masks, social distancing, virtual organizing and networking.

Those challenges and obstacles will not prevent higher education from honoring their student employees, like at Texas State University, where they will announce the winner of its Student Employee of the Year Program. Colorado State University published a guide on how to celebrate student employees virtually during this time.

The Division of  Student Affairs’ Peer Leader Appreciation Week at Virginia Commonwealth University, where peer leaders are defined as “a student who has been selected and trained to serve in a leadership role that supports student success," will offer a week of activities that bring attention the important role these students play.

In addition to an awards ceremony, the division will create a virtual appreciation wall, offer workshops related to wellness and peer leader supervisors, and conduct a Battle of the Peer Leaders Trivia Night.

Nick Sydow, the coordinator of peer leadership at VCU student affairs, said professional staff who supervise peer leaders are also asked to download and use unique Zoom backgrounds for meetings with those students, be sure they post messages to the Virtual Appreciation Wall during the week, and send a digital e-card expressing appreciation for their work.

Melissa Beecher, director of Memorial Union Building & Student Activities at the University of New Hampshire, and Chrissie King, assistant director for the Campus Center at Rutgers University-Camden, both talked about plans for Student Employment Week.

Beecher detailed the Memorial Union Building’s plans, which include giving student employees “individually wrapped sugar cookies from a local bakery,” hanging a large banner that showcases each of the students’ areas with the tagline ‘Thank a MUB Student Employee today!’ to raise awareness with [their] campus community,” and sharing “posts on social [media accounts.”

Beecher said they take a three-pronged approach for Student Employment Week at New Hampshire:

  • “We want to celebrate our employees as the staff who works with them.”
  • “We want the campus community to also be aware of the amazing work our student employees do (hence why we will have balloons and the banner to call attention).”
  • “We want the larger community—including alumni and prospective students and families—to know how much we value our employees by sharing on social media about them and the incredible work they do each day.”

“My pro staff have pulled together this thoughtful celebration during a tricky time when we can’t have traditional in-person festivities, and I’m really proud of them for finding creative ways to celebrate our dedicated students,” Beecher said.
 
At Rutgers University-Camden, King launched a committee to determine the best ways to recognize and celebrate student employees this year.

“As we do each year, the Campus Center at Rutgers University-Camden wanted to do something special to recognize our student employees during National Student Employment Week in April,” King said. “We knew that this year would be very different; not only was our staffing cut by a third, but the budget was also cut tremendously.”

“We truly tried to think of all of the different ways that students like to be recognized,” King said. “I found it important to let them brainstorm so I could get their honest input. The thing they missed the most was all of them being together. I knew that the off-campus fun they were proposing would be a long-stretch with the COVID-19 pandemic and budget restrictions, but we created a proposal nonetheless.”

The result? An entire week with planned activities and events. The festivities include a grab-and-go ice cream station, social media highlights, a “Treat Yourself Day” with coupons from local businesses and restaurants, and a pizza day.

“The most important thing I’ve learned about recognizing our student employees is that a HUGE budget is not needed; it’s the little things,” King said.

 

 

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