Gaining marketable skills as a student staffer

Contact: Erin Flynn

Katelynn Brandt, a student employee in landscape services, distributes mulch on campus.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Back to campus means back to work for thousands of student employees at Western Michigan University. While there are a variety of benefits to working on campus, a new career readiness certificate program being rolled out this year will give student employees unique tools to better market themselves to future employers.

The program—made possible by an assessment fellows grant—will help student employees develop and articulate career competencies sought after by employers, such as critical thinking, teamwork, leadership and communication skills.

Student supervisors are encouraged to reach out to Dr. Ewa Urban, interim co-director of Career and Student Employment Services at WMU, to get their student employees enrolled in the program, which consists of a one-hour workshop, several interactive online modules, competency-based resume training and a practice interview with a career specialist or employer.

STUDENT GROWTH

In the 2018-19 academic year, some 6,630 WMU students were employed on campus in areas from dining services and residence life to admissions and various colleges. Data from Career and Student Employment Services shows student employees maintain higher GPAs than their peers and also retain and graduate at a higher rate than non-employees. But the benefits extend beyond the classroom.

"Working on campus allows students to create meaningful relationships with students from diverse backgrounds and provides opportunities to observe leaders in action," says Urban. "Student employment engages students who might not be otherwise involved on campus, and it significantly contributes to the development of students' career readiness competencies."

Student supervisors echoed the impacts during a focus group last year.

"It's not about academics," said one supervisor. "It's about personal growth, it's about becoming part of a community, it's about finding out what your individual strengths are."

SERVING UP SUCCESS

Nathan

A hard and dedicated worker, WMU sophomore Temiloluwa Nathan hopes to work on aircraft someday. He came to the United States from his native Nigeria—like his older brother and sister—to help those dreams take off.

While he secured scholarships, Nathan still needed a way to help pay for his education. He found a home in Dining Services.

"I've met so many people, especially in dining, from different countries," says Nathan, who quickly became a dining supervisor.

Balancing work with a demanding mechanical engineering curriculum, Nathan finds solace in the dish room.

Nathan talks with a dining services employee.

"When I'm washing dishes I have time to think about my school work. I can just wash them and try to remember what I studied."

Nathan has learned the importance of discipline and planning to be successful, and he's also developed skills he'll take with him beyond WMU.

"I've learned to work with people," says Nathan, who adds that patience and understanding go a long way in managing employees. "You have to be reasonable when you're talking to people. I learned to say 'thank you, after telling them what I need them to do."

Training for FUTURE CAREERS

Meimers

The Student Recreation Center is a hub of activity on campus. From fitness classes and free weights to a brand new climbing wall, there is something for just about everyone focused on health and wellness. WMU junior Elizabeth Meimers is in the thick of it all.

"The atmosphere really drew me here. You come in and see how everyone gets along. My closest friends are here," the Chicago native says.

Meimers is a facility manager and F45 instructor at the SRC. She oversees employees, tends to injuries that may occur and leads CrossFit-style classes focused on strength and endurance training. That's on top of a tough course schedule as she pursues a bachelor's degree in sociology and minors in both criminal justice and Spanish.

Meimers demonstrates an exercise with ropes from her F45 class.

"They're really flexible with hours here which is nice," says Meimers. "They really stress how important school is before work."

Student development is a focus at the SRC. Student employees learn how to create a resume, write cover letters and take part in mock interviews.

"It gets you ready for the real world, which is an important process," says Meimers, who plans to pursue graduate school and dreams of helping the immigrant population or working with the federal Witness Security Program.

Stressing the welcoming environment, Meimers encourages new students to push past the intimidation of an unfamiliar place and get involved in one of the many activities the SRC offers.

FINDING A HOME

Weatherwax

Moving from a town of just over 2,000 people to a campus of more than 20,000 is intimidating, to say the least.

"It was a really different experience because you know everybody in that kind of a small town, but you could be here four years and still meet somebody new," says Joe Weatherwax, a senior majoring in biomedical science.

Living on campus helped Weatherwax come into his own at WMU.

"I had some really good experiences with resident assistants who really got me involved in the councils and leadership teams," he says.

Weatherwax had such a positive experience he decided to become an RA himself.

"Before going into this position, I didn't really feel like I had that many people supporting me," says Weatherwax, who now works as an administrative resident assistant. "Now, I feel like I have so many people behind me who want me to succeed and are there for me."

His experience in residence life also shaped his path in life. Weatherwax plans to pursue a master's degree in counseling education and eventually go into clinical mental health counseling or become a college counselor.

Weatherwax puts a poster on the wall in Zimmerman Hall.

"It's really helped me realize that I want to help people out on a personal level," he says. "Some of my best moments in the position are when I get to sit down and talk with people on my floor and get to know them better and help them through tough situations."

Weatherwax says being a student employee has also helped him stay on track academically. His supervisors understand that he's a student first and check in to make sure he's keeping up with his schoolwork.

"There's this whole group of people that works together to make sure that you're getting the most you can out of your experience. I've really enjoyed being part of that."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.