KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Student employees help keep campus running while building important career competencies to carry with them long after graduation. Challenges brought on by the pandemic put those skills to the test, but Western students demonstrated their ability to pivot and shine in the face of adversity.
"Campus employment gives students the opportunity to be fully engaged on campus and with the greater community," says Brenda Case-Parris, coordinator of student employment in Career and Student Employment Services. "It adds to a student's financial resources, retention and support systems, and it also assists them in building skills, positive work ethic and career readiness."
Career and Student Employment Services gave supervisors the chance to recognize the hard work of all student employees across campus during an appreciation week in February.
"Student employees are key in the accomplishments of departments and overall University missions," Case-Parris says. "Like myself, many staff members could not perform their jobs to their full potential without the assistance of student staff."
Campus departments nominated dozens of outstanding workers for Student Employee of the Year and Supervisor of the Year. Dozens received high praise, but in the end a committee of judges selected the following winners:
Student Employee of the Year (graduate student): Isaac Hughes, University Recreation
Student Employee of the Year (undergraduate student): Flor Santana, Housing and Residence LIfe
Supervisor of the Year: Norm Risk, College of Aviation
Pursuing a master's degree in sports management, Hughes is in his wheelhouse in University Recreation. As a graduate assistant for facilities and programs, he's spent countless hours on fields and courts training student officials for intramural sports and developing programing for the Student Recreation Center (SRC)—even as the pandemic closed facilities.
"That passion has continued this year with the facilities' student staff. Under Isaac's mentorship, I have seen a huge boost in staff morale," says Jordan Olson, University Recreation associate director for facilities and programs. "He has been creating new and innovative virtual content to keep the WMU community involved during the pandemic."
In addition to the SRC, Hughes played an integral role on the campus quarantine and isolation team, which delivered dozens of meals to students over the past several months.
Hughes is from Morgantown, West Virginia, and has worked in University Recreation for nearly two years.
A chemistry major, Santana has her job as an office manager in Housing and Residence Life down to a science.
"Much would not be accomplished in my outer office if Flor did not take the initiative to keep things running smoothly," says Jim Herman, hall director of Britton Hadley Hall. "Working with several mail delivery companies and any number of constant student concerns, Flor has created a system (both electronically and on paper) for keeping track of everything that happens during the day. Her peers have often complimented the way things are labeled and the way notes are specific that help make their jobs easier."
Unshakeable in the face of numerous changes in housing due to COVID-19 concerns, he says Santana demonstrated grace and professionalism under pressure.
"With students having to move in and out and in and out, my office had gotten flooded with emails and phone calls with concerned parents and students asking questions about how we were handling the pandemic," Herman says. "Flor's consummate professionalism on the phone and through email has kept many parents satisfied and appreciative that their students are in good hands."
Supervisors credit her mentorship of new staff and confident leadership for keeping things in order throughout numerous challenges.
Santana is from Miami, Florida, and has worked in Housing and Residence Life for three years.
Being a boss is about more than doling out tasks and logging hours. It's about active leadership and skill-building—something Risk has built a reputation for as supervisor for aviation facilities.
"The biggest lesson Norm has taught me is teamwork. Every day at work, we encounter new and challenging problems. Through Norm's experience and teamwork, we are able to overcome these challenges," says student employee Will Conroy.
"He has taught me and given more knowledge, professionalism, work ethic and skills that (I will utilize) across the rest of my career as a pilot than I think he realizes," adds teammate Ryan Horvath.
Conroy and Horvath are among a crew known around the aviation campus as "Normies," eagerly following Risk's lead in taking care of facilities issues. They say his continual encouragement and support, both academically and professionally, have helped to put them on the path to success, both in school and life.
"He has always supported me during the difficulties and challenges while attending WMU," says Horvath. "He has taught me to think outside the box when looking for ... solutions to complex issues that I will be able to apply to a multitude of problems."
Find more information about Student Appreciation Week and the nominating process for awards on the Career and Student Employment Services webpage.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.