Redesigned WMU Signature program focuses on unique student experiences

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A program focused on helping Western Michigan University students stand out to employers is getting a redesign. WMU Signature is streamlining its process, based on student feedback, to better highlight purpose-driven projects and encourage more students to participate.

"These experiences are student-directed projects that really put their purpose into action, taking what they've learned in and outside class and applying it to a real-world problem," says Evan Heiser, interim director of Career and Student Employment Services and director of WMU Signature. "It's about endorsing (the project), getting the University to stand behind it and helping students to talk about their experience."

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Signature Experiences culminate integrative learning projects that embody one of 10 chosen pathways:

  • Arts and culture

  • Civic engagement

  • Diversity, inclusion, equity and justice

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Global engagement

  • Health and well-being

  • Leadership

  • Research and creative scholarship

  • Sustainability

  • Teaching and student success

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Those pathways appear as designations on a student's diploma and academic transcript, offering a tangible way to express to potential employers the unique skills they've developed at Western. No other university offers such a high-level student engagement endorsement.

"It's really about making sure this is something employers are going to see and talk about," says Heiser. "We want to make sure that we're really highlighting the thing the student did that's unique."

Students are challenged to start thinking about their passions and what they might want to do for their Signature Experience from the time they enroll in classes their first year. The program no longer requires attendance at a certain number of WMU Signature-designated campus events. However, students who choose to attend can still record and track those experiences, and they're encouraged to do so to help cultivate ideas and refine their chosen pathway.

Signature Experiences can range from a research or community service project to a project the student played a lead role in through an internship or a Registered Student Organization. Experience proposals are reviewed by WMU Signature staff members who provide feedback and guidance on how to best articulate and highlight their work.

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"One of the big things students have told us is being able to work with a staff member to talk about their experience was a huge benefit—to learn succinctly how to describe what their experiences are," Heiser says. "Employers and grad schools have been asking for students to be able to talk about their experiences and have these applied learning opportunities for a long time. WMU Signature is a simple program that really helps to try to pull all that together across the entire University."

It's a model institutions across the country have taken note of and begun working to implement.

"So much of it is validating the amazing things that are already happening on campus, rather than saying we're going to create a whole bunch of new programming and initiatives."

Students can get started on the WMU Signature webpage.

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