In any business, employee engagement results in feelings of ownership. But on a college campus, it can have an even greater impact for student employees.
“It’s even more important because you hopefully can help supplement their education with on-the-job tasks and training,” said Natalie Hiller-Claridge, the senior assistant director of campus recreation at the University of Montana. “I think it’s vital to a college student’s holistic education.”
Hiller-Claridge explained over the past few years, there has been a transition in the campus recreation department at the University of Montana. The new director is big on student development and changed the staffing structure to reflect this. Now, student employees can work their way up to management roles, versus just a supervisor role. “It just keeps that engagement hopefully throughout their career so that they’re striving to become that student manager, which hopefully will make them a more well-rounded professional as they graduate,” said Hiller-Claridge.
For the professional staff, letting the students take on managerial roles has been beneficial. It has freed up some of their management duties, like needing a professional staff member at the facility during night and weekend shifts. Student managers have been able to fill in those roles.
“Besides the tangible skills that the students are gaining, what it does for our professional staff members is we can free up some time to work on things we maybe didn’t have time for before,” said Hiller-Claridge. “So for example, our outdoor program with our re-staffing structure, the two professional staff members had time to put in a new program. It’s called Freshmen Wilderness Experience.”
In fact, she explained surveys and studies have shown students in the Freshmen Wilderness Experience program are staying in school and have a higher GPA than the rest of the student body combined.
Along with new programs, Hiller-Claridge said having students in these roles also brings new ideas to the department. She explained many of the professional staff members have been in their positions at the university for years. “I think what happens is we get stuck doing the same things over and over again,” she said. “Well, you bring those students in with a fresh perspective and they’re in touch with the students. They come up with new ideas and new programming that we can offer our students that maybe otherwise we wouldn’t have.”
On top of boosting employee engagement through the ability for students to move up in the ranks, Hiller-Claridge said they also started nominating an Employee of the Month in the fall of 2014. She explained it shows how their employees are thriving and the opportunities that they are given at the rec center.
Ultimately, Hiller-Claridge said it’s just about empowering the student employees to keep them engaged and giving them opportunities to step into leadership roles. “So, empowering and trusting and believing that they can do the job and just making sure that you’re there to coach them along the way,” said Hiller-Claridge.
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