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Author: Joan Tupponse, VCU News

Virginia Commonwealth University is one of 12 institutions nationwide selected to participate in the Work+Collective, an initiative focused on enhancing the on-campus student employee experience.

The program, based at Arizona State University and supported by the Strada Education Foundation, helps participating universities – all public schools with similar settings and student demographics –  reimagine on-campus student roles so they become more meaningful learning opportunities. The VCU Work+ effort is being led by Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services, with support from both a core leadership team and a larger campus team of key stakeholders.

Research shows that nationally student workers tend to have “gaps in their outcomes when they graduate, such as how much success they achieve, salary, satisfaction,” said Katybeth Lee, Ph.D., executive director of Business Career Services and Student Engagement. “VCU aims to close those gaps and provide student with the best possible experience as employees within our campus community.”

Student employment can be just as “formative, if not more so, as any experiential learning opportunity, like study abroad or internships, if care is taken to shape a meaningful learning environment,” said Jonathan Fuller, assistant director for student leadership in the Division of Student Affairs. “We hope to prepare students for success in the opportunities they seek after their time at VCU.”

The VCU Work+ team coordinated a Discovery Sprint experience in June that brought ASU’s Work+ team to Richmond. The team helped facilitate design-thinking exercises, cross-unit discussions and interviews with student employees and their supervisors to begin mapping out potential approaches to university wide change.

“This two-day, in-depth conversation and collaboration opportunity brought together campus professionals from a dozen different departments to really think big-picture about what VCU needs and what is possible,” Reynolds said.

In October, Fuller and Lee, along with Edwin Funes-Sanchez, assistant director of Federal Work-Study in the Office of Financial Aid, attended the Work+ summit on ASU’s campus as part of VCU’s Work+ Core Team.

“We learned how to challenge our thinking to develop sustainable change that could work well in our context,” Funes-Sanchez said. “I learned even more about how impactful work-based learning can be –  with direct correlations to stronger career outcomes, especially for paid opportunities – and how we have a tremendous opportunity to enhance experiences in house that will directly translate to the types of learning outcomes we prioritize at VCU.”

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