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Train Student Technologists--and Get Tech Support

The ever-growing demand for technology services on college campuses has strained budgets to the breaking point. Limited resources collide with increasing student enrollments. Busy information technology staff members struggle to address the needs of tech-savvy faculty clamoring for tools and training. Trained technology specialists are hard to find and expensive to hire.

One solution that some campuses have used: Hire students to supplement the IT staff. At the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, they’ve taken this one step further, developing a department composed solely of student employees and student managers. The department, Student Technology Services, received an Educause Exemplary Practices Award in 2001.

UWM’s work-based learning environment provides on-the-job training while performing a desperately needed campus service. The Student Technology Services group employs about 300 students who deliver technology services in more than 20 functional areas, including lab, classroom, and desk support, help desk, network services, training, and audiovisual services. These functional work groups parallel associated groups of full-time staff.

Staffed and managed entirely by students, the STS program develops both technology and workplace skills. The organization treats the student employees as empowered decision-makers, service providers, managers, and paraprofessionals. Interestingly, STS draws its student staff from all over campus, with more than half of its hires coming from majors not usually associated with technology.

Mentors drawn from the full-time IT staff advise student supervisors, although students have an incredible amount of autonomy. According to Beth Schaeffer, Student Technology Services external program manager, student human resource managers do their own hiring and personnel management. They manage their own budgets and make more decisions. Schaeffer and her co-manager, Dean Holschbach, manage internal and external issues and act as overall supervisors for the STS group.

The benefits to the university are obvious and quantifiable. UWM estimates that it has added 85 full-time equivalent positions to its technology support staff at 40 percent of the cost of a permanent, nonstudent staff. Across the campus, service levels and user satisfaction have improved. Full-time IT staff members are free to focus on complex priorities, and the university has actually been able to add technology services.

In the three years since its inception, STS has grown into a successful venture that last year spun itself off into comparable programs at Milwaukee public schools and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. Says Schaeffer, “We worked with the public schools and MATC to help them develop their own STS programs. Our STS staff has worked with several high schools that have Cisco Network Academy classes, and we have been helping with the training and development of student staff.” They’ve also been developing a database that will track student experience and participation in the STS program from high school on up, so that incoming college students can build on their past successes and find appropriate-level placements at MATC or UWM.

The local business community and the state government collaborate with STS through the Business Partners program, providing additional opportunities for students to develop professional experience during the summer. These summer assignments benefit both students and employers.

Says Schaeffer, “At the end of the summer, the employer writes an evaluation that the student and UWM can use to develop a training program to fill in any gaps in the student’s skill base. At the same time, these employers build relationships with future valuable employees.”

For more information, contact Beth Schaeffer at [email protected].

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