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‘No downside’

May 21, 2015
Tyler Bieda and Lydia Warren

Tyler Bieda and Lydia Warren

Kevin Morgan updated, tested and trained his fellow employees on the ResTool app.

Samantha Lachowicz created a graphical analysis of Helpdesk “trouble tickets” by category and impact to measure the Helpdesk’s performance.

James Sheputis assumed the responsibilities of a tech lab’s graduate assistant, overseeing trouble tickets, attending Helpdesk meetings and working with technical staff outside of Housing & Dining.

Everyday stuff for student-workers in Residential Technology – but, for these three and several other Huskies, such daily tasks provided the substance of on-campus internships.

Morgan, Lachowicz and Sheputis were part of this spring’s pilot program that tied on-campus student employment to academic internship credit and/or transcript notation – a project that produced many happy customers.

The program blossomed from a 2013 brainstorming session to dream up ways to ensure NIU President Doug Baker’s promise of internships for all students who want them: Some student-worker jobs could double as internships because they inherently promote critical thinking skills, application of classroom knowledge and oral and written communication.

“It’s a great opportunity, and there is absolutely no downside to it,” said Lydia Warren, a tutor in the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program through ACCESS.

“When I was told I could have an internship for doing what I was doing, I applied immediately,” added Warren, an English major from St. Charles who just completed her junior year at NIU. “It’s very convenient. I don’t have a car on campus.”

She tutors students in variety of subjects, helps them to construct bibliographies for their research papers, reviews their work and even assists them in creating resumes. For some of her clients, English is a second language.

PAL tutoring

PAL tutoring

Despite the valuable teaching experience, the classroom is not her career destination. “I want to go into technical writing and editing,” she said. “I’m very into reading and editing my friends’ work or anyone’s work.”

Tyler Bieda, who graduated May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, supervised 10 PAL tutors. He, too, turned his on-campus gig into an internship.

“I had been working there for the three years previous, and because it was my last year, I figured I could use an internship in a managerial position,” said Bieda, who’s planning to work for a year at Edward Healthcare Center in Bolingbrook before beginning graduate school.

“I did database entry, tutor management, office work. I thought it was a pretty cool experience, and a good change. It made me think about the position rather than just the income,” he added.

The tutoring center he supervised, located in New Residence Hall West, served its clients at night – hours when “there was no one to contact for support.”

“I learned how to more effectively manage resources and to expect the unexpected in having more responsibilities than you were used to, or having new responsibilities that you didn’t have before,” said Bieda, a native of Braidwood. “I had quite a few things thrown at me, and I said, ‘Well, you can do this now!’ ”

Beyond the work required to keep the campus running, students who are turning those jobs into internships must meet specific academic requirements that include final reports and/or portfolios.

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Warren, who believes that her tutoring job “has a purpose” to help her and the university itself, appreciated the end-of-semester review.

“I really liked the evaluation of my internship,” she said. “I could see how I was viewed in my job and how I was valued.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, part of the brainstorming team, is pleased with the results so far.

“What we saw happen this spring with such eager participants and willing supervisors demonstrated that, yes, some student-worker jobs do offer the types of transformational experiences we commonly find in off-campus internships. By all accounts, the pilot program proved successful,” said Elish-Piper, presidential adviser on College and Career Readiness.

“We are eager to see what the fall semester will bring,” she added. “We’ve already heard from some other on-campus employers who want their students to participate, and we’re hoping that more even opportunities like these will surface.”