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Colleges and universities can recognize the hard work of their student employees through appreciation events.

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Student employees are a critical piece of institutional operations, whether serving as teaching assistants, tutors, research assistants, resident advisers, peer mentors, fitness coaches, administrative aides, career counselors, food service workers, bookstore employees or in other roles. 

Over half (55 percent) of all students enrolled in two-year colleges and 44 percent of students at four-year institutions are employed in some capacity, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data

National Student Employee Week, celebrated the second week of April and started by the National Student Employment Association, provides colleges and universities the opportunity to highlight the importance of student work and how these learners benefit the campus community. 

Here are eight ways to show appreciation for student workers’ contributions:  

  1. Free treats. Everyone likes free goodies, so giving students gifts such as snacks, candy, gift cards or other small items can make them feel cared for. Some sentimental items could be a coffee mug, department swag, stickers or pins, or a care package, according to the University of Denver Office of Student Employment.
  1. Supervisor shoutouts. A free way to support students’ success is to affirm the things they do well and how they contribute to a larger organizational mission, which can build their confidence. Positive feedback could be shared in a handwritten card, a verbal shoutout during meetings or a LinkedIn recommendation.
  1. Decorations. Campus employees can decorate the students’ office or desk with signs or banners that acknowledge student workers. Slogans could include “Thank you student workers!” or “Our student workers rock!”
  1. Shared meals. Staff can provide food or create a potluck to share with student workers. A shared meal also creates space for staff to engage with their workers more personally, building professional relationships and boosting feelings of belonging.  
  1. Team bonding. A fun day focused on playing games, sharing gifts or giving students thank you notes can build camaraderie among coworkers and make students feel valued in their role.  
  1. Social media posts. Sharing student work on social media can publicly recognize learners’ contributions and boost morale in the office, according to Louisiana State University’s career center. The post can include a photo of them, a fact about their role and a kind message from a colleague or supervisor. College students also enjoy engaging with posts about their peers on social media, further spreading the recognition. Check out Miami University of Ohio’s social media toolkit for ideas.
  1. Awards. The University of North Dakota selects a Student Employee of the Year, nominated by faculty and staff members, and a Student Employee Supervisor of the Year to spotlight outstanding contributions to the campus community in student work. Individual awards can also be affirming of student behaviors such as “Teamwork Award” or “Innovation Award”, or silly superlatives such as “best telephone voice” or “fastest typer,” according to the University of Colorado’s Student Employment Office.   
  1. Professional development. One of the best gifts a student employee can receive is lifelong learning to aid their professional ambitions after college. Offices can create workshops or allocate student hours toward investing in their career development, including reflection exercises, résumé review or mock interviews. Staff can also set up one-on-one meetings to help students map out their next career steps and how their current role can support their longer-term goals.  

Don’t forget! Just as student employees can hold a variety of positions on campus, workers can also represent different types of students, including adult learners, graduate students, fully online students or student caregivers.  

When designing student recognition, supervisors should consider the ways in which appreciation events are flexible to accommodate the busy schedules and lifestyle of their employees.  

Harvard University’s student employment office created guides to provide easy and affordable ideas to help offices celebrate on-campus and remote student employees in a way that works for different teams. 

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