Student Learning and Leadership in Higher Education IT: The UC Berkeley Experience

Posted by Anne Marie Richard, Director of Student Technologies, UC Berkeley. Student Affairs Information Technologies (SAIT) supports UC Berkeley’s core student information systems and provides a wide-variety of other technology services and resources to students and staff. While SAIT shares many characteristics with typical IT service providers, what makes us unique is our explicit focus on the student experience, both through the technologies we support and the emphasis on student leadership development in the organization.

Nationwide, about 41% of full-time college students are employed. When that employment is on-campus, there is a positive association with academic achievement, largely because students can work in roles that relate to their academic field. Students employed in campus jobs benefit from gaining valuable work experience and opportunities to learn transferable skills that boost their career readiness after graduation. The university in turn benefits because student staff provide subject matter expertise in the assessment of student technology needs and can share student perspectives in organizational decision-making.

Student Affairs IT at UC Berkeley has 65 full-time career employees, and 108 part-time student employees. Services offered by and for students include a student helpdesk, residential network, management of residential academic computing labs, security and copyright education and incident management, systems administration, desktop engineering, and support for student software downloads; in addition, our student employees provide customer support for the staff helpdesk and technical training to campus staff at all levels.

While the student positions in SAIT span across the entire organization, they are centrally supported by our Student Technologies unit, which lends structure to the program around recruitment, training, performance management and organizational development. Our program focuses on student learning and development through employment, grounded primarily in three interrelated theoretical frameworks from the fields of education and student development: experiential learning; identity development; and intellectual development and self-authorship (i.e., the journey students go through toward determining who they are and what they want to be in life).

All student teams in SAIT are managed by a student Lead. The Lead role is quite unusual for a student position in its high level of responsibility and autonomy, including selection, training, and direct supervision of the student team; performance management and staff development; project design, management, and oversight; and operational management of the team and functional area. Full-time staff supervise student Leads, and they work together and with the SAIT Leadership Group to set direction for their teams and participate in organizational decision-making.

SAIT invests a great deal of effort and resources in its Student Leadership Program, and over the years has developed a strong understanding of what is required to make such programs successful:

• True support of and commitment to student development and leadership from the highest level of organizational management

A coordinated annual cycle of recruitment, hiring, and training for all positions, following a timeline aligned with the academic calendar

Student employees’ commitment to the work and the organization, which is supported by student staff development and career path opportunities; availability of merit-based pay raises; flexible schedules; and an informal, social, and student-friendly office environment and work culture

Our many years of experience demonstrate that student learning and leadership in higher education IT is not only possible, it is highly desirable. In institutions of higher education, student learning is a key objective for both academic and student support areas, so it follows naturally that models to support this should be encouraged across the academy. Upon graduation, many of our students go to work for Bay Area technology companies – both well-established industry leaders and innovative new startups – and we have a strong base of alumni from our program who come back to recruit and provide career development advice.

If you are interested in learning about our student leadership program in greater detail, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to answer questions or provide consultation on program development.

Student Affairs in IT

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