Student Employment and Learning: A Symbiotic Relationship

Guest post written by JHU Alumnus David A. Lefcourt, ’03. He was named the JHU Student Employee of the Year and received the NEASEA Award for being the Maryland State Student Employee of the Year in 2002. David is currently employed by SIGMET Weather Radar Data Systems in Westford, MA.  

Student employment provides students with an opportunity to learn things outside the classroom that directly enhance their in-class experience. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to apply what is learned in the classroom in a real world work situation. This symbiotic relationship truly enhanced my educational experience at Hopkins.

In the fall of 2001, I was enrolled as an undergraduate in a technical communications class at Johns Hopkins University. The final project was to write a proposal to improve one facet of campus life. Having always been interested in technology, I wanted to propose that every course have a web site. It was through my research for that project that I learned of a new center on campus geared towards connecting education and technology, the Center for Educational Resources (CER). I met with Candice Dalrymple, Assoc. Dean and Director of the CER. Thanks to her, I walked away from that meeting realizing that properly enhancing education with technology is a complex endeavor, and that requiring a course to have a web site might not necessarily add value to the student’s experience. Nevertheless, I was more intrigued than ever in the work that that the center was embarking upon.

Later that semester, I inquired about student employment opportunities in the field of educational technology with the hopes of working with Candice at the CER and was hired in January of 2003. Over the course of the last two years, the CER has grown tremendously and has helped to enhance the experience of students and faculty in many courses across the campus. During my employment with the CER I always believed that being a student employee was just as valuable as my academic endeavors. Some might question my reasoning — wasn’t I at Hopkins to learn… shouldn’t my courses come first? My priority was to learn and learning can happen in many different arenas. During my employment with the CER, I learned to work with different groups of people and handle many different situations. I was a little short for time every now and again, but because I had responsibilities to the CER and to my academics, I felt as though I managed my time more effectively than if I was involved in one and not the other.

Some people might have this perception of a student job as being mundane or a place where some extra studying can be completed, but in my situation and I am sure in countless others, there is an overlap of the learning process. Things I was learning at the CER and in my classes were transcending the boundaries of “school” and “work”. Specifically, I was involved with CER’s Technology Fellowship program — a mini-grant program that partners students and faculty to enhance a course with technology. The greatest part of being involved in this program was learning about all of the innovative ideas that students and faculty created to enhance their courses. One of the Technology Fellowship projects was to create a geographic information system (GIS) tutorial. I had never heard of GIS, but after the graduate students working on the project explained how GIS provides a graphic representation of data using some type of mapping system, I was intrigued and wanted to see if I could use it in one of my sociology classes. It just so happened that the next semester, in my Environmental Sociology class, I was able to use a GIS to investigate whether the racial makeup of a neighborhood determined the proximity of environmental hazards in Baltimore City. I used what I had learned at work to directly enhance my learning experience in the classroom.

In addition to a job expanding academic opportunities, things learned in the classroom can enhance a work environment as well. For example, during the fall semester of 2001, I was enrolled in an IT management course. Instead of focusing on the bits and bytes of technology, the course emphasized how to properly manage technology to produce the best results in efficiency and/or productivity. That course taught me about total cost of ownership and managing hardware and software assets, and that knowledge prompted me to create a technology plan for the CER to assist with it’s short-term technology planning.

The most important part of my experience was working with those University professionals who fostered the development of the relationship between my work and my classes. Student employers offer students an opportunity for growth and development, which complements their experience in the classroom. In my case, all of the people with whom I worked were my colleagues, my friends, and most importantly, my teachers. I cannot emphasize enough the value of opportunities offered through student employment that directly support academic studies and enhance a students overall college experience.