More and more career services offices experience increased demands from students to deliver programs and services that are customized, individualized, and unique to their interests AND they expect us to fit it around their busy schedules! Consequently, full-time staff members feel constrained because, for the most part, we operate only when the sun is up, thus we are often unable to mobilize our resources outside our center walls effectively during the times students might actually seek our help. As a result, those students miss out on the necessary touch point and come to us in the 11th hour asking for assistance.
How, then, can we innovate in a way that realizes our output potential beyond what we already have? I propose innovation through peer education. Many career centers appear to already engage in peer education programs, which is great, but I want to challenge the extent to which your peer educators are being maximized in their capabilities to be a powerful presence across the campus.
The Power of Peer Education in Career Services
Last year, Farouk Dey and Christine Cruzvergara’s seminal article on the 10 Future Trends of Career Services ignited my thinking around how to address such resource issues. I was particularly drawn to the article’s trends #4, 5, and 6 – which specifically encouraged us to find ways to build awareness across campus within specific sectors of campus that reach the most students in an innovative way. Well-resourced centers like Stanford are fortunate to be leading the charge, implementing innovative programming (such as meet-ups), but, thinking about the limitations of my own institution (which at the time was The University of Maryland), this led me to ponder about leveraging peer educators to accomplish such a goal.
At Maryland, one of my responsibilities was to manage the peer education program, and, initially, the students were tasked mainly with holding desk hours to provide in-office assistance with resumes and print/online resources. I conversed with the students about their thoughts about their role, and they shared a desire to do more. With the support of my leadership, I expanded the team from six to 13 students and increased their programming goal from two to 12 programs for the year – two of which were funded for $2,050 in grants that I encouraged the students to apply for. Ultimately, the peer educators served nearly 220 of their peers in programming alone mostly outside of the office and in the evenings.
Peer education can be a truly powerful tool in our offices, but it has to start with us believing in the potential of our students. Certainly, there is a lot of management and training that has to happen when working with students; however, if you invest the time, the output you can achieve, particularly in under-resourced offices, is phenomenal and far-reaching. It is my hope that this might encourage you to spark conversations in your office as to how you might be able to scale your peer education programs to fit the needs of your campus ecosystem.
The theme for the July #SACareer series is Summer of Innovation! where contributors share innovative programming being developed or executed on their campuses. Tune in all month to be inspired!
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.