NEWSLETTER: VOL V, #1, October 15, 1999
Students in Charge: Milwaukee's
Student Technology Services
by Jennifer Smith
Brian Olsen is logging a user's problem at the Help Desk. Steve Brukbacher, Help Desk (Walk-in/Call-in) Supervisor, networking a printer during Community Service Day at Hopkins Elementary.
Many campuses hire student workers to staff computer labs and provide technical support to their peers, staff, and faculty. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has taken student information technology training a step further with the creation of Student Technology Services (STS), part of the Information and Media Technologies Division (I&MT). The most unique feature of the two-year-old organization is that STS is entirely student-run, from hiring to training to the provision of services. Currently, the students running STS manage a budget of $1.6 million, funded by technology fees in UWM tuition, state appropriations, and grants from private industry. STS aims to provide solid technical and customer-service training to student workers from diverse academic backgrounds, resulting in high-quality technical support for all members of the UWM community and enhanced employment opportunities for STS student workers upon graduation.
Currently, Student Technology Services is composed of 200-plus students working in a variety of capacities. Students provide peer training sessions on new technologies, provide network services, staff campus computer labs and help desks, maintain web sites, and offer classroom support, among other duties. While all new STS workers complete extensive, paid training on a wide variety of popular software programs, virus protection, web page development, and other areas, students are also trained in customer service and life skills. This focus on professional and personal development alongside the technical skills is integral to the STS approach. STS philosophy holds that the most desirable employees are those with good people skills and a willingness to learn; technical skills can be taught to anyone. STS positions have become so sought-after on the UWM campus that, during the 1998/99 academic year, STS could only hire about one-fifth of the students who applied. Lou Ann Bohn, Marketing Specialist, stressed that the deciding factor in hiring was the need for well-rounded people who would interact with fellow students, faculty, and staff in a friendly and helpful manner. Students keep their tech skills current through an internal curriculum; employees must complete three STS courses per semester. All STS training courses are designed and taught by more experienced STS employees.
Students from varied academic programs work for STS; in fact, only one-third come from "techie" majors like computer science and management information systems. The rest are drawn from education, humanities fields, business, the fine arts, and other disciplines. In some cases, these students have begun to rethink their career goals and consider ways to integrate their academic passions and technological know-how. Regina Bard, 22, the Peer Training Supervisor and a senior from Kenosha, is now thinking of ways to combine technology with her Latin American studies and Spanish major. She will minor in information resources and get a chance this year to try her hand at joining her Spanish and computer skills as she provides technical training in Spanish in the Milwaukee Public Schools. This will be a temporary position funded by Information Resources. The Spanish-language technology workshops will enable the Milwaukee schools to better serve Latino/a students and their parents. Bard commented that the "team effort" behind STS has been her favorite part of her employment, and that compared to other on-campus jobs she has held, only her STS position allowed her to learn many new skills and advance rapidly.
Tara Hoagland, this year's STS Manager -- essentially the CEO -- also comes to STS from a non-technical background. Hoagland, 22, is a senior from Wausaukee majoring in elementary education. Describing the thirty hours per week she spends with STS as "stressful but fun," Hoagland says she has appreciated the opportunity to obtain cutting-edge technology skills that will give her an edge in the educational job market and help her use technology with elementary students. Graduating in December, 2000, Hoagland will seek a teaching position in northern Wisconsin. Like Regina Bard, she has chosen to minor in information resources.
The future for STS holds a number of exciting possibilities. The organization is in the early stages of planning with the Milwaukee Public Schools for STS students to provide workshops in the schools. STS is also continuing to collaborate with private industry in Milwaukee in the form of "business advisors" who keep STS up-to-date on what sort of technological training is most desirable in the job market. STS leaders hope to develop the "business advisor" relationship into a source of internships for UWM students. STS will also focus its employee-recruitment efforts on freshmen who can stay with the organization for the duration of their UWM careers, moving up through the ranks to management positions. In the past, STS employees have enjoyed their positions so much, the organization has had almost 100% employee retention. Clearly, STS is on the path to continuing success.