|Hard at work: Construction students at SUNY, Delhi built this fountain on campus as part of a seminar course.|
It’s common to find students filing papers in campus offices, restocking library shelves, or checking IDs at the fitness center to make a buck. What’s a little less common is students replacing sidewalks and entranceways to dorms, building fountains, and constructing additions.
But that’s how SUNY, Delhi (N.Y.) is using the most literal translation of the term “work study” to benefit students’ learning experience—and the university’s budget. For decades, this small technology college has been equipping students with hands-on experience in exchange for construction work around campus.
“Without it our education is thin,” says Floyd Vogt, a professor of construction technology who has been teaching a capstone construction seminar to about 30 students each spring for the last 10 years. During the course, students design a project, sell their idea to the college, expedite the materials, and do all the manual labor in one semester, graduating fully prepared to take on jobs as construction managers. Students in other study areas, like masonry, complete projects in their fields.
“They leave here with technical skills, mind skills, and hand skills,” says Vogt.
Students have laid and repaired sidewalks, as well as built a bus shelter, baseball dugouts, and fountains. The construction is for-credit as part of students’ lab assignments, so the college is able to save around 50 percent on its project costs, says Joe Batchelder, director of capital construction. “The material costs are usually not high but the labor is what gets you on a smaller project,” he says. “It’s a real win-win.”
Student involvement in manual labor is not unheard of. For example, at the College of the Ozarks (Mo.), an institution in the category of work colleges that’s known as “Hard Work U,” students there work 280 hours per semester through a mandatory work program. A combination of private, institutional, and government aid provides cost-free tuition in exchange for students’ hard work in the college cafeteria or helping out with landscaping or construction projects.
While manual labor affords students the opportunity to acquire life skills, it’s not the only way to accomplish that. There appears to be an emerging trend of student workers taking on meaningful tasks.
Patricia Klauser, executive director of career development and placement at Sacred Heart University (Conn.), says the institution has really been emphasizing connections between the curriculum and the world of work.
“The university itself is a community, and it’s a business, and it’s a perfect placement site,” she says. “So we’re expanding the kinds of opportunities on campus and even upgrading the work-study positions so that we can help students further develop workplace readiness skills like critical thinking, leadership, and the ability to communicate.”
One example of this is at The Factory, Sacred Heart’s tech-support center, where students outnumber the full-time technicians and gain hands-on tech experience.
Similarly, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, students are trained to work in a call center, answering important financial aid questions from incoming students instead of just running errands for the department. —Kristen Domonell
Originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of University Business.