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Do Students Provide Essential Services and Gain Professional Experience Working in OIT?

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The Office of Information Technology (OIT) employs more than 50 students who provide a range of services to the Boise State community: they resolve IT issues as Help Desk analysts, assist website authors with WordPress, remediate websites and documents for accessibility, develop applications that improve campus operations, proctor examinations for both students and members of the community, create documentation about our High Performance Computing cluster and more.

In Fall 2020, Leif Nelson, Director of Learning Technology Solutions (LTS), and Dave Ficks, Manager of the Testing Center, both within OIT, conducted a study to investigate to what extent student employees in OIT provide essential services and also to what extent OIT provides student employees opportunities for professional and personal growth. Essentially, OIT investigated its perceptions about student employees.

Leif and Dave surveyed and interviewed managers and directors within OIT about student recruitment, wages, performance management, and advancement opportunities.

The report details two primary themes that emerged from the study:

  • generally, student employees in OIT are given a high level of responsibility and autonomy;
  • these positions provide students with opportunities to learn and develop professionally.

The study also identified areas where OIT can improve the student employee experience to be more consistent and effective across the organization.

But what about the student perspective?

Lanh Russell (BFA Graphic Design, minor in Computer Science) 

Lanh started in OIT as a Help Desk Analyst. As she progressed in her studies, she moved to the OIT web development team as a front-end developer. She states that, “Working in the Help Desk allowed me to learn how to work with customers and forced me to see situations in their perspective. In my time working with the Web Dev team, I became extremely familiar with Agile methodologies. Shortly after starting my full-time position at Student Affairs, I was able to use this experience to overhaul our internal workflow.” Lanh graduated in May 2020 and is the Visual Communications Manager in Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

Matt Smith (BS Computer Science) 

Matt works as an integration developer in OIT and describes how working in OIT as a student helped with his coursework, “My easiest semesters were probably my last 3 because everything I’d worked on for OIT was a more complicated application of concepts learned in courses.”

Like Lanh, Matt, started at the Help Desk and then moved to a Technical Support Specialist role. He says that these positions, “made me feel a connection with the campus community. With development work I’m no longer interacting one-on-one with the community but I still think about how my work impacts individual people on campus because of my work in Customer Care (Help Desk and TSS).”

Tyler Wigington (BS Computer Science)

Tyler, who works on the web development team, says, “I was able to learn so many things as a student developer that my classmates didn’t have the opportunity to learn. In my last couple semesters of school I was able to breeze through some courses because of the knowledge I gained here in OIT.”

Tyler continues, “working as a student developer allowed me to learn and understand how the university works. Having that institutional knowledge made transitioning to a full time developer seamless because I already knew (to some degree) how the university worked. Working as a student developer really just reinforced that I wanted to pursue a career as a software engineer.”

Tara Garza (BA Anthropology, MA Adult Education)

Tara is the Coordinator of Specialized Testing in the Testing Center and started in the Testing Center as an exam proctor.

She recalls working with adult students preparing for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Exam, “I fell in love with adult education at that point. It just became a passion. Then I started working with the intensive English program on campus, helping with testing there. It became a passion so I decided to go for my master’s degree in adult education.”

Tara says that it was largely through the encouragement of her supervisor, Dave Ficks, that she made the decision to pursue the master’s, “He walked me through my graduate application. He made me feel like I could finish my bachelor’s degree and work there. He saw something in me and was like, ‘Tara, you can do this.’”

“Being able to make those connections as a student employee across campus was wonderful. It made me feel like I had a whole campus community behind me and who am I to get all this support? I never thought I would get a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s,” she describes.

“I love connecting with the students. They need a chance and what better way to have the campus community support them in giving those opportunities and educating them. It just seems like full circle when we do that.”

“We don’t call them student employees.”

Hiring student employees is part of the culture in OIT. “We don’t call them student employees. They are employees and we give them responsibility and we give them autonomy too,” says Max Davis-Johnson, CIO at Boise State, in his December 2020 Max’s Minute video.

Just this week, OIT hired two former student employees into professional positions. David Penny started as a student on the Help Desk and was just hired to the Help Desk supervisor team. Adonis Hamad was recently hired as Testing Systems Coordinator having started as a student proctor.

Former student employees are even represented on the OIT Leadership Team. Brian Bolt, Deputy CIO, worked in OIT as a student as well as Mark Fitzgerald, Director of Customer Care.

Hiring, supporting and developing student employees is part of the culture in OIT.

For details on the study, we encourage you to review the report authored by Leif Nelson and Dave Ficks:

Student Employment in the Office of Information Technology: Perceptions and Practices

If you have any questions about the study or report, contact Leif Nelson at leifnelson@boisestate.edu.

If you want to find ways to integrate student employees at a higher level in your department, contact Dave Ficks at davidficks@boisestate.edu.