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Bridging the Gap – UNLV Libraries Adds Value to Student Employment Experience

By econnections on June 19, 2013 3:07 PM | Permalink

Library student assistants participate in an interactive communication exercise where one person is the communicator and the other person is the listener. The goal is for the listener to understand the instructions from their partner as to how to place a distinct set of shapes in a specific order. Both partners had the opportunity to experience their current verbal communication and listening skills in action and under a time crunch.

UNLV Libraries is one of the largest student employers at the university. For the more than 100 student assistants who work in our four branches each year, employment is more than a job—it’s an empowering extension of their educational experience.

While their courses prepare these young men and women with knowledge for a particular career discipline, in order to succeed in the workplace today’s grads need essential skills that are not usually taught in the college classroom. Through the Libraries’ Student Assistant Professional Development Certificate Program, Libraries’ student employees learn everything from effective communications skills to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint—the nuts and bolts in every practioner’s tool case.

Those of us already entrenched in our careers know from experience that these skills weave the fabric of our daily tasks, both at the office and in our personal lives. Arguably, they are essential to our professional survival and advancements. Yet many of our student assistants, for whom Libraries is only their first or second job, have never had an opportunity to learn these basic proficiencies.

“Our dean has been involved in many student development projects on campus,” says UNLV Libraries HR Manager Kimberly Kaplan. “She made it a priority to develop a comprehensive program to give student assistants in the Libraries tools that not only help while in college but also after graduation in their future life; the practical knowledge to meet their career goals and rise to the top.”

As Kaplan explains, this is where the UNLV Libraries Student Employment Leadership Group (SELG) stepped in. Their mission is to manage and add value to the overall experience of student workers. The eight-member group, which is comprised of faculty and staff volunteers, designed and administers the program.

“We surveyed student assistants as well as their supervisors to discover the skills and tools they felt were lacking,” recalls Rosan Mitola, SELG co-chair and Circulation supervisor. She says the findings were eye opening.

“We knew this was the first job for many of our student workers,” Mitola reflects. “But we had not thought about what that really meant. We realized that many lack the skills to feel comfortable in a professional work environment, and may even be intimidated by such a setting.” Moved by both a sense of responsibility and urgency, the SELG developed the Student Assistant Professional Development Certificate Program as a series of one-hour workshops that cover preparedness in four core skill areas: professional, academic, library and research, and technology. 

Rosan Mitola, SELG co-chair, is one of eight UNLV Libraries faculty and staff volunteers who designed and conduct workshops where students can learn the essential tools needed to succeed in today's job market. 

After a successful pilot in Spring 2012, the program was officially launched that fall semester. It continues to provide students the flexibility to choose the courses they feel best meet their needs. All are encouraged to take a minimum of six in order to receive certification. Since then, workshop attendance has exceeded 500, and the program has advanced to offer 15 workshop topics. This academic year alone Dean Iannuzzi awarded 23 students the professional development certificate.

Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. “The Student Employment Leadership Group offered a number of courses that were not only helpful to me as an employee, but also as a student, a future professional, and as a person in general,” says Kate Abbot, a junior majoring in psychology.

For recent grad Heather Rhodes, who majored in environmental psychology, the experience was rewarding on an additional level. “It feels good to be invested in, and that’s what I feel this program is doing. The Libraries are investing in its student employees,” she says.

SELG co-chair Amanda Melilli, who oversees operations for the Curriculum Materials Library and also serves the Architecture Studies Library, explains that student workers in the program are more satisfied with their jobs. “I’ve noticed they take more pride in their work and they want to take on more responsibility,” she adds.

In order to offer a roster of fresh and relevant workshops, program assessments will continue on an ongoing basis. A positive conclusion has already been proven:  it’s a win-win opportunity where the Libraries, its student assistants and their future employers benefit.

“Because of the workshops and the skills I’ve been able to acquire by attending, I no longer look at my student worker position as just a job, but as a platform to grow and learn,” says business major Tiffany Turner.

If you would like more information about the UNLV Libraries Student Assistant Professional Development Certificate Program, contact Libraries HR Manager Kim Kaplan at