It's become a fact of modern university culture that preparing students for life after graduation requires programs and services that extend beyond academics. UM-Dearborn has a healthy menu of such personal development options, including co-ops and internships, student research, Career Services, the Talent Gateway and study abroad — just to name a few. Now, many of those "cocurriculars,” which are dispersed throughout the university, are uniting under a new umbrella called Experience+. Associate Provost and Mardigian Library Director Maureen Linker, who’s spearheading the effort, says the primary goals are to better coordinate these kinds of experiences for students and help staff collaborate on new initiatives.
“Through conversations we were having with the Provost, we realized we had some programs that really complimented each other, and we thought they could be enriched if we joined forces,” Linker explains. “For example, the folks at Talent Gateway and Career Services are helping students build those so-called ‘soft skills.’ The library is doing a lot of cool programming around information literacy. And Director of Global Engagement Scott Riggs is working on study abroad and other programs involving global understanding and global learning. We just thought: These are the kinds of skills that make a good citizen or a great employee or great co-worker. And we can really take this up a notch if we think of it as a coordinated effort.”
In addition to coordinating existing cocurricular programs, the new Experience+ collaborative will focus on new initiatives. For example, this month, they’re looking forward to launching Tech Tutors — a new student worker-powered support service that’ll be managed by Talent Gateway Executive Director and librarian Laurie Sutch, who will serve as senior associate director of Experience+. Sutch coordinated a similar tech program at UM-Ann Arbor.
“When we look at technology literacy, we know students face a huge range of challenges, and often their questions are very specific to a particular class or opportunity,” Sutch explains. “For example, a professor might assign a project that requires knowledge of a certain software program; or students might need help with a feature of Canvas they don’t understand. That’s the ‘sweet spot’ of support that we thought we needed to add to the mix — especially right now in this virtual learning environment, where we’re all being asked to learn new technologies quickly.”
Sutch says they’ll be launching Tech Tutors as a drop-in and by-appointment virtual service, with a staff of four student workers. Post-pandemic, the service will continue with both face-to-face and virtual support.
This year, Linker says Experience+ will also emphasize two additional initiatives: A virtual version of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) that includes a revamped slate of professional development programming; and a digital storytelling project focused on debunking myths and stereotypes about cities and communities in metro Detroit.
Administratively, staff and student workers from the Mardigian Library, Talent Gateway, Career Services and Global Learning will form the backbone of the Experience+ collaborative, and they’ll coordinate closely with the college’s co-op and internship teams, which will continue to oversee their own programs. Linker noted that faculty will also be key to turning Experience+ into something students see as a valuable part of their time at the university.
“As a faculty member, I know I’ve really changed my own thinking about the importance of cocurriculars over the years,” Linker says. “I teach philosophy, which is the ‘love of knowledge.’ But my students, they’re like, ‘yeah, but what am I going to do with this?’ I know that when I was able to direct them to practical career opportunities or co-ops and internships, where they were able to use the argumentative skills they were learning, it was a real breakthrough for me and for them. So I think of this as a partnership with faculty. They’re often the ones who know our students best, know their dreams, and can route them to those extra opportunities that can help them grow into the people they want to be.”
You can learn more about Experience+ at their new website. One other note: Applications for the 2021 SURE program are being accepted through March 15, and interested faculty can read through the application guidelines at the SURE website. There’s also a faculty info session about SURE on Wednesday, Feb. 24. You can RSVP for that here.