From Intern to #Win-tern: Five Ways Drake University Uses Students to Advance Institutional Goals

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Know that feeling you get in your stomach when a student intern generates a brilliant idea or completes an exceptional project? The feeling that some day that intern will have your job — and that he or she will deserve it? If you’ve experienced that mix of pride and panic, you know you’re maximizing the potential of your student workers.

At Drake University, student workers play a major role in departments from Marketing & Communications to Alumni Relations to politics, journalism and the sciences. Whether they are graphic designers, public relations writers, undergraduate researchers or caucus planning assistants, they play an integral role in many of the University’s most important pursuits.

To shed a bit of light on how we utilize them, here are five ways Drake is using students to advance institutional goals:

1) Snap news-making (and reputation-enhancing) photos
Student photographers have their boots on the ground and their eyes on campus goings-on — and they can save you a considerable amount of money on professional photography. Drake University’s Student Photo Bureau employs six part-time student photographers to chronicle everything from residence halls, to buzzworthy political appearances, to guest lectures and university milestones.

Not only are the costs low, the potential rewards are vast – like landing a mention of your Beautiful Bulldog Contest on Buzzfeed.

In December, we were lucky enough to land a spot in the exclusive photojournalist pool for a live, nationally televised debate on Drake’s campus. After much discussion, we decided to forego our full-time staff photographer and queue of freelancers — placing a student photographer alongside photojournalists for Reuters, The Associated Press and other top-notch news organizations. We could not have made a better decision. Our student’s snapshots garnered nearly 29,000 flickr views in a single day, and he gained valuable experience that will look great on a resume.
(Total photo views, including behind-the-scenes snapshots by our other student photographers, topped 50,000.)

2) Carry university publications to new horizons
Your part-time graphic designer may be the next Leonardo Da Vinci, but you won’t know it unless you assign projects that allow his or her creativity to shine through. While you may not have an intern building flying machines, you may find that their untapped skills can carry your day-to-day operations to new horizons.

One of Drake’s interns created four illustrations for the latest issue of Blue Magazine, the university’s official publication. The eye-catching artwork (pages 4, 11, and 23-28) helped snazz things up and break the visual monotony of photo after photo.

3) Curate a social media presence
Our marketing interns use Pinterest as a fun way to engage alumni, students and community members. They do a great majority of the hunting, pinning and captioning. Our full-time staff monitors the university’s presence closely to ensure a user experience that is positive and on-message, but we give the students a lot of freedom to be creative. We’ve had positive feedback, including from The Next Web, who recently named us one of “10 cool Pinterest accounts you should be following.”

4) Harness the power and potential of special events
When you find yourself in the middle of news-making events, students can help you maximize your institution’s presence and visibility. At Drake, we have the good fortune of being at the center of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus festivities. That means one thing above all: opportunities for students to get involved in the democratic process. Five students worked for the university this caucus season to develop and maintain the Iowa Caucus Resource Center, a web-based “field guide to the Iowa Caucuses.” With oversight from a Drake faculty member, students created and posted all of the site’s content, including an explanation of the caucuses and a digital map for the nationally televised Dec. 10 GOP presidential debate that took place on campus,. It’s a valuable resource for the community, but serves an equally important purpose: to advance students’ understanding of the caucus process and maximize their engagement in the process.

5) Recruit prospective students
Sometimes, students tell the Drake story better than anyone else — particularly to other students. That’s why we hire six or seven students every year to blog about their experiences. Their primary goal isn’t to sell or hype Drake, but rather to share an honest look into their lives: how they’re getting along in classes, what they like to do with their friends, where they find dinner… Our only requirement, beyond using appropriate language and subject matter, is that they post at least twice a month. (Frequently they don’t even specifically mention Drake, and that’s totally fine!)

We make a deliberate effort to select a diverse set of bloggers that represent the many facets of the Drake community — ages, home towns, areas of study, and more — to give a complete picture of the university experience.

It pays to have bloggers with a variety of interests and engagements: Ian Weller, an international relations major, made national news this year when he blogged from the protests in Egypt, where he was studying abroad.

Conclusion
Those are a few of the ways we’re transforming our interns into “Win-terns” — maximizing their effectiveness to advancing institutional goals. What are some of your students’ best contributions? Post your examples in the comment section below.

About the Author
Aaron W. Jaco is a digital media specialist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

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  • http://twitter.com/eolsencreative Eric Olsen

    Aaron, love the post. Any best practice tips for recruiting these rock star interns? Faculty recommendations? Test projects? Etc?

    • http://twitter.com/aaron_jaco Aaron W. Jaco

      Thanks for reading, Eric. I’m not an “expert” at recruiting but I can share a few tips. Faculty recommendations are definitely a great place to start. Check out samples of the candidates’ work — including any work that they’ve done as a hobby, or as a freelancer; the work students choose to do in their “free time” can be as good, or better, than work done in an academic setting. (And it reveals the types of projects the candidate has a passion for completing.)  

      But beyond the recruiting aspect, a major part of bringing talented interns to “rock star” status is giving them the freedom to pursue their passions/talents. In other words, make sure you don’t lock them so tightly into a routine that they aren’t free to explore or branch out. Be sure to ask the candidate what they CAN do and want to do, in addition to explaining to them what they WILL be doing.

      Example: The Drake Photo Bureau formed (in part) from recruiting a couple of design interns who happened to be exceptional photographers– so we gave them greater freedom to take photos. One of our staff members committed himself to coaching them and developing their photo talents. From there, we built a more structured and expanded program.

      I hope these quick thoughts are useful.