The Ideas Behind STEP

The impetus behind the development of an intentional and structured program of student employment at University Library comes from the recognition—among educational researchers, student affairs professionals, and library staff—that, in a context where the majority of students enrolled in higher education also work, on-campus employment can be educationally purposeful, positively contribute to students’ learning and sense of belonging, and do so in ways that respond to persistent inequities in higher education. 

As one of the largest employers of students on campus, and as an organization with an educational mission, University Library has the opportunity to directly impact the academic and career success of a significant number of students—students who are both our colleagues and part of the community we exist to serve.

The development of STEP is informed by:

Student Employment as a High-Impact Practice

High-impact practices (HIPs) are evidence-based educational practices that are particularly effective at supporting student learning and persistence. 

While student employment is not one of the eleven high-impact practices recognized by AAC&U, researchers have consistently identified its potential as an engaged learning practice given the characteristics it shares with other HIPs, which are defined by active, hands-on, integrative, and collaborative learning. 

Students as Partners

Students as Partners (SaP) is a pedagogical approach which foregrounds students working collaboratively with faculty and staff to improve learning experiences, in a “reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision-making, implementation, investigation, or analysis.” 1

For reasons of learning, skill development, and equity, STEP is being developed not for student employees, but in partnership with them, recognizing students’ expertise and experience, and engaging them in co-constructing their own work and learning experience at University Library.

We are doing so through the establishment of a cohort of Research and Design Partners—undergraduate and graduate student employees who are taking the lead in assessing student employees’ needs and engaging other student employees in creating a responsive and student-centered program.

Relationship-Rich Education

In their argument for a relationship-rich approach to higher education, Peter Felten and Leo Lambert encourage us to think about how every department on campus might move from transactional practices to relational ones, creating the webs of meaningful connection and human interaction that support student belonging, well-being, and learning.

As Felten and Lambert note, on-campus student employment is one of the many locations where such meaningful relationships between students, staff, and faculty can be intentionally fostered. Creating critical connections with and between student employees is a central concern of STEP. 2

Equity, Access, and Belonging

Research demonstrates that low-income students who work while in college are more likely to have jobs that do not provide the learning, skills, and experience to help them transition from school to a well-paid career. 3

Participation in HIPs is inequitable, with “first generation, transfer students, and African-American and Latino students least likely to have such experiences.” 4  

Data from IU Indianapolis suggests that two of the main reasons students leave the university are finances and a low sense of belonging.5

The establishment of a student employment program at University Library, in partnership with student employees themselves, represents an opportunity to increase participation in engaged, high-impact learning experiences; provide students who need to work while in college with both a paycheck and the skills and experiences to support their post-graduation careers; and intentionally develop a culture of welcome and care that promotes interpersonal connections and a sense of belonging for all student employees.


1 Cook-Sather, Alison, Cathy Bovill, and Peter Felten. Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014.

2 Felten, Peter., and Leo M. Lambert. 2020. Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

3 Carnevale, Anthony P, and Nicole Smith. 2018. “Balancing Work and Learning: Implications for Low-Income Students.” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

4 Kuh, George, Ken O’Donnell, and Carol Geary Schneider. 2017. “HIPs at Ten.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 49 (5): 8–16.

5 Michele J. Hansen. 2021. “Understanding IUPUI Students.” IUPUI Institutional Research and Decision Support.