Engaging student workers in the Registrar’s Office

At the 2017 AACRAO Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past April, Elon University brought five student employees to the meeting, all of whom presented original research conducted with the support of school administration. Their research topics ranged from inter- and intra-racial discrimination on campus to the impact of course names on registration behavior. We got in touch with Rodney Parks, Elon’s University Registrar, to see how he attracts these highly motivated students to the business side of higher education.

AACRAO Connect: I have heard you speak about the importance of raising the profile of the Registrar’s Office on campus, and you have striven to do just that during your four and a half years at Elon. Can you provide some context about your office culture and how that might play a role in attracting high-caliber students to fill positions?

Rodney Parks: Innovation on campus has been vital to what we do from both a policy and technology perspective. I guess we are well known for our work in developing a co-curricular transcript, and contributing to the extended transcript discussions hosted by AACRAO. But on campus we have also revised our grade scheme and calculation policy, expanded to 24/7 access to our registration system, and created multiple workflows to automate and expedite service delivery. The higher ups start to notice that sort of thing, and then you start getting included in strategic level discussions and meetings. We as registrars have access to immense amounts of data, so I think it’s really important to think of new ways to use it to improve the student experience. For example, one of our newest pieces of technology is a 4-year graduation planner. It isn’t tied directly to our student information system, but does include our transfer credit articulation tables. This allows prospective students to test the waters a bit, and see how and if their existing credit would transfer. This has been received well by students and parents alike.

When it comes to attracting students to the office, doing this kind of work definitely helps because it is highly visible. So many students I have worked with in the past didn’t know who or what the registrar did. But our office knows the student body, and can act as a powerful unit of service and recruitment on campus.  

AC: At the Annual Meeting, I stopped by and chatted with several of your student employees about their work at the poster session exhibition. This included work done and presented by Devon Cross, Brittany Jeatter, and Mikayla Shaw (click any on of these names to view higher resolution pictures of their poster presentations).  This is high level research, very much in line and in support of your culture of innovation on campus. How did you recruit these individuals?

RP: When I started at Elon, the quality of the student employees was pretty much rock bottom. They would show up dressed in pajamas and do homework, maybe answer a few phone calls or do some minor data entry. Now they often do the same work that our full time employees do. I think a lot of the early attitude and outlook on the position had to do with how little responsibility was involved with the role, so we changed that. We rewrote the job description and began to assign actual high-level work. We don’t call them student workers anymore, but student assistants.

We also implemented the requirement that our student assistants spend approximately 20% of their time outside the office researching and writing. My Assistant Registrar Jesse Parrish and I sit down with them once a week or so to review what they have done and help them achieve a standard acceptable for a publication. So this might be qualitative or quantitative research, or editorial pieces published in AACRAO journals and books, SACRAO publications, the Successful Registrar, or a handful of other industry venues. Since 2012, we have had helped 26 undergraduates get published, with one currently in-press (Claudia Rodriguez will be featured in the next College & University). And because of this research and work, these students receive scholarships, recognition on campus, and the chance to go to conferences like AACRAO and SACRAO to present. Over time, it became less necessary to recruit students – they started coming to us.

AC: Are you seeing more students getting interested in becoming registrars now? We ran an interview with new Board member Tiffany Robinson, who initially got interested in the profession when she was given the same kind of work that full time staff was doing in the Registrar’s Office.

RP: Absolutely, and I definitely try to encourage it. We elect a few student ambassadors a year who have expressed sincere interest in the profession, and they help train new students and answer some of the tougher questions. We have one student who has gone on to work in the Registrar’s Office at the College of William and Mary, and yet another who is working at AACRAO right now (Alexander Taylor).

AC: With the level of work that is asked for and provided, are these student positions paid, given credit, or are they filled through work-study programs?

RP: These are paid positions, though students can apply for credit through the research they do in my office if they want to. And I should clarify that not all of our student assistants have a research background or even the proclivity. We try to highlight each individual’s strength. One student we had was pretty tech-savvy, so we worked with him to make some great visualizations using the data that constitutes our co-curricular transcript. Another student of ours is committed to youth counseling, so we co-authored a children’s coloring book. Regardless of their passions, we think it’s important to encourage every student assistant and help them grow. We have formal trainings with them, but we also have fun with them – they are really just part of the team. They respond by acting professionally and getting interested in their work and its impact on the campus community.

Join us in New Orleans for the AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference! July 9-11, 2017, at the Sheraton New Orleans. Register now -- the early bird deadline is June 9.