It is often said that 90% of success in the world is the work that you don’t see. That it’s the countless hours of behind the scenes thinking and working that really makes the world go ‘round. In the case of my co-op term this summer, I was able to experience the incredible work that goes on behind the scenes at SFU. I was hired on as a Research Assistant for Institutional Research and Planning (IRP) to analyze survey data and assess student engagement at SFU. As many may not know, SFU has countless administrative departments such as Communications, Events, Student Services and Institutional Planning. Several collaborations take place between these departments and with faculties, but all have the centralized goal of fulfilling SFU’s strategic vision. One of the pillars of this strategic vision is student engagement, which was the project I was hired to work on for IRP and Student Services. This summer, I learned how to work with data from surveys, how to present to a group of executives, and how it feels to take part in deeply meaningful work for students. Needless to say, I was truly blown away by the leadership, passion and innovation that goes into our everyday lives as students.
One of the key aspects of the work I did this summer was to create a large report assessing non-academic student engagement. This encompasses everything to do with the sense of community on campus, to how students feel about their social life and their ability to make friends. Seeing as how this is an important aspect of university life, and one of the key priorities of students, staff and faculty, this report was a novel assessment of areas where student engagement efforts were being well placed, and the identification of areas where aspects of student engagement could be improved. The work I did pulling data and analyzing it from six different surveys will serve as a large influence for the future direction of SFU’s student engagement strategies. This project provided me with valuable data analysis and report creation skills, but it was fueled by a backbone of meaningful work. Being aware of this at the beginning of the work term, all of the hours I spent tediously writing syntax edits, running code, and running crosstabs I knew would be worth it to make meaningful changes happen for students. As the hurdles of survey data analysis were slowly overcome throughout the term, the preliminary results were eagerly awaited by several university executives and Student Services staff in the form of a presentation.
Just as the first challenge of working with big data was overcome, the next challenge was creating a forty-minute presentation for a large panel of university executives. In the week leading up to the presentation, I created my PowerPoint slides carefully, tediously ensured all of my conclusions were in order, and practiced religiously. I remember standing in front of an intimidating room of thirty people who were much older than me and all professionals in their fields. In moments like these, it really helps to convey confidence, even if you’re feeling nervous. The presentation went smoothly because of my practice, and the feedback I received was specific and constructive. It was my first highly formal presentation, and an amazing experience to prepare me for my future career in research. I returned to work with a passion to forge onward and finish up the project.
I left this co-op with a new skill set of presenting and report writing, but I also left it with a feeling. I learned how important it is to me that all the work I take on is meaningful to someone. This is something I will carry with me moving forward into my future endeavors in scientific research. In the case of my co-op with SFU’s Institutional Research and Planning, the population that I was serving was every single undergraduate student at SFU. I hope to make some students happier at SFU by seeing some of the findings of the project implemented within the next few years. To me, being a driving force to make even one student’s experience at SFU more positive is all the motivation I need to work hard every single day.