Cheng: Underutilized Talent

Dartmouth students are untapped potential resources for the College.

by Christopher Cheng | 2/1/18 12:15am

Though campus jobs often have salaries barely above minimum wage, Dartmouth students are all too willing to take them. The difficulty of these jobs ranges wildly. Many entail simple tasks, such as filming varsity team practices, entering data into spreadsheets and swiping IDs at Dartmouth Dining Services locations. Yet there are also more challenging jobs, such as research assistantships that require advanced skills like statistical analysis. This latter group of campus employment is extremely cost-effective for the College and could be further expanded.

Opinion columnists, myself included, like to point out the College’s extensive array of problems. Many of these, such as sexual assault on campus, academic grade inflation and the controversies of DDS, are beyond the abilities of students to solve on their own. These hot-topic issues, however, are not the only areas for improvement on campus.

Take, for example, Dartmouth’s Task Force on Enrollment Expansion, which is currently drafting a report on how Dartmouth should expand enrollment. According to dean of the faculty Elizabeth Smith, one of the task force’s key objectives is to consider how the Dartmouth experience could be preserved if the student body were to be enlarged. However, the task force is only composed of faculty members, a trustee, Dean of the College Rebecca Biron and Smith. Dartmouth students should be involved but not just through surveys and testimonials. Indeed, they are likely the best evaluators of the current “Dartmouth experience.” Leveraging talent in design, writing and a host of other skills, students could help draft a report, assist in the plan’s design and package its contents for consumption by the wider Dartmouth community. Because any change would potentially impact them directly, current students have incentive to do the work well.

Another area for improvement at the College is web design. Dartmouth’s student information system, known as “Banner Student,” has a web design that looks straight out of the ’90s. Though the information system itself is outsourced to Ellucian Company L.P. and its affiliates, Banner serves to remind us that not all manifestations of Dartmouth’s online presence look as nice as its home page. Similarly, Dartmouth Sports’ website has room for improvement. Unlike Banner, this website’s development wasn’t outsourced, so the athletics department could easily sponsor a student competition for a better web design, making full use of our talented computer science majors and web designers. Indeed, the annual competition to design Winter Carnival posters shows that Dartmouth students are able and willing to design on behalf of the College. The winner could receive a prize, see the design adopted and add an accolade to his or her portfolio. A good example of this model comes from the Social Impact Practicums, which are courses that engage students in a real-world project as part of their learning experience. Similar coding-related projects in other areas of campus could even potentially be integrated into the computer science curriculum. They would be of minimal cost to the College, especially when compared to the cost of hiring professionals.

Dartmouth can also put Language Study Abroad participants to work. The admissions office can improve its international outreach, especially to parents of potential students, by hiring student translators to produce admissions materials. These students could translate booklets, pamphlets and infographics that can be distributed so people overseas gain a greater understanding of Dartmouth’s liberal arts mission. While these student translators may not be as fluent in the languages than professionals are, Dartmouth could maintain quality by hiring “professional” translators to review translated admissions material.

Campus employment at Dartmouth is a mutually beneficial relationship whereby the College has access to a pool of talented students while students can hone their skills through practice. Despite the relative prominence of paid research programs on campus such as the Women in Science Project, gainful and mutually useful employment should not be limited to science, technology, engineering or mathematics majors. Humanities and social sciences majors’ hard-earned talents can also be used to contribute to practical projects on campus. So long as there’s a will to make use of Dartmouth students’ talents, there’s a way.