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March 22, 2022

ASU students, staff dive into a new way to learn and work with purpose and identity at the core

Nearly two years ago, the pandemic unquestionably changed our lives in countless ways. One of those notable changes was when, where and how we work and learn. But one academic unit at Arizona State University had its sights on transforming the future of work for both student employees and professional staff even before COVID-19 pushed the world to work and learn remotely.

In fall 2020, University College, a hub for ASU learner success, launched Work+ in collaboration with ASU Career and Professional Development Services and the Student Employment Office

The program’s goal is to deliver a meaningful and engaging way for working learners and staff to experience their work at ASU, and in January 2022, Work+ was awarded a national grant for $250,000 by Strada Education Network as part of its Beyond Completion Challenge for “developing strategies to expand career support.” Grant funds will support technology and digital asset development, stipends and administrative costs.

Piloted with just under 500 students, Work+ has continued to grow, with both student and staff participants. The ultimate goal will be to grow, scale and share this model with other universities around the country such that working learners nationwide are prepared to not only land careers they’re passionate about, but to be in careers where they can grow as individuals and professionals. 

Sukhwant Jhaj, dean of University College and vice provost for academic innovation and student achievement, said that with nearly 14 million working students in America, it is time to shift the old paradigm, perception and experiences of modern working college students. Instead of doing a job purely to cover rent, tuition and the ever-rising cost of living, Work+ provides students with enriching experiences that develop their sense of identity, agency and purpose from their ASU employment. 

“What’s interesting is the non-traditional student is the new traditional student,” he said. “With the change in the nature of work, learning is also changing. Our model (of Work+) supports how we deliver that learning,” he said. 

Jhaj also said that with the rising cost of living, emerging technologies and sheer competition for high-paying roles, it is now more important than ever for students to articulate their academic and career journeys.

“The problem that we are working on is a really important one, which is how do we help students connect work and learning? In the last 30 years, a high school degree was adequate for the majority of the work that existed in America. Now, you need some form of postsecondary credential for the majority of work,” he said. 



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