Over 150 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad have contacted the University of Iowa about implementing Iowa GROW® at their institutions. Iowa GROW® has been recognized in numerous books and articles for its accomplishments in helping students foster learning, build connections, and encourage reflection.

Iowa GROW® partnered with the NASPA on their recent study, Employing Student Success: A Comprehensive Examination of On-Campus Student Employment, serving both as one of the featured initiatives, as well as one of institutions selected for a site visit.

The Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most

The results of this brief but repeated intervention are striking. GROW students are more likely than other student workers on Iowa’s campus to report that their jobs helped them improve their writing, speaking, and time-management skills and that the jobs also challenged them to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures (Grose, 2014). Since other research (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) reveals that on-campus work is a more positive predictor of degree attainment than working off campus, programs like Iowa GROW hold the potential to contribute to both individual student learning and also broader institutional goals.

Peter Felten, John N. Gardner, Charles C. Schroeder, Leo M. Lamber, & Betsy O. Barefoot

Making Students' Jobs More Meaningful

Ryerson discovered Iowa GROW five years ago, as it was seeking a solution to two distinct problems: a funding shortfall for student jobs, and poor worker engagement. In the Division of Student Affairs, faculty members were clamoring for more student workers, and John Austin, then the division’s executive director, was looking for ways to persuade campus leadership to expand the work-study program. At the same time, supervisors of some administrative jobs were complaining that students weren’t showing up for work or were quitting midway through the term. The college found its fix in GROW, which promised to both increase student engagement and elevate the humble desk job, demonstrating to campus leaders the value of work-study. Mr. Austin and colleagues took the Iowa model and expanded on it, incorporating learning outcomes into 350 student-affairs jobs.

Kelly Field

What Matters Most

The book praises Mount Holyoke College for its Making the Lynk program, a faculty-driven career-to-curriculum initiative, along with the University of Iowa’s Guided Reflection on Work. That program requires supervisors and student workers to meet twice per semester for a conversation framed around questions such as, “How is this job fitting in with your academics?” or “Can you give me a couple examples of things that you are learning here at work that you will be using in your future profession?”

Colleen Flaherty

How to Make Students’ Campus Jobs More Meaningful

Samantha Budzyn, a junior at the University of Iowa, wants to work in community or behavioral health after she graduates, so landing a campus job at the wellness office seemed like an obvious career move. One month after she began the 20-hour-per-week job, her supervisor sat her down and asked her to reflect on how, exactly, her academic courses influenced her job, and vice versa. The questions were part of a systematic effort at Iowa to make campus work experiences more meaningful by getting students to link the often-mundane hours spent on the job with their broader academic and career goals. The program, called Iowa GROW (for Guided Reflection on Work), also reflects a growing awareness in academe that institutions need to better prepare students for life after college.

Ben Gose

Promoting Learning, Career Readiness, and Leadership in Student Employment

Creating a learning-centric environment for student employees enables work to contribute to student success, leadership development, and career readiness. Lessons from the Iowa GROW® and Illinois Leadership® Center programs are featured.

Sarah L. Hansen and Beth A. Hoag

Helping Students Develop Habits of Reflection: What We Can Learn from the NILOA Assignment Library

The Iowa Guided Reflection on Work (GROW) program at the University of Iowa is a good example of reflection in a campus employment context. GROW reflections are guided by four questions: 1) How is this job fitting in with your academics? 2) What are you learning here that’s helping you in school? 3) What are you learning in class that you can apply at work? and 4) What have you learned through your campus employment experience that you think you’ll use in your chosen profession?

Pat Hutchings

Ensuring Quality & Taking High-Impact Practices to Scale

But with a little effort, work can be used by staff and faculty at other institutions to help students realize the practical relevance of their studies. Among the more advanced efforts in this area is the Guided Reflection on Work (GROW) initiative at the University of Iowa, which uses brief, structured conversations between work supervisors and their student employees to help students reflect on and make connections between their studies and work on campus. Some connections are more natural than others, such as a graphic design major working on the campus union marketing team; others require more thought to get students to see how what they are studying has personal meaning to their job and other areas beyond the classroom.

George Kuh and Ken O'Donnell

Maybe Experience Really Can Be the Best Teacher

Given that policy makers and institutional leaders are looking for low- or no-cost ways to improve student success—especially for part-time and older students and from historically underrepresented groups—it's high time we look for ways to use the work experience to enrich rather than detract from learning and college completion.

George Kuh

The Co-Curricular Connection: The Impact of Experiences Beyond the Classroom on Soft Skills

Skills developed from student work in a variety of contexts offer myriad possible outcomes, but these outcomes are not always intentionally developed. One model with tremendous promise is the University of Iowa's "Iowa Grow" program, which uses brief, structured conversations between student employees and their supervisors to help students connect the skills and knowledge they are gaining in the classroom with their student work, and vice versa (Iowa Grow, n.d.).

Adam Peck, David Hall, Catherine Cramp, Justin Lawhead, Kristal Fehring, and Teresa Simpson

The Work-College Revival

Some large institutions have managed to implement smaller aspects of the campus-work experience. The University of Iowa’s GROW program, for example, organizes structured, one-on-one conversations between supervisors and students that help make connections between students’ work in the classroom and their jobs outside it.

Adrienne Raphel

College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students

The University of Iowa views those jobs as an important addition to an education. Others have recognized that campus activities like fraternities and even dance marathons help students learn how to work with others. "But we neglect a large body of students who spend a lot of time in campus jobs - working in food services, as receptionists, lifeguards, whatever," says Sarah Hansen, the university's director of assessment and strategic initiatives. What students can on their jobs and integrate with their academic work is how to communicate, how to work with people who are different, how to be flexible, how to resolve conflicts. Job supervisors are asked to meet with student workers twice a semester and ask them to ponder four questions: How is this job fitting in with your academics? What are you learning here that's helping you in school? What are you learning in class that can apply here at work? Can you give me a couple of examples of things you've learned here that you think you'll use in your chosen profession?

Jeff Selingo

Growing High-Impact Student Experiences

Created in 2009, IOWA GROW® (Guided Reflection on Work) is making student employment a high-impact activity, one that requires students to reflect on their learning and connect it within and beyond the classroom at the University of Iowa. “The program was born out of a discussion with student life directors about the levers we could pull related to student success that we had not fully tapped into,” explains Sarah Hansen, the university’s associate vice president for student life. “Student employment on campus was one of the last big resources to impact the student experience—a learning-centric approach to student employment.”

NASPA Leadership Exchange Magazine, Vol. 15, Issue 3


Adopting/Adapting Iowa GROW® on your campus?
Please contact Teri Schnelle (teri-schnelle@uiowa.edu) about the use of the registered trademark Iowa GROW®. I can provide guidelines on trademark use and on naming your program.