A Step in the Right Direction: Tips for Helping New Student Union Employees Get to Know Their Surroundings

New jobs are often overwhelming, but positioned among the hustle and bustle of a sprawling campus setting, they can be even more so. Whether students or otherwise, new union employees can always use a little help getting to know their peers and surroundings; even better, they can then pass that knowledge on to others who need it.

Several schools are already taking creative approaches to help new and prospective students feel at home — and many of these techniques can also be used to welcome student union employees. Between scavenger hunts, digital wayfinding systems, and mobile-friendly directory solutions, answers are there for nearly everybody – from new staffer to the fresh student employee.

A Touch of Tech

Princeton University, for example, recently installed map kiosks in key campus areas. The kiosks, which will be updated periodically to reflect construction and reopenings, help users navigate campus by identifying landmarks, steep pathways, and accessible entry points.

“We have created a map-based system that identifies every building on campus — a single map system that can be used on all platforms, whether they be kiosks, paper maps handed out by the Office of Admission, or digital maps that will be available online and on mobile devices,” said Ron McCoy, a university architect, in a May 10, 2022, press release. Princeton’s maps will also be accessible through a QR code that will display the map on a user’s mobile device.

QR codes can also help new union hires get to know each other using staff and employee bios. For example, the University of Michigan recently upgraded its online directory, MCommunity, to improve privacy, security, and functionality. The new, mobile-friendly guide allows users to add a profile photo, personal pronouns, preferred name, and name pronunciation, with the option to quickly share contact information using a QR code.

For other schools, variety is key. Located west of downtown Raleigh on 2,099 acres of land, North Carolina State University is the largest four-year college in the state. To help students navigate the large campus, the school’s Talley Student Union and Joyner Visitors Center offer a number of services, from on-campus, self-guided, and digital tours to in-person and virtual information sessions.

The university’s mobile-friendly self-guided tour map, for example, is presented with a video playlist of students highlighting important spaces, including the Talley Student Union, the D.H. Hill Jr. Library, and the Wellness and Recreation center.

A Dash of Fun

Wayfinding may be an informative activity, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring!

At the University of New Brunswick–Saint John, student services helped organize a smartphone-friendly scavenger hunt designed to engage students and expose them to the university’s programs and services.

After receiving close-up images of various on-campus buildings and signage, players were asked to identify where the photos were taken. Additional challenges quizzed contestants on the courses each facility offered or the services provided by student representatives. Such an idea could easily be adapted to help union employees get to know their surroundings.

Some of the most intriguing orientation ideas (no surprise here!) come directly from ACUI’s online communities. To inform new employees about their surroundings via a scavenger hunt, some ACUI members recommend the app Goose Chase, an online tool with features built specifically for campus orientations.

One commenter vouched for playing a Scattergories-type game in which players fill out categorical lists of words beginning with the same letter. A list customized for a university setting could include categories like an item served in the food court, things you do at work, or something you find on a campus.

Another ACUI community member proposed an Escape Room-type event used as staff training. In the traditional version of this game, players work together under a tight time frame to identify clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish specified goals while moving between multiple rooms. In a student union capacity, the game could be used to get players acquainted with different rooms and offices in a student center. 

Other ideas include gameshow-style trivia focused on student centers and the campus at large and the use of Kahoot!, a gamified learning platform featuring multiple-choice questions generated by users.

Whatever approach you take to helping new student union employees get to know their surroundings, be prepared to shift logistics to make the activities as inclusive as possible for all attendees. Consider whether your program caters to employees who may be living with a disability, lack access to a smartphone or other resources, or work in a remote-only capacity.


  • Christine Preusler

    Christine Preusler, Managing Editor at The Wyman Company in Gainesville, Florida, writes The Lead for ACUI's biweekly newsletter, The Bulletin. Christine uses more than 15 years of experience in publication management and a master’s in mass communications from the University of Florida to highlight the latest industry news and create thought-provoking content. Contact her via email (cpreusler@thewymancompany.com) with story ideas and announcements you'd like to see in the newsletter.