Recognition Ideas for Supervisors

Appreciating Student Employees at Kalamazoo College

The Professionalizing Student Employment working group proposes adoption of a campus-wide Student Employee Appreciation Week, April 8-12, 2019 (an annual week promoted by the National Student Employment Association), when supervisors all over campus are invited to recognize their student employees with a shared meal, thank-you notes, special attention during staff meeting that week, etc.

Recognition Ideas for Student Employees

Recognition is important to expressing appreciation for the valuable work student employees provide to your department. There are many ways in which a supervisor may recognize student employees for little or no cost. The following are some ideas that can help you recognize your student employees in a special way.

Please remember that departmental funds may not be used to pay for gifts, meals, gift certificates, or other items with an associated cost. According to the November 2018 College Gift and Gift Card policy: gifts to students to recognize special contributions or services or extracurricular activities should be of nominal value, not to exceed $25.  Gifts to student employees should be provided infrequently to meet IRS guidelines regarding employee compensation.  Gift cards or gift certificates may not be purchased with College funds for student volunteers or student employees.

  • Treat Day – full-time staff bring in treats/lunch for student employees.
  • Food – reward students for a job well done with a treat of their choosing.
  • Take pictures – post employee pictures and list what wonderful things they do for your department. These could be posted on bulletin boards or on social media if you have a site for your department.
  • Coupon Booklets – this is always a hit with students!  Insert coupons for a free can of soda, one dozen home baked goodies, etc.  Be creative in designing your own coupons.
  • Notes Home – send a note to the families of your student employees.  Let them know what the student does, how their work impacts your department, and how terrific the student is.
  • Have your staff wear special name tags honoring student employees (STUDENT EMPLOYEES ARE GREAT EMPLOYEES – WE APPRECIATE OUR STUDENT EMPLOYEES)
  • Buy or print off low cost, blank certificates and make up silly awards for students: best telephone voice, best web-surfer, etc.
  • Friendship Plants – take cuttings from a plant in the office and give to each student as a live “connection” to the office.
  • Bright Ideas – spray paint a light bulb gold, screw into a jar of play-dough and make a label around the jar naming who is receiving the “Bright Idea” award.
  • Take your student employees to lunch or buy them pizza.
  • Give “gag” awards: “hazardous duty” (cleaning coffee machine); longest drive, etc.
  • Good Egg Award – buy plastic eggs, fill with goodies and give out with “Good Egg” certificates.  List what the student did to deserve this award.
  • Handwritten thankyou notes on cards sent to on campus P.O. boxes.
  • Bake cakes for student employees on their birthdays.
  • Buy lowcost gifts to reward students for a job well done.
  • “Kudos” certificates attached to a Kudos candy bar.
  • Give stickers to all employees and ask them to hand them out when they see someone doing a good job. 
  • Traveling trophy – each recipient hands it off to the next recipient.
  • Develop a token system to earn points for items.  Collect cool “swag” in a bin that they can choose from.
  • Surprise incentive – put a reward somewhere in a project that requires persistence (filing) to surprise the student.
  • Promote students to higher level positions in your department if you have developed those kinds of positions.


  • Pat on the Back – Draw an outline of your hand on a piece of paper.  Photocopy enough copies for all students in your office.  On each hand write a note that tells the student why they deserve a “Pat on the Back”.
  • Change the department phone message to recognize student employees.
  • Look around the office or at home for a white elephant item.  Name the item for the award (Employee of the Month/Week, Great Idea Award, Gotcha Award – catch someone in the act of doing something good).
  • Decorate an office bulletin board or the office door in recognition of your students.
  • Chalk the sidewalk in front of your office saying “thanks” to your student employees.
  • Verbally thank students for their contribution to your department.
  • “You Rock” award – print “You Rock” on a rock and present it to someone when they go a good job.  Encourage the student to present it to another member of the staff when they observe someone doing a good job.
  • Develop a peer recognition program (e.g. employee of the month/week – other students can give input or feedback) and place on a tag board or poster for public recognition.
  • Ask students what motivates them and implement a recognition program that is based on individual preferences.
  • Ask students to share their expertise with other student employees by offering a training session.
  • Offer to be a mentor for student employees.
  • Provide flexible scheduling and a choice of projects for student employees that have proven themselves in your department.
  • Acknowledge personal achievements in a group.
  • Provide letters of recommendation for students who do well in your department.

Adapted for Kalamazoo College from: College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University.