Switchboard, a new skill-sharing website, hopes to help students connect with others in the University of Alberta community in order to find advice or job opportunities.
Launched in May by the Students’ Union and the Alumni Association, Switchboard operates on an ask-offer system: posts seeking a service are labelled with a red ask symbol while those offering their skills don a blue offer symbol. Currently, the website has 790 members with posts covering job and volunteer opportunities, apartment sublets, dog sitters, and questions on topics like tuition fees.
Though the posts on Switchboard are open to the public, community members must sign up for an account that includes their name, degree, and graduation year. The site is open to current students, staff, and alumni.
In the last Students’ Union election, current vice-president (operations and finance) Emma Ripka campaigned on the creation of a campus-wide skill-sharing network. For her, the inspiration behind this platform point came from her own feelings of isolation from other faculties on campus.
“I found as a business student it was hard to make friends with engineers or design students because we’re confined around campus,” Ripka said. “Not only is it unrealistic for when we get jobs after school, it also makes for a pretty lonely campus, especially if you have interests that fall outside your faculty.”
This is the first platform point Ripka tackled in her term. She said it was an intimidating project, but the decision was based strictly on timing. When Ripka came into office, the Alumni Association was already working on a similar project focused on connecting alumni. Instead of creating a separate network for current students and staff, the SU and the Alumni Association merged their projects into one.
“I can’t really speak to how coincidental it was that (the Alumni Association) were doing something similar and we got the opportunity to partner instead of doing this independently,” Ripka said. “Ultimately, I think it’s better because not only are students connected with each other, they also have the opportunity to connect with alumni.”
Switchboard is currently funded by the Alumni Association as a part of a three-year contract and costs about $2 per user to run. With funding covered, Ripka believes the challenges of the project are yet to come, such as getting a large number of students to use the site in order to meet their goal of 2,500 users this year.
The website’s launch in May was directed towards the graduating class of 2018, but Ripka said it’s now the SU’s goal to market Switchboard towards the current student body. This will include adding Switchboard to the SU website and creating advertising campaigns that will begin in the fall semester.
Ripka’s hopes the website will give students the ability to create a campus community that connects beyond faculty borders.
“My visionary goal is that everyone finds their niche on campus and finds a community where they feel fulfilled and accepted,” she said.