Students-as-Partners versus Students-as-Employees: Division of Labour between Students, Faculty, and Staff in the McMaster Student Partners Program


  • Celeste Suart National Ataxia Foundation
  • Kelsey Harvey McMaster University
  • Jennifer Zhu McMaster University
  • Maham Ali McMaster University
  • Martha Cassidy-Neumiller McMaster University



students as partners (SaP), mixed methods, equity, reciprocity


Many post-secondary institutions have implemented students-as-partners frameworks to redefine traditional educational practices and value students as co-creators of knowledge. The aim of this study was to investigate the degree to which students are working as partners and co-creators of knowledge with faculty and staff, versus replicating traditional hierarches. Herein, we undertook a multi-methods study consisting of a secondary analysis and a survey of one cohort of the student-as-partners program at McMaster University, as well as qualitative interviews. We found that some languages practices replicated traditional hierarchies, which was reflected in the degree to which partners contributed intellectually to the work undertaken. However, we also found meaningful shifts in practices occurred over the course of working collaboratively to foster more equitable partnerships. Herein, faculty and staff bore the responsibility of sharing power with student partners, but the blurring of professional and personal boundaries complicated the ethics of partnership.


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Author Biographies

Celeste Suart, National Ataxia Foundation

is an Associate Professor at Mount Royal University in the Department of General Education. Mandana does research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education research, educational psychology, and mathematical physics. She is passionate about undergraduate numeracy and scientific literacy education.

Kelsey Harvey, McMaster University

is a postdoctoral fellow and past coordinator of the Student Partners Program at McMaster University (2020–2023). She is a social and educational gerontologist whose qualitative research focuses on teaching older learners and interdisciplinary/interprofessional teaching and learning about age/aging in post-secondary and continuing education.

Jennifer Zhu, McMaster University

is an undergraduate student in the Arts and Science program at McMaster. As a student partner with the MacPherson Institute, she engaged in research on the Student Partners Program and equitable partnerships. Her research interests are interdisciplinary pedagogy and film studies, with a focus on the intersection between film and politics.

Maham Ali, McMaster University

is an environmental planner at AECOM. During her undergraduate education in the School of Earth, Environment, and Society at McMaster University, she was a Program Support Assistant at the MacPherson Institute. Her research interests are in fluvial and ecological systems, impact assessments and community engagement.

Martha Cassidy-Neumiller, McMaster University

is a doctoral student in sociocultural anthropology and past Educational Development Fellow and student partner at McMaster University. Her research focuses on the impact of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies on community identity, with an emphasis on knowledge mobilization and community engaged participatory action research.