Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design
Degree: Bachelor of Illustration
Year of graduation: 2007
When Stephen Sills first started building SLN, he remembers hearing one overall message from focus groups, again and again — one that changed his entire career and shift the focus of his company completely.
“It didn’t matter how many focus groups we ran or what types of student groups we were bringing in, the results always came back that students need a lot of help navigating the terrain of education as well as the transition from education to that entry-level job,” Sills says. “It really struck me when I was speaking with a McMaster student who told me, ‘I really feel that we’re underdogs’, and I was like, ‘Boom. There it is…that is why we’re doing this.”
Over the years, Student Life Network has grown from four to 41 full-time employees and a rotating group of part-time staff. Having evolved from a prize-oriented student resource hub to a more comprehensive support platform, SLN now provides over one million students with career opportunities, money advice, important health and mental health information, and general life tips. True to the ethos of helping students find jobs, SLN employs 30 to 40 students from across the country at any given time for jobs in illustration, web design, copywriting, research and other elements.
One of the things that Sills takes the most pride in is his staff. “We’ve got a like-minded team here with a lot of talents,” he says. “I know it’s incredibly challenging work but together they have helped so many students find the right school, graduate debt-free and land dream jobs. They take a great deal of pride helping students through difficult moments of change and I respect them more than they know. I couldn’t be prouder to work with this team, many of which are Sheridan grads, too.”
Sills and his staff face considerable hurdles in their work each day. In the world of private Facebook groups where students can create their own communities and curate their own resources, creating meaningful content can be a challenging prospect.
“One thing that we don’t try to do is compete with technology — we try to create solutions that students can leverage within their own groups, trying to figure out what those students need to provide a resource they can share amongst themselves because they see it is useful,” says Sills.
He likens SLN to a GPS system in a car, using a large amount of user data to create just the right experience for each student. “We spend a lot of time working on figuring out how to make contextually relevant resources for students depending on where they are in their student journey,” he says.
When it comes to Sills’ own journey and advice for new grads, he encourages constant self-motivated learning. “I’m a sponge for new thinking and ideas that will help us. I can’t think of a day where I haven’t had to solve a new problem by testing solution after solution without losing enthusiasm,” he says.
He refers to creating Student Life Network as a crash course in business, leadership, branding, digital marketing, product design, user onboarding, research, community management and sales. “Thankfully, my experience at Sheridan helped,” he says. I had just enough experience to be foolish enough to try. And for that, I’m very grateful.”