On our site visit to the University of Guelph, just a few days prior to College Royal, we were treated to warm weather, square dancing, and great conversations with students, staff and faculty.
Guelph is a medium sized university that attracts students from rural communities as well as the GTA. The university has seven colleges including Arts, Biological Sciences, Management & Economics, Physical & Engineering Science, Social & Applied Humans Sciences, Agriculture and Veterinary. Even though there are just over 20,000 students from a variety of backgrounds studying a diversity of subjects, the overwhelming impression we were left with is Guelph’s sense of connection and community (or what one group terms “Guelph-i-ness”).
Staff members told us that as an institution, Guelph values community. People described situations where “things can happen” without formal policies and students are treated as individuals with particular circumstances and needs. Staff talked about sharing this sense of community which allowed them to “get the job done” regardless of organizational structures or job descriptions. Summing it up, one staff member commented that, “Guelph is the most caring institution”.
Students feel this sense of community, too. Many students said they had a sense of belonging from their first visit to campus in March. They made a connection to the other students who gave them a tour, or were representing their college. One student talked about Guelph as having a “vibe” and gave examples of people holding doors, asking if she needs a hand, and carrying her groceries.
Students told us how they see upper year students as role models and mentors who help them navigate the campus and its services, and that when they transitioned to being upper year students, it was their responsibility to pass it on to the incoming first year students. Part of the reason these students connected with their older peers is that Guelph has a host of opportunities for students to get involved, as volunteers and as paraprofessionals. We heard about the Peer Helper program where students work 5 to 10 hours per week in over 30 different campus units. On our walk around campus, we ran into two of these peer helpers promoting safe choices in preparation for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. We learned how the new Centre for Open Learning and Educational Support involved students in program reviews and program development as a way of receiving 360 degree feedback.
One thing that stood out for us on our visit was how each student group we met with mentioned that they were involved students, students with advantages (being scholarship recipients, grad students, elected students on Central Student Association ) and as such they have more connections (with other students, staff and faculty) and perhaps different experiences than other Guelph students. These students had a real sense of “understanding the other” and an ability to allow for other perspectives. These comments brought us back to the themes of community and connection that we saw emerging. Perhaps the “Guelph-i-ness” has something to do with being aware of those around you and wanting to reach out to help. Perhaps the “Guelph-i-ness” term that a student introduced to us is student shorthand for “developing the person, scholar & citizen” – the motto of Guelph’s student affairs division.
Thank you to all of those who participated in our focus groups and interviews. Your comments provided us with valuable insight about the University of Guelph.