Since our last visit to Nipissing in April, 2011, the campus has seen two major additions. The first is the Harris Learning Library (shared with Canadore College). This building has been built with a clear focus on individual and group working space for students and has natural light coming from all directions. The other new building is the Athletic facility which allows for expanded use for varsity and intramural athletic and wellness programs. It also provides additional space for students in the Physical & Health Education program.
Our day at Nipissing was highlighted by lively discussions with many highly involved undergraduate students. The students we spoke were active in residence life, peer mentoring, and leadership programs across campus. Many students were also involved in the Orientation week activities hosted by the Nipissing University Student Union. Students spoke of the importance of orientation and residence as opportunities for developing friendships and relationships with other new students. These relationships were important for academic support and personal support.
We learned a lot about some of the initiatives of the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives. This office is unique as it is lead by an Executive Director who reports directly to the university President. Though many institutions have an individual person who advises the President or Provost on Aboriginal issues, Nipissing underscores the importance of this office in its reporting structure. The OAI is very active on campus supporting Aboriginal students at the university and with outreach into the community and secondary schools in the North Bay area. We heard about a unique peer program where student leaders go into local secondary schools and meet weekly in one-on-one conversations and in small groups with around 200 Aboriginal students. The informal conversations between the university and high school students focuses on life in university as an Aboriginal student and about persisting and succeeding in university. This initiative provides a strong leadership opportunity for Nipissing students, in addition to helping to retain Aboriginal students in the local secondary schools while introducing them to opportunities within post-secondary education.
Our conversations with staff highlighted efforts with faculty in providing students with accommodations to facilitate student success. We also heard about the unique first generation photo journalism project which captures first generation students’ transition to university through photos and pairs these students with peers to further support the transition from high school to university. Similar to other institutions, staff shared the challenge they face in marketing exciting programs to students. With a multitude of media outlets at staff members’ disposal, it is difficult to identify the best mix that will gain students’ attention and interest. Couple this with students’ complicated work/class/family schedules and the challenge of yielding a large audience for campus events is understandable.
In speaking with Faculty at Nipissing we heard an unmistakable focus on the students in their classes. The faculty we spoke with had a very open and flexible attitude to supporting students. We heard about numerous examples that provide experiential learning opportunities including practicums for teachers, alternative spring break activities and curricular exercises like a Common Book Program used throughout the Faculty of Applied and Professional Studies. Admittedly, providing these opportunities requires extra time and effort on the part of faculty, and though there is rarely any type of formal reward for it, faculty spoke passionately about the importance of these experiences as vital for student learning. They also said that they received support from their own senior administrators to pursue these opportunities for their students. Finally, they talked about some of their interactions with student services on campus including working with Placement Services to provide resume workshops and seminars and as well as working with the accessibility office to help students with accommodations.
While there are clear differences in the programs which Nipissing and Canadore students enroll, the campuses and the students from the two institutions interact in unique ways, capitalizing on their shared campus location. Some examples include partner initiatives among the student associations, some shared campus services and jointly managed events in career services and among the Aboriginal student services. We also heard about a few cases where faculty taught or guest lectured in each other’s campuses. However, there was general agreement that greater interaction between the students, staff and faculty was possible and should be explored.
We would like to thank the students, staff, faculty and senor leaders who took time out of their day to meet with the Supporting Student Success research team. We appreciated learning how you see your campus organizing to support student success.