Back to School – How are Student Affairs and Support Staff Preparing to Support Students?

The end of summer is just around the corner and we are getting ready to venture into the new academic year! This summer the team has been very busy transcribing and analyzing all of the data that we collected throughout the 2011-2012 academic year. We have made significant progress in our analysis and will be preparing site visit reports to present to all of our participating institutions.

We also had an opportunity to get in touch with people from institutions participating in the Supporting Student Success research project who shared how they are preparing to support new and returning students for the 2012-2013 academic year. Each new academic year is exciting as it provides an opportunity to re-evaluate what has been successful in helping students. For many students, this is their first semester entering college or university, for others it is a continuation of last year, and for others it is possibly a return to PSE after time away. Regardless of where students stand, going back to school this year helps them be one step closer to reaching their academic and personal goals.  While students enjoy the last bit of summer days, say goodbye to friends and family back home, and prepare for their first day in class, faculty, staff, and administrators at colleges and universities across Ontario are working endlessly to prepare for their arrival. Whether it is drafting and updating syllabi, training new staff to serve students, developing and coordinating new mentoring programs, and ensuring that everything is in place to greet and welcome new and returning students, faculty, administrators, staff, and student leaders have kept busy this summer.

We were curious to hear how some of our colleagues at participating institutions have spent time preparing for the new academic year. People from seven of the fourteen participating institutions submitted mini-posts describing their initiatives for this year. After reading what people had to share with us we are certain students are in for a treat with many new initiatives and programs designed to support their academic and personal success. Here are the posts we received:

Canadore College
Mohawk College
St. Lawrence College
Ryerson University
University of Guelph
Wilfrid Laurier University
York University

Canadore College

Written by Roger Chum, Counsellor, College’s First People’s Centre

Wachay (Greetings) to our colleagues far and wide in the Ontario College system. Trusting all are ready for another year of challenges and successes. Continuing this year at Canadore College, all first year students will be greeted in their Orientation rooms by an ambassador who will provide information on all aspects of Canadore College’s Campus Life and Student Services. Included will be a PROMISE that each and every student will receive an email on or about the 3rd week into the semester. The email from an Ambassador will request an update from the student as to their academic/personal well-being. As well, each admin/faculty/support member of Canadore College is aware of the process of any concern with any student. A direct email to one contact who will ensure the proper personnel will address the student concern. This is our start-up here at Canadore College, challenging, yet very proactive! Wishing all the best in our 2012/2013 academic journey!

Mohawk College

Written by Lidia Siino, MCACES Professional Development and Communications Strategist and Karen Lavell, Manager, Continuing Education Student Association

 At Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, efforts to expand and strengthen student success are at the epicentre of MCACES, the Mohawk College Association of Continuing Education Students. This past summer, the association embarked on a multi-tiered student  engagement campaign which incorporates the collective efforts of Continuing Education faculty, administration, student leaders and MCACES team members, ensuring students are made aware of the many programs and services available. Experiential learning through vehicles such as MCACESBlogs allows students the opportunity to assist fellow students to share their expertise to a global audience.

During the first two weeks of classes, MCACES provides students with Welcome Nights, an ongoing orientation session aimed at pacifying the transition of new and returning adult learners into the classroom. In addition to this in person approach, the association utilizes in class presentations, a digital content calendar, and promotion through traditional and non-traditional media vehicles. Messaging remains open, consistent and conversational —three pillars of the MCACES brand and subsequent student engagement campaign.

St. Lawrence College

Written by Mary Ann Lyons, Aboriginal Student Advisor

To prepare for the upcoming year, as Aboriginal Student Advisor, I am organizing a pre-semester “Get Acquainted” session for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students who are starting their first year at the College. This will take place on Aug. 22nd. I have invited many key student services staff who will tell the students and their family members about the services St. Lawrence offers and also about how students can access them. I also have a representative from Tipi Moza (Aboriginal housing) coming and she will tell the students how she can help with their rent etc. The students will have a tour of the campus while their parents and family members have a session on how they can help the students make the transition to college. We will have plenty of free stuff and some prize draws. The students will then be able to get their student cards and complete some other early-semester tasks, which will eliminate the need to stand in some lineups during the first week of school. And, we will have refreshments and lots of one-on-one interaction.

I have contacted each of the students on my roster individually by e-mail and welcomed them to the College – inviting them to call or come and see me and visit the Eagle Learning Cafe, our Aboriginal student centre. I have also been communicating with students through our Aboriginal facebook page. I have planned a series of Student Success Workshops, a “Meet your Advisor” Day, and have blocked out some time to meet in person with the students individually and later in larger groups, according to interest.  I am holding a session where I will take the students through the application process for the PSET bursaries.

I am finalizing plans to sit in on program coordinators’ meetings to tell teachers what they might expect to see in their Aboriginal learners and offering my assistance. I am attending a webinar on Success Strategies for Aboriginal learners. I will continue to sit on the IPEC (Indigenous Peoples Education Circle) for the province, bringing to our College any news/innovations/info that will benefit our students. And mostly, I am just trying to get everything done now that students have realized the start of school is less than a month away!!!!

Ryerson University

Written by Dr. Christina Halliday, Director, Student Learning Support and John Hannah, Assistant Director, Student Learning Support

August and September are the busiest months for Student Learning Support units at Ryerson University.  We’re in the middle of implementing a transition program for students with disabilities—Shift@Ryerson–which involves a week in residence and in the classroom learning skills for being a successful university student followed by another partial week in an outdoor learning and community building program called “Portage.”  While Orientation Week is not a great time for our Student Learning Support services to promote their programs—the students’ minds are, uh, elsewhere—we still try to at least let our students know we’re part of their community by visiting many Welcome and Orientation events and putting a friendly face to our services.  The audience that we DO try to promote to in August and September are our Faculty, Part-time Instructors, and TAs.  Among other outreach efforts, in August we send a Welcome newsletter to all teachers at Ryerson as well as participate in the New Faculty Orientation hosted by the Learning and Teaching Office at Ryerson.   Finally, at this time of year, the big focus is recruiting and training all of the many outstanding students that we rely on to provide academic support to other students.  We love getting to know these students, learning from them, and watching them grow as mentors, teachers and leaders.  By September they are all in place and we are ready for the fun and excitement of the first weeks of classes at Ryerson! Learn more on:

University of Guelph

Written by Jessica Brain, Residence Life Manager, Michael Bird, Residence Manager and Neil Buddel, Associate Director Residence Life

The University of Guelph’s Residence Life Program is preparing to support student success this coming academic year with some exciting new initiatives. We are currently in the midst of re-evaluating the use of the traditional programming model and are looking towards a curricular approach to the learning environment, whereby intentional and assessable learning outcomes guide programming. In addition this approach will be guided by the needs of students through out the year and thus will be community specific. A part of this new approach is the RA chats program, where Residence Life Staff meet one-on-one with students in their communities to build better, stronger relationships. This community-based approach to programming and relationship building helps create the foundation for another new initiative we are undertaking this upcoming year, restorative justice. This restorative approach to conduct builds responsible communities of individuals who hold each other accountable for their actions.

We are beginning to introduce this approach to conduct into our system by practicing more informal restorative conversations; these conversations are called community resolutions. Community resolutions happen in the moment when an incident is taking place, and their focus is to educate students on the impact their behaviour is having on those around them. A student who takes part in multiple community resolutions will meet with the Residence Life Manager to have a conversation about how to repair the harms they are causing to the community. This conversation will also entail the manager and student discussing how the student can re-integrate themselves into the community as a valued member and to facilitate learning in relation to how to be successful in the future. This approach to conduct allows us to move away from punitive sanctions and the focus being on a rule that has been broken, and allows us to focus more on the students and the communities. This is an exciting time for us at Guelph as we discover the potential our new initiatives have in supporting student success.

Wilfrid Laurier University

Written by Peter Baxter, Director, Athletics & Recreation

Jump starting the fall semester at Laurier with the return of over 500 student-athletes and 350 student-leaders requires an integrated approach with partners within Student Affairs.  The Laurier Learning Services Department is training 8 top student athlete scholars to serve as academic student mentors as part of our Athlete Academic Success Programs.  The mentors in conjunction with Learning Services staff coordinate study halls four times a week for students to work independently or in groups to complete work and assignments.  They conduct academic and athlete skills workshops teaching learning skills for both class and the field of play.

A new Leadership and Career Development Program will begin this fall sponsored through funding of our Outstanding Women of Laurier program.  It will focus on self-awareness and communication style testing, counselling with Laurier’s Career Centre, workshops on a variety of career planning skills and a mentorship program matching an athlete with a successful women business mentor in the Kitchener-Waterloo community.

Lastly with Laurier student athletes desire to give back to the community through volunteer service with a partnership with Laurier Community Service Learning . We have created two student-athlete volunteer ambassador positions to work with social service organizations sport groups, and schools to assist in recruitment and placement of student volunteers within those community programs.  Sport and Recreation is a powerful medium to learn through service and helps us meet the mission vision and values of higher education at Laurier which is to “Inspire lives of leadership and purpose”.

York University

Written by Ross McMillan, Senior Advisor, Policy, Assessment and Aboriginal Affairs

Recently, whenever anyone asks me how my job is going, I tell them about the great privilege and joy I have working directly with our Centre for Aboriginal Student Services department.  I enjoy it for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the strong sense of community and holistic approach to student success where the Centre offers a range of cultural, academic and social programming.  From what I’ve seen, this is pretty much the norm across the Ontario system.  Also, as per the norm, we have ascribed learning outcomes to our programming.  What we are doing differently is to reflect on these outcomes and begin the process of grounding and mapping them along the medicine wheel teachings to make the outcomes relevant and relatable to our community.  This has been an active learning process for me, and has helped reinforce by belief in the need to think differently about how we incorporate different ways of knowing for a deeper level of understanding.

It is exciting to see how many interesting and diverse approaches student affairs and services staff are taking to support their students at the various institutions. It seems that there is an emphasis on providing personalized services to ensure that students not only feel welcomed and connected to the campus but that they also participate and feel part of the broader community.  These personalized and inclusive approaches certainly reflect what we learned about many of the programs at each of the institutions. When we spoke to students we heard time and time again that it was dedicated and caring staff, faculty, and peers and supportive programs like these that made a world of difference in supporting their academic and personal success.

We would like to thank all of the co-authors for contributing to this blog post and would like to invite staff, faculty, students, and administrators from other colleges and universities to share how they are preparing to support student success this new academic year.  We wish everyone a productive and successful year and as ask that you keep in touch (keep us posted about how your programs unfold!) and continue to follow us through our social media venues.



2 thoughts on “Back to School – How are Student Affairs and Support Staff Preparing to Support Students?

  1. Here in the heart of the Niagara Region, the halls of Brock University are once again swarming with a busy student body. A-Z Learning Services ( is a division of the Student Development Centre that provides free academic support for all Brock University students. Our goal is to help students on their road to reach their full academic potential. One of the major services we provide is academic workshops on a variety of topics such as exam preparation, essay writing, or time management. We offer over 70 different workshops! We also provide a Drop-in Learning Centre, located on the main floor of the library, which specializes in one-on-one student peer assistance in science, math, writing, and study skills. The majority of our employees are upper-year students, so students can learn from each other.

    Over the past few semesters we have worked to merge our services with mainstream social media sites. This has been exciting opportunity for all of us at A-Z Learning Services. Through social media, we aim to connect and network with the student population, so we can provide our services to more students than ever before. Social media sites, such as Facebook ( and Twitter ( also help to remove the social stigma that can accompany seeking academic assistance. Social media lets students know that our services benefit all students—from those who require strategies to pass a course, to those who are looking to boost an already impressive average. Being successful in post-secondary is not only important for securing a future career, but it is also fun and exciting. Join us in 2012!

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