About Supporting Student Success

Tricia Seifert is an associate professor in the Adult & Higher Education program at Montana State University and maintains a faculty appointment the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She uses sociological theories and principles to examine issues related to postsecondary student learning and success. Her interest in understanding the organizational structure of student affairs and services divisions stems largely from her administrative background working in residence life, student leadership programs, and fraternity/sorority life. Having worked at both large and small postsecondary institutions, Tricia witnessed the interplay between formal and informal organizational structures and their influence on staff’s ability to support student success.

Supporting Indigenous STEM Students

By: Noah Arney & Michelle Pidgeon

The disparity of post-secondary education (PSE) completion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians (40% vs. 55.3%) continues to persist (Statistics Canada, 2016). Unfortunately, the disparity is wider when we compare undergraduate degree completion between Indigenous (8.6%) and non-Indigenous Canadians (23.25%). The gap of post-secondary completion (certificate, diploma, degree, and above) specific to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields is even wider. Indigenous people are half as likely to have STEM based PSE (4.1% vs. 10%), and for those with STEM Bachelors degree and above, the gap moves to being a fifth as likely (1.1% vs. 5.7%).

In 2012 Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta created the Aboriginal Science & Technology Education Program (ASTEP) to support the growth of Indigenous STEM students in the Faculty of Science and Technology. This program operated from 2012-2019 and represented one of three Indigenous specific STEM programs offered specifically at the university level in Canada.  To understand the impact and influence of this program an external review was conducted in 2017 following Indigenous research processes (Kovach, 2009; Pidgeon & Hardy Cox, 2002). This process included an analysis of institutional data, comparisons with similar programs, and interviews and sharing circles with students, staff, and faculty who were closely associated with ASTEP.

From the participants in the review, ASTEP was valued for its relationship building, wholistic student support, faculty support, and creating a sense of belonging for Indigenous students in the Faculty and more broadly at MRU. This was done through intentional programming and practices by the ASTEP coordinator, faculty, and staff from the Iniskim Centre at MRU all of who had a shared aim of supporting ASTEP students and broader Indigenous communities through programming for Indigenous youth.

Relational Student Services

Relationship building with students was the basis of most of the successes. This was accomplished by frequent interaction in person, electronically, and over the phone. These interactions were spread across the various events and supports offered by ASTEP. Relationship building across academic faculties and other units was accomplished by frequent interaction both formally and informally, both connected with ASTEP directly and as part of the broader University community.

Indigenous students specifically valued the academic advising, tutoring in Indigenous-centered spaces, Indigenous speaker series, Lunch and Learns, Dean’s lunches, and Elder support.  Faculty valued the professional development provided to them, assisting with curriculum development with Indigenous peoples, and organizing meetings with Elders and other knowledge keepers. Students and faculty involved in ASTEP valued the community and sense of support that was created through these various aspects of the program. The collaborations involved in ASTEP provided a welcoming and safe environment, and established relationships of trust and mutual respect.

Intergenerational mentoring with faculty, staff, and students was created through ASTEP that was another core theme emerging from the evaluation that as a program strength. Bringing role models to the institution through the Indigenous Science Speakers Series and other events and programming helped Indigenous students put themselves forward as role models for incoming university students and high school students. Through meeting Indigenous scientists and professionals, ASTEP students could go beyond imagining themselves as Indigenous STEM professionals but becoming such professionals through the meeting role models who were established in such careers. Their responsibility to give back and help the next generation continued for some ASTEP alumni who after they graduated continued to work with the Iniskim Centre and Faculty of Science to mentor the new students.

Successes Found

There was clearly value and impact of the program. From the review of institutional data, the Indigenous STEM student population doubled in five years, and now accounts for 4.2% of students in the Faculty of Science & Technology, up from 1.7% in 2011. Institutional data showed the average GPA remained in line with non-Indigenous students throughout the program while the retention rate of Indigenous students was higher than for non-Indigenous students at 87.4%. This was 10% higher than for non-Indigenous students. Pre-ASTEP retention was unable to be determined due to low student numbers. The ASTEP data challenges stereotypes about Indigenous students not being as committed or academically capable as non-Indigenous students. It also provides support for Indigenous specific programming that is aimed at supporting Indigenous student success and persistence in STEM related programming.

Challenges Faced

Two of the biggest challenges with a program like ASTEP are student time/engagement and sustainable funding. ASTEP worked on the first by having a full-time program administrator who was able to work one on one with students and adjust his schedule to better serve the student population. The coordinator acted as a liaison between the STEM faculty and the Indigenous student services, along with direct supports for Indigenous STEM students. While the program was initially funded externally through corporate funding, and when this source was not renewed, the ASTEP program was closed due to lack of institutional and/or external support. As an interim measure, many different groups on campus have taken up elements of ASTEP to ensure the students are supported until institutional funding can be secured.

Integrating Into Your Practice

Other post-secondary institutions could utilize a similar Wholistic Support Model to support the Indigenous STEM students at their schools. The Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014) utilized by Dr. Michelle Pidgeon in her review of the program is a good model example for Indigenous post-secondary student support. The key feature of Pidgeon’s (2014) model is the “interconnectedness of the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical realms” (p. 10) which are themselves connected with the relational connection of the individual to their community and beyond.  

Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)
Figure 1. Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)

The following activities, as described in Figure 2, provide some examples of how to support Indigenous STEM students.

Wholistic Supports for Indigenous Stem Students
Figure 2. Wholistic Supports for Indigenous STEM students

As you can see in Figure 2, there are many opportunities for post-secondary institutions to increase their support for Indigenous STEM students. Many institutions support Indigenous students through advising and tutoring. But the intellectual domain is more than that. Students must be given examples of other Indigenous people who have succeeded at what they are accomplishing, and faculty and staff must learn about the perspectives and backgrounds of Indigenous students. The core though is integrating support for the whole person rather than simply supporting a student’s intellectual success. It is this focus on the whole person that led to the successes of ASTEP, and it can also lead to success in other post-secondary institutions.

The Whole Student

The support of students physically may be seen in two different ways. First the support of students’ physical needs such as ensuring that students don’t need to choose between accessing supports and eating. Second is the use of land-based events and activities which would vary by the region the post-secondary institution is in.

Supporting the emotional and spiritual growth of a student is something that can be done both in conjunction with a wellness centre on campus or could be done in Indigenous student supports. Many institutions have Elders in residence or visiting Elders. Connecting students between programs and between years to create peer supports can be very beneficial. Most important though is the concept of building relations between students and between students and staff and faculty. This creates a feeling of safety and a sense of belonging that helps support students as they progress through post-secondary. Supporting this feeling of belonging is ensuring students have access to cultural supports and ceremonies as they require. Separating the spiritual domain from the rest of the person is not something that is supported by Indigenous educational philosophy. Intellectually, Indigenous students can be supported through peer-tutoring, having faculty members who have been trained around culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum, and having direct connections of what they are learning to their future career aspirations (e.g., co-op, mentorship with professionals).

Increasing the number of Indigenous students in STEM fields is a worthy goal for any post-secondary institution. Providing support specifically for Indigenous STEM students was shown to be beneficial at MRU. From this program, there are many sharable lessons to support Indigenous students in STEM fields and we hope other institutions take up this work and develop supports, programs, and services for their Indigenous students.

Noah Arney is Work Experience Coordinator – Bachelor of Computer Information Systems, Career Services at Mount Royal University. Dr. Michelle Pidgeon is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University and Director, Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership & Policy (CSELP) and SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement).


Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

Pidgeon, M (2014). Moving Beyond Good Intentions: Indigenizing higher education in British Columbia universities through institutional responsibility and accountability. Journal of American Indian Education, 53(2), 7-28.

Pidgeon, M., & Hardy Cox, D. (2002). Researching with Aboriginal peoples: practices and principles. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 26(2), 96-106.

Statistics Canada (2016). Census of Population, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016263. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

What do Arduinos have to do with Student Affairs?

By: Jennifer Clark, Student Success Coordinator in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering at Montana State University

As a student affairs practitioner, it is helpful to explain our work and its value to student success in many languages. In my student affairs work in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, student success is desired; but let’s face it – engineers are often much more comfortable solving hard problems that are easily solved with math and science than messy problems that involve students, their emotions, and the back stories they bring with them to college. Regardless of the recognized value of the student success perspective, the language is unfamiliar and might even be described as foreign…but it can be acquired.

A MSU Engineering student helps Jen.

Recognizing the need to gain a deeper appreciation for the logical, ‘law-abiding’ language so familiar to engineers, I spent the last few months delving into the engineering design process through a computer hardware and coding project using open-source Arduino tools which support developing engineers and computer scientists. I was guided by my understanding of student success and pitched a ‘walk in their shoes’ concept idea to a few electrical engineering students/professionals. They were THRILLED to help me step into their world for a bit, even though they were not particularly interested in understanding the nuances of student services. At first, the goal was simply to gain a deeper appreciation for the complex nature of engineering as a discipline and as a way of thinking. What I gained was this rich, robust perspective of not only the Engineering discipline, but how to communicate the value of student affairs and the value that listening to students brings to success programs. 

This project became my way of articulating to the engineering community with whom I work why listening to students is important. The Arduino board was the instrument that allowed me to speak the ‘engineering language’ as I shared my learning. Briefly, there are 4 devices on this board; each do something different based on the code that was built in. There is an LCD screen that says, “I Love MSU” with an image of a bobcat; a light that changes between 3 colors; a buzzer that sings a Mario Cart song; and the last is a motion detector. These devices were simple in their action, but behind the scenes required a higher degree of complex and specific wiring and coding triggering the intended response to an action command. Student affairs work has a similar structure, on the surface appearing simple but requiring strategic and intentional planning to ensure student success programs have the desired outcome for the population they are designed to serve. Specifically, the motion sensor on this board provided the best demonstration of why it is so important for student affairs professionals to hear and respond to the needs of the students they serve. 

Looks so simple . . . looks can be deceiving.

As the most complex component on this board, the motion sensor took me some time, and extra help troubleshooting, to realize the pre-coded time delay was creating problems with what I wanted the device to do. It wasn’t until I reviewed for myself how the device was set up that I realized what was happening and that I could remove the extra time delay code. Instantly I recognized that this was the perfect metaphor for communicating to my engineering and student affairs colleagues the value of the student perspective as we work to perfect the practice of student success.

Intending to support success, student affairs practitioners may pre-code experiences, or strategies as best practice, unaware that they are not what students find most valuable. There is a need to engage with students and listen carefully to examine if what has been pre-coded makes sense. Keeping a finger on the pulse of current students within our disciplines allows for recognition that students really need a shorter time delay; or in my case, no time delay at all. By stepping outside my box and learning something new, a door opened, a new language was learned, a gap in understanding was bridged and a way to connect two worlds was created.

Still learning.

Engineering education and student affairs practitioners both seek to solve problems related to student success. Searching to find order where there appears to be chaos, recognizing decisions require understanding of trade-offs in using one method over another, and the willingness to embrace innovation by trying new approaches is using an engineering mindset in student affairs. Through this process it is important to be mindful of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and more importantly asking if there is something else we should, or shouldn’t, be doing instead. Including student perspectives is critical to any design process meant to benefit student populations. By keeping our finger on the pulse of what current, everyday students need, the probability of designing effective solutions increases. This supports mindfulness of the pre-coding we as practitioners insert and the purpose it serves in meeting the overall objective. So, what do Arduinos have to do with Student Affairs? They remind us to be intentional in how programming is developed in order to make the connection for maximum student effect.

Lighting the Way

By: Tricia Seifert, Associate Professor in Adult & Higher Education and Department Head of Education at Montana State University

Lanterns light the way
Lanterns suspended from the ceiling at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.

This summer I took some time and disconnected from my phone, computer, and social media. I went to Glacier National Park and took in the breathtaking views of the mountains, lakes, streams, and wildflowers. I observed a grizzly bear and her cubs, deer, marmots, and eagles. The nature that surrounded was beautiful and inspiring.

But there was something about the lanterns in the park’s hotels and lodges. Suspended from huge beams, they lit the way. I stood on the second floor and marveled at the color of light, the shape of the lantern, and how they were hung at different heights. They made me think about how faculty, student affairs and services staff, and peers often light the way through post-secondary education’s darkness.

Students, especially those who are first in their family to attend college or university, may find the campus bewildering, a maze of buildings with names that are unfamiliar. Who is a Registrar? Who is a Bursar? And why do they need their own offices?

Those from rural communities may have no conscious memory of making a friend. They simply have gone to school with the same group of kids their whole life. Signing up to be on the email list for a student club may feel really intimidating. Sitting in a classroom with more people than in one’s hometown can be downright anxiety-provoking.

Having to get out up and out of bed of one’s own volition can be difficult if its being done for the first time. How much time is needed to study for the test? How long will it take to draft and then edit the first composition essay? Mastering the art and science of time management takes practice.

It’s for these reasons (and thousands) more why it’s important that our campuses have plenty of lanterns. Faculty, staff, and students who communicate clearly that they care about and are committed to supporting first-year students as they find their way.

Lanterns at the Lake McDonald Lodge at Glacier National Park.

At Montana State, these lanterns shine brightly during MSU Debut. This is a series of signature events that begin with hundreds of volunteers helping with Move In Day continues with Convocation, and concludes a full month later with the Involvement and Study Abroad Fair. Over the course of those weeks, there are a number of events that embody the spirit and culture of Montana State. This includes the revered ‘M’ photo where all first-year students form a huge block M on the football field and are welcomed by the University President as well as the ‘Rockin the M’ event in which students engage in the 100+ year tradition of painting rocks on the mountain side.

The beloved ‘M’ on the hillside on the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana.

At each of these events and across campus, faculty, staff, and students serve as lanterns for the first-year students starting their post-secondary journey. They are there directing students to the right building, explaining how financial aid works, and inviting them to join in the fun at ‘Movies on the Lawn.’

The hard work of planning that goes into a campus’ orientation and onboarding activities is coming to fruition, the first-year experience is beginning. But there is always an opportunity to learn what others are doing to serve as lanterns for their students. I invite you to take a moment and “leave a reply” with what you are doing to light the way.

Strengths-Based Teaching: The Role of CliftonStrengths for Postsecondary Students in Teaching Roles

By: Isabelle Barrette-Ng, Ph.D, Amy Burns, Ph.D, and Gareth C. McVicar, M.A.

In the Fall of 2013, the University of Calgary began using CliftonStrengths for Students (CS) to help students discover, develop and apply their top talents, and to support an overall shift in their mindset from a deficit-focus to a focus on their talents and what makes them stand out. As the use of CS grew, we developed the Strengths-Based Campus program, one part of our overall donor-funded UCalgaryStrong initiative, which focusses on equipping students with the skills they need to become grounded leaders, helping build a cohesive community, and developing personal resiliency to cope with the stressors inherent in post-secondary life.

Since 2013, 15,000 members of our campus community have participated in strengths-based programming, and over the last three and a half years, this has included 5,700 students through 194 sections of 18 courses in six faculties. One of the most notable gains from the incorporation of (CS) into academic classes has been students’ self-perceptions and abilities to successfully work in teams.

Introducing Our Team

In this article, we write about the recent funding of our Teaching and Learning Grant to study the impact CS has on supporting both Education and Science students in their roles as teachers and the development of a self-reflective teaching practice. Before we articulate the details of our research plans, we want to tell you part of our stories with CS and how our collaboration came to be.

Gareth McVicar: In my role as the Manager of Student Leadership Development in the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, I lead the implementation of the university’s Strengths-Based Campus Program. In that work, I’ve noticed students often focus on deficit-fixing as opposed to focussing on their talents and the gifts that make them stand out. I’ve also noticed that many students need support in learning how to work effectively in teams, navigate conflict and dialogue respectfully with those who have very different ideas and opinions in comparison to their own. As a result much of the work my colleagues across campus and I do with CS is focussed on empowering students to develop these skillsets, their self-awareness and confidence through discovering and applying their strengths. This led to my work with Dr. Burns and Dr. Barrette-Ng to incorporate this focus into academic classes requiring a large amount of teamwork.

Dr. Amy Burns: In my work with pre-service teachers in the Werklund School of Education, I noticed that many of the undergraduate students with whom I worked needed additional supports as they navigated the complex interpersonal aspects of pre-service teaching. Indeed, even those who excelled in this aspect of their program often mentioned how they needed to understand their own perceptions of themselves as teachers more fully. In turn, I implemented an opportunity for a small number of first year pre-service teachers to experience CS, a program supported by the University of Calgary and designed to assist people in understanding their strengths and the various ways they can implement these strengths in working with others and in understanding their own work. The experience was very successful, leading students to better understand their own students, and led to the desire to study the potential impact of CS for university students with a teaching role more generally.   

Dr. Isabelle Barrette-Ng: As the program director of SAGES (SoTL Advancing Graduate Education in STEM), I work with STEM graduate students seeking to develop their teaching practice. Through the program, STEM graduate students complete two credit, pass-fail courses. In the first course, they are introduced to the principles of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). The second course consists of a practicum where students are given the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a classroom setting by designing, delivering and evaluating a specific component of a course in partnership with a faculty mentor within their discipline. To better support the SAGES scholars in developing their evidence-based, reflective teaching practice, I introduced CS for the first time to the SAGES scholars in Fall 2018. Many students commented that knowledge of their strengths has both helped them identify innate assumptions about teaching and learning, but also increased their self-awareness.

Our Research Study

Through our work with CS in undergraduate Science and Education courses, through SAGES and through the training of graduate level Science TAs to facilitate Strengths within labs, we noticed how the activities we facilitated were instrumental in helping students understand the accountability they held along with their other team members to ensure an overall positive group experience.

As you read this, you might be thinking what exactly is CS and how does it work? To answer this, we need to go back in time to shortly after the end of World War II when veteran and Distinguished Flying Cross recipient Donald Clifton started his university studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Fascinated by psychology, Clifton quickly discovered that all of the books on psychology fixated on how to fix people, which led him to ask “what will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?” Seen as the Father of Strengths Psychology and the Grandfather of Positive Psychology, Clifton and Gallup in turn spent 50 years studying how people define strengths. From this, a 180 item assessment was developed. At the end of the assessment, participants receive a “Top 5” report or “Full 34” report.

Our work at the University of Calgary focusses on helping students discover, develop and apply their “Top 5” results. Prior to beginning their course and/or group work, students receive an email from their instructor asking them to complete their Strengths assessment. In class, students are then introduced to the concept of their talent themes, have the opportunity to individually reflect on their themes and how they use them to be successful, and are invited to participate in a team treasure hunt focussed on learning about the strengths of their classmates and different approaches to working together. In class, students are also guided through talking about their previous best and worst team experiences, and the way in which they each approach leadership, communication, conflict, stress and receiving feedback. In turn, students synthesize these conversations into a team contract. Through this process, we articulate that while we want to support setting up the environments for these conversations to occur, students are also equally accountable for creating a positive group experience. Within SAGES, and training for both TAs and future teachers, we have similar conversations, and pair this with discussions around teaching approaches, classroom management and working with learners who learn differently from our own learning lens.

These experiences led us to consider whether CS could help future educators develop their teaching practices. As educators, we also know that developing one’s teaching practice is challenging, in part because it requires a thorough examination of innate assumptions and self-reflection on perceptions of teaching and learning. In turn, we will commence our research study “Strengths-based teaching: The role of CliftonStrengths for postsecondary students in teaching roles” this coming Fall. In our study, we will follow the experiences of University of Calgary post-secondary students who hold teaching roles within both the Faculty of Science and the Werklund School of Education, as they learn about, and then apply their Strengths in their roles as teachers. More specifically, we will examine:

  1. How CS influences future teachers’ self-perception in their learning and in their teaching; and
  2. How these future teachers see an understanding of their own strengths manifesting in their teaching practices.

Grounded in Literature and Theory

This collaborative inquiry and the questions that drive it spring from two bodies of equally compelling literature. The first of these deals with the importance of interpersonal competencies among those new to teaching roles and the challenges that they face in navigating complex challenges in this regard. This is due, in part, to their tendencies to approach the act of teaching from a set of preconceived ideas as to what constitutes teaching and learning (Leavy, McSorely, & Bote, 2007). Ambrosetti (2014) notes the importance of these preconceived ideas in the daily interactions pre-service teachers have with both those they teach and those they work alongside. For the participants in this study, both pre-service teachers in a teacher education program and graduate students charged with teaching in an undergraduate Science program, the importance of questioning these preconceived ideas and, as a result, engaging with students and peers in a strengths-based manner is critical to both their development and the development of those they teach.

The second body of literature revolves around the concept of self-efficacy and its importance to developing teachers. CS is a program based on Positive Psychology that may allow the implementation of such strengths-based approaches. Lopez (2006) notes, “Positive Psychology, the pursuit of understanding optimal human functioning, is reshaping the scholarly and public views of the science of psychology … and it is helping us understand how college students transform their minds, hearts, and lives in just a few short years” (p.1). This foundation for positive Psychology is further supported by the concept of personal efficacy. Bandura (1997) described personal efficacy as the need for people to believe in the power of their actions to produce desired outcomes. In the absence of this belief “they have little incentive to act. Efficacy belief, therefore, is a major basis of action” (p. 3). The concept of self-efficacy is also prevalent in many recent articles and studies (McCormick et al., 2002; Dugan and Komives, 2010; Komives, Dugan, Owen et al., 2011) and is identified as integral in shaping how students form their identities as leaders, and in turn enact leadership. Specifically, “students may possess significant knowledge and abilities related to leadership, but the likelihood that they will enact them rests largely on their internalized belief system about their capacity” (Komives, Dugan, Owen et al., 2011, p.71). Given the leadership role inherent in teaching, the development of such self-efficacy is critical.

Our Methodology

A case study methodology will be implemented, comprised of three activities that will allow us to better understand the impacts of CS, on the perceptions of university students in a teaching role. Data collected will be triangulated from three sources, literature on the CS program and students with teaching roles, surveys completed by student participants, and focus groups completed by selected student participants.

First, preservice teachers in the Werklund School of Education and graduate student teachers in the Faculty of Science will be provided with the opportunity to engage with our CS research. This opportunity will also be provided to all students in these groups regardless of their participation in the research.

Second, two surveys will be administered to students agreeing to participate in the research.  The initial survey will examine participant perceptions of teaching and learning and the role of their own strengths within that role prior to the commencement of their teaching responsibilities. It will also examine their preconceived notions of the role of strengths in interpersonal competency. A survey administered at the end will ask participants to comment on the role the knowledge of their strengths played in their teaching responsibilities and interpersonal skills. Additionally, the surveys will be qualitative in nature and will not attempt to prove a causal relationship.

Third, participation will be sought from those participants willing to undertake focus group interviews to augment the survey data. A total of two focus groups will be held each year, one from Science and one from Werklund, with projected participation of 5-10 per group. All data will be analyzed thematically and will be examined against the survey data in order to provide a clearer and more holistic picture of the potential of CS to support self-efficacy and interpersonal skills.

These three activities will allow us to answer our research questions as they will provide greater understanding of student self-perception in both their learning and their teaching roles as well as how their strengths manifest themselves in this work.

Collaborating with Students

For the purposes of our research, collaboration with students will take place through the hiring and mentorship of two graduate student research assistants. These students will be involved in every aspect of the research from data collection to literature review to data analysis and dissemination. While these two individuals have not yet been identified, we are committed to providing this opportunity to graduate students who are curious about and committed to ideas around the scholarship of teaching and learning, strengths-based approaches to teaching, positive psychology and to those looking for the opportunity to be a part of a cohesive and collaborative team dedicated to co-inquiry between faculties and between disciplines.

Next Steps

As a research team working on this collaborative inquiry project, it is our intent to write a follow-up article once we have analyzed our results, and to further articulate how use of CliftonStrengths for Students is a powerful tool that can help current and future educators develop their teaching practices.


Ambrosetti, A. (2014). Are you ready to be a mentor? Preparing teachers for mentoring pre-service teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(6). Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol39/iss6/3

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.

Dugan, J.P., & Komives, S.R. (2010). Influences on college students’ capacities for socially responsible leadership. Journal of College Student Development, 51, 525-549.

Komives, S.R., Dugan, J.P. & Owen, J.E, Slack, C., Wagner, W. et al. (2011). The handbook for student leadership development (2nd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Leavy, A. M., McSorley, F. A., & Bote, L. A. (2007). An examination of what metaphor construction reveals about the evolution of preservice teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(7), 1217–1233.

Lopez, S.J. (2006). Major developments in positive psychology. Washington, DC: Gallup Press.

McCormick, M.J., Tanguma, J., & Lopez-Forment, A.S. (2002). Extending self-efficacy theory to leadership: A review and empirical test. Journal of Leadership Education, 1, 34-49.

The TRU Consent Tea: Fostering Dialogue about Consent for Sex and Sexualized Violence one Cuppa at a Time

By Chelsea Corsi and Meaghan Hagerty, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, BC, Canada


For people who know us well, or have just met us for that matter, one thing we believe resonates is that we are passionate about health and well-being on our campus! 


For me (Chelsea), working with students in my role as Wellness Coordinator inspires me every day. My experience over the past 15 years has shown me that the hearts and minds of students are open to learn more about themselves; they are open to critically reflect on their current values, beliefs, and perspectives; and they are ready to challenge the social and political context we live in…even when the issues, such as consent for sex and sexualized violence can be difficult to talk about. I believe students to be brave, courageous, and vulnerable, more so than I was when I was a student. Working alongside students to support their health and well-being fills up my cup and motivates me to do my best work!


For me (Meaghan), I scored the jackpot when I landed a position at TRU’s Wellness Centre as my first job post-graduation, and my luck continued with an opportunity to temporarily take on the Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Manager position. It’s one thing to learn about program development and community engagement in a classroom, but actually facilitating space for challenging conversations and hearing the rich dialogue and learning that follows is what professional dreams are made of in my world. We’re working to change some deeply entrenched social norms with topics like sexualized violence, but the energy and drive to shift the conversation exists and is growing. Learning from the students, as well as staff, faculty, and community organizations, through events provides motivation to keep looking for those creative ways of opening space for dialogue and learning.

We are fortunate in our roles at TRU because we are able to collaborate on health promotion and sexualized violence prevention programming in a way that brings creativity and innovation to the work. We utilize key pieces of evidence and theories in a way that engages student learning and, as we have noticed, improves the culture of health and well-being at TRU. Developing programming and outreach events about sexual health and sexualized violence prevention that have the capacity to captivate students is one of the most exciting, rewarding, and nuanced pieces of health promotion work at TRU. For us, this is the stuff that sleepless nights are made of! 


In case you, or anyone else on your campus, need more convincing that this is important work for us to be doing, let’s recap what we know. Our campus understands sexualized violence as, “an umbrella term that encompasses any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent.” According to the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, up to 25% of females report experiencing sexualized violence during their time in post-secondary education. On our campus this means over 1,800 females are pursuing their studies while navigating an experience of sexualized violence. While this statistic is staggering, it does not capture other gender identities or those who decided not to disclose for a variety of great reasons. This is a real and impactful thing that is happening on every campus. Post-secondary institutions are increasingly taking responsibility to provide dedicated response and support services on campus, and in parallel, education and prevention programming is growing.

But let’s be honest…while we know sexualized violence is a critical health issue impacting university culture, sometimes the education and prevention work can be heavy. It can be loaded with stigma, partially because talking about sex in general is often taboo and also because there is still a strong tendency to blame the victim while protecting the perpetrator; it can be uncomfortable to talk about; and it can potentially trigger those who have lived experience. However, if done well, it can be a catalyst for personal reflection, growth, and change as well as a positive shift in culture. 


Consent education is recognized as a cornerstone in creating that culture shift, and at TRU, our Annual Consent Tea has become one of our programming success stories. Capitalizing on pop culture, creative program implementation, activity-based learning, and peer-led dialogue, we have successfully navigated campus discussions on consent for sex and sexualized violence broadly. Instead of metaphorically pulling teeth and/or speaking to silent workshop participants, we took inspiration from the viral “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea” video to develop a ‘Consent Tea’ event, approaching conversations in a trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, and survivor-centred way. Tables decorated with fresh flowers, tea, and treats at a central campus location invite students into this peer-led space for learning and open dialogue.

The table is set.

The idea first came from a thoughtful reflection about how to help students ‘get’ or better understand the idea of consent for sex. How could we encourage student praxis (the practical application of learning) about consent in a meaningful way? How could we bridge the theory/concept with action and inspire reflection and dialogue about a difficult topic? 

Opportunities for applied learning are woven throughout our Consent Tea event. We provide a safer, open environment that is foundational for reflection about key messages brought forth in the Consent: It’s a Simple as Tea video. For example, if someone is unconscious you wouldn’t force them to drink tea, and similarly if someone is passed out you wouldn’t force them to have sex. By physically drinking tea while discussing the fact that you wouldn’t force someone to drink tea with you, participants are ‘acting out’ part of the message. This helps to solidify the underlying concept that you also wouldn’t force someone to have sex or assume that they wanted it.

Some critics of this video believe the message is too ‘juvenile’ and doesn’t go far enough to address the complexities of consent. In our experience, we have found that because the key messages in this video are approachable and use plain language, it acts as a terrific entry point that resonates with varying levels of participants sexual consent literacy. 

True Dialogue theory also underpins this event. The process is designed to increase empathy and understanding, promote self-reflection, and raise awareness that different cultures and communities have varying perspectives and practices. The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) explains that the key components of dialogue are to:

  • Inquire and learn
  • Discover shared meaning
  • Integrate multiple perspectives
  • Uncover and examine assumptions

While we recognize that different perspectives shape the dialogue about consent, we also know that it is our responsibility to educate about the definition and absolute requirement of consent in sexual activity.

Having peers act as dialogue facilitators helps to decrease or remove power imbalances that can be present in different contexts. Our trained peer-leaders have been key to our event success as they help create a safe, welcoming space at each table; bring knowledge about sexualized violence and consent; facilitate meaningful dialogue; and support students to access campus and community resources if and when needed. This past year all 11 students from the Student Wellness Ambassador Team (SWAT), as well as Student Services’ practicum and work-study students served as peer facilitators at our event. 

During the Consent Tea, the use of visual, written, and activity-based aids prompt courageous consent conversations that challenge rape myths, develop understanding for how to support survivors, and increase awareness of campus and community support services.

The 2018 Consent Tea introduced Blackout Poetry as the primary tool for facilitating reflection, expression, and dialogue. This semi-structured, introvert-friendly art form proved to be an accessible vehicle for health promotion, emotional expression, and sharing one’s voice. Participants tore a page from a book and repurposed the words to create their own poem about consent and/or sexualized violence.

An example of a student black-out poem from our 4th Annual Consent Tea in fall 2018:

As student affairs/health professionals coordinating this event, we have seen a high degree of engagement and heard rich conversations each year. But don’t just take it from us. Nicole Stanchfield, a student survivor who was at the event and helped facilitate dialogue, wrote about her experiences. She writes:

“Through the blending of art and conversation, this tea party provided a safe and supportive space to share my story. Events like this are essential to understanding our collective responsibility to engage in an ongoing conversation about consent, sexualized violence, feminism, body autonomy, and the dismantling of my arch nemesis, the patriarchy.”

You can read her full narrative here.

Additionally, this is what one of our student leaders had to say:

“Shockingly, the Consent Tea is where I had my first ever conversation about consensual sex. I learned the basics about rape and assault in high school; but at 22, I found myself unsure of the true meaning of consent. During the tea I was captivated by the bravery of the students who shared their stores, and so impressed by the nuanced and thoughtful discussions that took place. The opportunity to share insights with my peers at this event gave me the education and confidence I needed to have a healthier understanding about sexual consent. I know that I was not the only one there learning about it for the first time, and for that I am grateful for the awareness that this event offers because the concepts I learned will have a lasting impact on my life.”

– Angela Kadar, Student Wellness Ambassador

If you are interested in learning more specific details about our Consent Tea event, or want to host one on your campus, we have created a toolkit that outlines our experiences of running this event for the last 4 years. It is accessible through this link.

As professionals working with students, we hope that this has inspired you to reflect on your own practice and share some ideas with colleagues. How do you encourage open and accessible dialogue that challenges the current discourse about stigmatizing health issues faced by students, yet is also empathetic and caring? How can you inspire a positive change in campus culture? Please “leave a reply” so we can learn from each other.

Like we said, these are the thoughts and ideas that keep us passionate about the work and up at night planning our next outreach adventure!

The Story Behind the College Student Success Innovation Centre at Mohawk College

How broad institutional support, strategic partnerships, and opportunistic student affairs professionals launched the only research centre focused on student success – at a 2-year or 4-year institution – in Canada.

By Tim Fricker, Dean of Students at Mohawk College who also leads the College Student Success Innovation Centre (CSSIC).

To the best of my knowledge, the College Student Success Innovation Centre (CSSIC) at Mohawk College (in Hamilton, Ontario) is one-of-a-kind. We have had a great deal of success in a relatively short period. Since 2015, we have received external funding for 7 research projects totaling 1.7 million, and we were just recently awarded the Program Innovation Award from the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS), which is an association similar to NASPA and ACPA. And, as a community college offering primarily 1-, 2- and 3-year credentials, our graduation rates have steadily risen from 60% to 65% since 2012, a rate of improvement unmatched by our key comparator colleges.

I have been asked many times in recent months how we got to this point, and truthfully, it is difficult to distill our journey down into a couple of key determining factors. There are a few things that I continuously point to including: 1) unbridled institutional support, 2) a host of key partners, and finally, 3) the unique ability of our Student Affairs team to see and respond to potential student success research opportunities. At every single stage of our work over the last seven years, each of these three elements has played a critical role in paving the way for the CSSIC to become a reality.

The purpose of this article, with the invitation from Tricia Seifert, is to share the lessons we have learned that could be useful for others wishing to put more energy into Student Affairs and student success assessment or research. As Student Affairs professionals, our strength is our focus on students and day-to-day practice, which means we also do not naturally celebrate or share our successes publicly. We are humble practitioners by nature. This creates a scenario where our institutions could forget how core Student Affairs work is to the academic mission, which in times of fiscal restraint (such as what is occurring in Ontario right now, which is another story and blog altogether), we risk diminishing resources that could increase barriers and reduce support for our students. With those caveats, here are three foundations of our College Student Success Innovation Centre at Mohawk College.

Broad Institutional Support

I am not entirely sure where this research centre had its true beginnings, but since I joined Mohawk in 2012, a few important things occurred. Perhaps one of those items was the creation of my role at that time – Director of Student Success Initiatives – which was designed to coordinate new campus-wide efforts to improve student outcomes. Around that time, our then President made a public call to action, challenging all faculty and staff to work harder to improve student persistence and graduation rates.

In 2014, we launched our first Student Success Plan to guide our institution on this journey. As part of this work, we committed to more purposeful data capture activities, which was more than just counting participation rates; it was our way of starting on an important assessment, evaluation, and research journey. This included introducing and using new advising software and dedicating a lot of energy toward supporting our staff with training as they evolved their practice and reporting.

Institutional support in these efforts spanned all traditional college silos. We had committees that included membership from academic, student, and corporate services. We had – and still have – a strong relationship with our Mohawk Students’ Association, too. With these close partnerships, requests for data with our corporate partners in the Institutional Research office were easy to navigate, and collaborations with faculty, our Deans, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning also proved to be quite natural, especially when we began our work with HEQCO’s Learning Outcomes Assessment Consortium later in 2017.

In 2016, with a new President, we doubled down on our commitments to students in a few meaningful ways. First, our new Strategic Plan included pillars such as student success and graduate success. Second, our new Strategic Mandate Agreement (a process directed by our provincial government) included a pitch for a new provincial student success innovation and research centre to build off the momentum we had gained over the last few years. Each of these institutional commitments, pillars, and ideas created a strong foundation of support to allow our team to take risks, say yes to new opportunities, and start to build the collective experience in student success research that we have today.

Strategic Partnerships

The first partnership we formed, which is still a critical partnership today, was with Dr. Ross Finnie at the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI). Dr. Finnie and his team of researchers helped ‘mine’ some of our data to help us learn more about our students. Seven reports were produced between 2012 and 2014, including the first drafts of a predictive model that would later be critical to our early research efforts.

Many interesting partnership opportunities presented themselves to us during this time, including participating in the Supporting Student Success research, and some additional projects with EPRI. For each, we simply offered our support ‘in-kind’ and received no payments. Much of this work was done off the side of my desk and those of my Institutional Research colleagues. In other words, as new additional work that was not formally planned in annual work plans, we fit it in wherever we could. With Dr. Finnie, for example, he brought in partners from Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada (both federal government agencies), for what eventually resulted in some fascinating research about the labour market outcomes of Canadian students. We also needed to develop data sharing, transfer, and privacy agreements, and go through the research ethics process. These experiences helped us learn even more about our students, our institution, and how the research process should work at the community college level. Understanding how to structure partnership and data sharing agreements also became an essential element of future collaborative research with other institutions and our local school boards.

Our partnership with EPRI included participation in HEQCO’s first Access and Retention Consortium, and a number of publications, including one on a new approach to proactive advising. As an aside, HEQCO’s approach to funding research through participation in consortiums has been a tremendously productive practice, fostering a network of partnerships across the province. HEQCO has been our largest funder and an enormously supportive partner for many years. Our success would not occur without the funding opportunities or the partners we met through them. For example, we met a number of incredible researchers through HEQCO, who we then joined forces with when HEQCO launched their second Access and Retention Consortium. This resulted in new Online Goal Setting interventions for our students, based on the work of Dr. Patrick Gaudreau at the University of Ottawa, and a new, ‘psychologically attuned’ way to communicate to students on probation implemented with the expertise of Dr. Shannon Brady at Wake Forest University. New publications with both Dr. Gaudreau and Dr. Brady via HEQCO are forthcoming later this summer or early in the fall.

The largest partnership we are a part of today, however, is one that we are leading with funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities in Ontario. With EPRI as a research analytics partner, we are replicating our proactive advising study from 2015 at Humber College, Centennial College, and Fleming College. In doing so, we are trying to support them in their student success research in much the same way that we have received support in the past from HEQCO and so many others.

An Opportunistic Student Affairs Team

Every time an opportunity to participate in research presented itself – one that provided the chance to learn more about student success – we said yes. This would not be possible without broad institutional support, or strong partnerships inside and outside of the college; however, this also required a willingness to work extremely hard (often off the side of our desks) to complete the work. While research was envisioned within the Director role when I started in it, the projects were often not a part of our regular operational work plans. So, I needed to find ways to make it happen.

One of my early approaches was to create a new part-time staff positon in my department to support the operations of the projects. I cobbled together funds from within my budgets, secured small amounts from our Vice President’s contingency fund, and built in staffing dollars into funding proposals. I also pitched this new role as a support for divisional assessment, evaluation, and special projects to have a more current and tangible set of outputs. In many ways, this staff position and the projects themselves were like a set of pilot projects. And, due to the success of the research and the local assessment projects, I was able to propose and secure this as a full-time permanent role. We used a similar approach to create our Learning Outcomes Assessment Consultant role just this past spring.

We have continued to build an incredible research team, for which I am grateful to work with every day. These wonderful people include faculty and Student Affairs professionals alike. Each person and each role contribute to the work of the centre in important ways.


The formal launch of the CSSIC was only a year and a half ago, but we had been on the research path for quite some time before that. This started with the College investing in new and strategic leadership roles. Some of the next critical milestones included the investment in external reports to understand our students better. Then, we invested time and resources into data capture initiatives and staff development. We started to support external researchers who were doing research on student success, and provided them with access to our data and student population. Through all of this, we learned many critical lessons, and forged partnerships that prepared us to apply for research funding. The opportunities continued to present themselves, and we continued to apply (to receive funding) and re-invested in more roles on campus and with more partners. This was the point when the Ministry funded our Centre, and we have continued our momentum since then. Some of it still happens off the side of our desk, too, but we are passionate about understanding ‘what works’ in our student success programming.

There are two final reflections that I think are important. First, while the Centre is led by Student Affairs, the vision was one that was collectively endorsed and has been continuously supported across our institution. Faculty and our partnerships with Ideaworks (our Applied Research department), the Institutional Research Office, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning continue to play an increasingly important role.

Second, there are no shortage of articles and books that express the role of institutional culture on the outcomes of students. Project Deep and the work of George Kuh immediately come to mind. The idea that there is a pervasive student success ideology and approach on campus that everyone understands that ‘this is the way we do things here’ has been shown to be a defining factor of institutions that have strong student outcomes relative to others.

So, on that note, last month when I was cleaning out some old files in my office, I came across a 2007 concept paper from a large committee on campus titled, The Centre of Excellence for Students, Access, and Success. Perhaps our Centre really isn’t so much of a new idea. Leading in student success is part of our ethos at Mohawk – and I suspect it will continue.


By: Tricia Seifert

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of serving as a “conference weaver” for the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) annual conference. Along with Neil Buddel, we went to sessions, listened carefully, and took note of the threads that wove the conference together.

CACUSS 2019 concluded two weeks ago and it has taken me that amount of time to think, digest, and process all of the professional learning that comprised my four days in Calgary. I’m not alone in stepping back and making meaning of such a valuable opportunity to connect with colleagues. Chris Vera of ANZSSA (the Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association) recently posted how this experience was like drinking from a fire hose. You can read his reflection and what he took away from the conference here. I agree completely with Chris’ identification of key threads that comprise student affairs and services work today. I invite you to take a moment and read his awesome insights.

What sticks with me from #CACUSS19 and which I can’t stop thinking about is the number of times I jotted in my journal the hashtag, #ListenToStudents. At one point, I asked on Twitter how people are connecting with students and really listening to them. I was blown away by the crowdsourced response.

Straight out of the gate, John Hannah shared the arts-based approach that he and Tesni Ellis used as part of the Student Experience Research Team at Ryerson University. Check out the blog post about their work on SA-Exchange. The image below captures the ideation and creation process of making sense of the student experience. And give a listen to the videos the students made that tell their story as researchers.

Making sense of the student experience may not be a linear process.

Next up was Lesley D’Souza noting that ‘listening as empathizing’ is foundational to the assessment framework at Western University.

Then in the CACUSS program on Tuesday afternoon was a session on the development of a student-ready rubric led by York University, along with Trent, Queen’s, ON Tech and Nipissing. The group was initially asked to develop a single student-ready campus metric for Ontario’s Strategic Mandate Agreement 3 but their work quickly evolved into a rubric for institutional self-assessment.

Okay, this blew my mind! Literally!! I couldn’t go to the session as I was presenting at the same time but WOW! Thank you, Brendan Schulz, for sharing.

Example of increasing levels of student involvement for contributing to the type, form, implementation, and evaluation of transition support.

Student involvement is the leading domain with three articulated levels across seven areas of practice: 1) policies & procedures; 2) financial literacy & support; 3) transition support; 4) career and academic goal clarity & exploration; 4) learning opportunities (outside the classroom); 5) cohesive student supports; 6) wellness education & support; and 7) peer support & mentoring.

In the above slide, you can see how student involvement is defined for transition support. What stands out to me is that students are first invited to provide feedback but this is recognized as only the most basic level of involvement. The next level seeks input into the development of the policy or program. The third level includes students in the evaluation and assessment of policy/program implementation. This takes student voice up a full octave AND it demonstrates clearly that students matter.

The student experience is at the centre of what we do.

This commitment to student involvement and engagement in policy making is at the heart of Jacquie Beaulieu’s doctoral research and was echoed by Atifa Karim from the University of Toronto who noted it is PRIORITY within her unit’s strategic plan.

So you might be in the choir already and don’t need to hear me preach. But sit with this Tweet from the #ContentEd19 conference in which my friend Liz Gross and Stephen App, from Campus Sonar, presented recently. Students talk. They create content and post it publicly on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and platforms we haven’t even heard of yet.

It’s up to us to LISTEN.

I suggest it is not only our opportunity but our obligation to #ListenToStudents. They are the center of our work and listening to them and responding with policies, programs, and services that address their concerns leads to continuous improvement.

We can’t underestimate the value of learning from students as a means to improve our practice. But it is also important we invite students to #ListenToStudents. As the Supporting Student Success team published in Higher Education Research and Development last year, students are coaches, confidantes, co-constructors, and students copycat those who model and mentor the way.

Students are the threads that form the tightest woven fabric of support for each other. Yet, they need to be invited to see themselves in this light. It is this notion of embracing the mantle of informal peer mentor that was the key implication and close of our session at #CACUSS19.

I would love to continue the crowdsourcing of how student affairs and services staff members #ListenToStudents. Please share and “leave a comment” below.

And stay tuned for the paper that details the advice the everyday student gave to those just starting their postsecondary journey by David Aderholdt, Christy Oliveri, Jen Clark and Tricia Seifert, the Blueprints for Student Success team, to be published in SEM Quarterly this fall. Stated simply, it pays to listen.

Tricia Seifert is Principal Investigator on the Supporting Student Success and Blueprints for Student Success research teams. She is Associate Professor in Adult & Higher Education at Montana State University and Associate Editor for International Research and Scholarship for the Journal of College Student Development. Email her at tricia.seifert@montana.edu