By Tricia Seifert (@TriciaSeifert)
In the last week, two countries in North America have celebrated birthdays. On July 1, Canada celebrated 150 years of Confederation, which many have reclaimed as 150+ years in recognition of the centuries of indigenous people inhabiting that land. The United States celebrated 241 years of the signing of the #DeclarationOfIndependence, which was read aloud and tweeted by @NPR on the 4th of July.
Education has long been heralded as key to a thriving democracy. The historical trauma that residential boarding schools inflicted on indigenous people in both Canada and the US, however, has sullied the promise of education. Yet, “facing the truth,” as Suzanne Stewart (@SuzanneLStewart) and Charles Pascal suggest in their editorial in the Toronto Star, is indeed worthy of celebration.
Many institutions including my own, Montana State University, purport to “to improve the human prospect through excellence in education, research, creativity and civic responsibility.” With celebrations this past week north and south of the 49th parallel, I have been thinking a great deal about how educators engage students to enact their civic responsibility such that education’s promise can be fully realized in these two countries and beyond their borders in the next 150 years.
I believe part of civic responsibility is engaging in the political and public policy process. Today I share a small action I took to bring public policy discussions, particularly as they pertain to education policy, to the forefront in the MSU Department of Education.
Engaging in the Policy Conversation
Every week I send an email communication, the Monday Minutes, to students, staff, and faculty in the Department of Education. With the start of a new year, a new President taking office in the US, and new legislative session beginning in our state capital, it seemed timely to begin including information about various public policy proposals at the local, state, and federal level in addition to the usual announcements, opportunities, and event information.
Recognizing that this was an addition to the previous semester’s weekly communication, I prefaced the section titled, Policy Update – Opportunities for Civic Engagement with the following statement,
Part of being an educator and professional is to be aware of and engage with public policy relevant to your work and daily practice. This section of the Monday Minutes is designed to share public policy and legislation that pertains to our work as educators.
In each week’s communication, I aimed to include information about policies at the national/federal, state, and local level. I wanted people to recognize that public policy discussions, pertinent to their professional practice, happen all around them and at every level of governance. Over the course of the second semester, I shared information about a:
- Local bond issue to fund a second high school in our community
- State legislation that would provide less operating funds to the Montana University System, resulting in a tuition increase for students
- President Trump’s federal budget proposal
In each case, I provided links to learn more about the issue and how to contact directly one’s elected and appointed public officials (US Congress, state legislators, school district personnel).
In the heat of these political times, many may wonder how to engage students, staff, and faculty in a way that is non-partisan. The text below is taken verbatim from how I introduced the federal budget proposal.
From a National perspective:
If you have not reviewed President Trump’s budget proposal, I encourage you to do so here. The proposal has SIGNIFICANT implications for public schooling and higher education accessibility. Please voice your support or opposition to our federal legislators. It¹s easy to do, simply click on this link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
I was clear to frame the civic action in response to the policy proposal in terms of one’s “support or opposition.” This is crucial; I am more than aware of the public discourse that purports faculty members seek to indoctrinate students. The US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, drew much attention in February stating,
“The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”
My intention with this small action with the Monday Minutes Policy Update – Opportunities for Civic Engagement is not to influence students, staff, or faculty members’ policy perspectives but to invite them to engage in public policy discussions as a matter of professional and civic obligation. To me, education that encourages and invites the community to engage in matters of public policy debate, development, and implementation is central to a healthy democracy.
Although I need to assess to what extent Department of Education students, staff, and faculty acted on this information, a number of people stopped by my office this semester to thank me for making this information easily accessible. Sometimes all you need is an accessible link to inform yourself in order to take action and make your voice heard.
Two Small Wins
So what’s my take-away from the two small actions discussed in the last blog posts?
I think what hits home is that providing an opportunity for people to interact with new ideas (whether those ideas are advanced by people in a discussion or a policy document) is simply what educators do. It’s not flashy; it’s part and parcel of what education is — interacting with new ideas. I didn’t do anything big in either of my actions but people came out of the experience with more information. They encountered new things to think about, questions to ponder, and possibilities for action. As David Kolb stated years ago, “learning is a process.” The small actions I took gave a chance for folks to further engage in that process.
I’m curious what others have done to discuss religious, spiritual and worldview diversity with students. I’m also interested in how you have invited students, staff, and faculty to engage in the public policy conversation.
What have been your successes? What challenges have you experienced? Please take a moment to “leave a reply” and be part of this critical conversation as we navigate these changing times.
By Tricia Seifert (@TriciaSeifert)
It has been five months since I posted about the changing political times and their influence on post-secondary education in the United States. In the interim, several courts have ruled against President Trump’s ban on travel for people from six predominantly Muslim nations. But just yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States allowed for the travel ban to be enforced provided that the travelers from these six nations do not have a “bona fide” relationship to the US. The Court’s ruling has been interpreted as permitting those from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to attend a university or deliver a speech as having “a credible claim” of a relationship with a person or entity in the US. Students and scholars from these countries may travel to the US. But in an ever-changing political climate of what constitutes “bona fide”, these students and scholars may feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or most importantly, unsafe to do so. International students and scholars who are not from the banned countries may also question travel to the US and decide against it.
When the executive order was signed, I was worried that students from one of the six countries who had gone home might not be able to return to their studies. I was concerned that parents who are graduate students from one of the six countries presenting at a conference might not be able to come home to their children. I live fairly close to the Canadian border and could not help but think about the possible grad student from Iran who went to present an academic paper at a conference in Calgary being prevented to cross back into the US. I was thinking especially of their children and the extent to which the student teachers from Montana State University are prepared to support these international kids in their classrooms.
Five months ago, President Trump’s attempt to ban people from predominantly Muslim countries moved me to think about how to bring discussions of diversity and public policy to the forefront in my work with students, staff, and faculty. Today, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold parts of the travel ban, particularly as it pertains to limiting refugees from war-torn countries, has me thinking about how educators support students to understand different religious, spiritual, and worldview perspectives.
Like so many, I felt and feel a bit paralyzed by what I can do. With everything that calls for my daily attention, what actions can I take? What is within my sphere of influence?
[I want to note that I wrote this blog post on Saturday, June 24. The US government’s enforcement of the executive order travel bans has changed tremendously in the last 24 hours and I have updated to reflect the day-by-day changes that Americans and others from around the world are experiencing with respect to US policy. What I share is what I have done in the five months since the initial executive orders were announced. The US Supreme Court’s actions in the last day have only strengthened my resolve.]
Examining Religious, Spiritual, & Worldview Diversity
Because the travel bans are focused on countries with predominantly Muslim populations, I feel it is important to begin by acknowledging the religious diversity of today’s college campus. I knew I needed to take advantage of the good work that already being done in this arena and not re-invent the wheel.
In February, I tapped into the NASPA live webinar series that focused on supporting Sikh and Hindu students. This was a useful starting point as the series was timely and because it is not uncommon for Sikh and Hindu students to be mistaken for Muslim students. It is noteworthy how few students know the difference between these religious faith traditions, despite the nearly two billion people around the world who practice these traditions.
I was grateful for the insight provided by Dr. Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf), Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity University and senior religion fellow with the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group for the Sikh community and Cody Nielsen (@campminmatters) who interviewed Dr. Singh.
Over the course of an hour, Montana State University Department of Education students, staff, and faculty learned about the basic values of the Sikh religion and the outwardly physical characteristics displayed by Sikhs. You probably have seen the long, uncut hair often wore tucked up in a turban. But beyond the outward signs, I was struck by the similarity of Sikh values to Christianity and other world religions.
Dr. Singh spoke about Sikhs service to God, which manifests in serving the world, selflessly inspired by love. He also spoke about remembrance and the pillars of engaging in one’s community, the concept of oneness of God, and the ideal of love. Thinking about the Christian lessons from my childhood, I noted how in the Sikh faith suffering results from failing to recognize the oneness and divinity in each being. To me, this spoke to my Sunday school lesson of loving one another.
I was motivated to provide this opportunity to learn about other religions because so few students, staff, and faculty (outside those in the Religious Studies department) know about the values and principles that guide faith traditions outside their own. Faith, religion, and worldview is a key dimension of our students’ identities; it often shapes students’ behavior and how they interact with others. Think about how people from different faith traditions extend greetings, whether it is appropriate to make eye contact, and how and how often they pray. And yet, it is not uncommon for people to have no knowledge of the principles and values of the religion, faith tradition, or worldview that guide these behaviors and interactions.
Stated simply, if our college and universities are to prepare teachers and leaders to support all students, they need to understand their students’ religious, spiritual, and worldviews.
Yesterday, I shared my interest in creating a Worldviews Passport program with our student government president and Office of Activities & Engagement staff. The program would introduce students to the principles and values of a host of faith communities and invite passport holders to reflect on how understanding that worldview will enable them to interact inclusively in work and community settings. As we talked, the student affairs staff got excited about partnering with student clubs and working together to connect with the community.
Changing Times and Greater Resolve
I was excited with possibility. Then I came back to my computer and learned about the Supreme Court decision.
The need for people to understand different religious, spiritual, and worldview perspectives has never been greater. These actions taken by the US government have only strengthened my resolve that the safety, security, and future of nations lies with educators who invite students into the great wonder that is learning about ideas that differ from your own.
Only once we understand the other can we be understood.
Next week I will share the second small action I took as a result of President Trump’s executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries. My mantra is “small actions yield small wins.”
I want to hear from you. We are part of a worldwide community of educators. In light of the changing political times, how are you supporting students? As always, I invite you to be part of the conversation by leaving a comment.
Times they are a-changin’. As a kid, I was enamored with the music of the 1960s. I spent hours listening to my dad’s three-album set from Woodstock. I consumed the liner notes. I read every word and pondered every lyric. Although Dylan didn’t play Woodstock, I wanted to understand what it was about those times that were a-changin’.
Now I live in times that are rapidly changing – changing in ways that make supporting student success ever more essential. President Trump’s Executive Orders ban the issuing of visas to people holding passports from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, ban refugee entrance into the U.S. for 120 days with the exception of Christian refugees, and fully halts Syrian refugee entrance until further notice. These directives have been issued from the highest office of the United States and send a message to the world.
People in the U.S. disagree with the content of that message. Some argue these directives secure American borders. Others argue they are illegal, unconstitutional, serve as a de-facto ban on Muslims, and are counter to American values. Irrespective of your political position, these Orders have real impacts on students, scholars, and their families.
I grew up in the U.S., lived in Germany during reunification, in Canada during the first Obama presidency and the Maple Spring in Quebec, and currently live in the U.S. Living abroad has provided me with a perspective of my home country that I would not have otherwise. Although I may have a different perspective, I am not alone in my concern for the safety and security of the more than 100,000 students from the Middle East and 17,000 from the banned countries who are studying in the United States, most of whom are Muslim. More than 7,000 U.S. faculty members have signed the petition, Academics Against Immigration Executive Order.
There is strength in the number of individuals who have spoken out. There is strength in national associations taking a stand.
“Our nation’s universities are enriched and strengthened by the talent, insight, and culture that international students, faculty, researchers, and staff bring. . . . We are also concerned that this decision adds great uncertainty to international students, researchers, and others who might consider coming to our campuses.”
I am heartened by Universities Canada’s statement, particularly given the fact that commenting on the executive orders of another country is highly atypical.
“The executive order restricting travel into the U.S. affects research partnerships, international studies, academic conference participation, field visits and in some cases family relationships of our university students, faculty and staff. The new order is having an impact on Canadian campuses and communities that is real, immediate and profound. . . . Canada’s universities continue to welcome students, faculty and staff from around the world, including those seeking refuge from violence and hardship.”
I take comfort in these statements. But comfort is just that comfortable. More than anything, I must act.
I must act within my sphere of influence to support our international students, particularly those from the seven banned countries, as they may become targets of discrimination despite possessing a visa to study in the United States.
I must support Muslim students. I fear these Executive Orders may result in xenophobic actions. This is not an unwarranted fear given the number of hate crimes that have been registered since the U.S. Presidential election.
I must support American students of all faiths, religious traditions, and worldviews. Specifically, given my position as Head of the Department of Education and the department’s mandate to educate pre-service teachers, I must provide opportunities for our students to learn about the rich religious and worldview diversity that characterizes America.
I must support the young kids in elementary school whose parent traveled to present at an academic conference and are not permitted back in the U.S. because they hold a passport from one of the seven banned countries. How do we, as educators, support these kids?
I have to start somewhere. I have to give action to my “must support” statements. This is what I have chosen to do.
- I will affirm in my weekly communication to the Department’s students, staff, and faculty that we are a Department that values the humanity of each of our students. Part of honoring humanity is by listening to understand. Education is based on the premise that we bring an openness of mind to listen deeply, contribute thoughtfully, and respect unconditionally. I will provide information where to report any acts of discrimination, intimidation, and violence.
- I will create opportunities for our faculty, staff, and pre-service teachers to learn about different religious traditions and worldviews. Specifically, I am working to introduce our students to our local Islamic Center only a few blocks from campus. Additionally, there is a series available through NASPA that will focus on Hindu beliefs (live cast January 26 with recording available February 2) and Sikh beliefs (February 15). My goal is that by learning about other religious traditions and worldviews that our pre-service teachers, graduate students who are school and post-secondary leaders, staff, and faculty will be more prepared to support students from a variety of faith traditions.
- I will encourage our community to engage civically, not just every four years when there is an election but regularly. As educators, there are policies discussed on a nearly daily basis that affect our work. Educators need to know about and comment on public policy that affects their ability to support every student’s success, like President Trump’s recent seven-country immigration ban and refugee suspension. To that end, I am sharing information about legislative bills and policies currently under discussion and how to contact elected officials to register comment.
I recognize these actions only scratch the surface but I believe small actions can make a difference. To that end, I’d like to learn about the small or large actions you are doing to support international students, Muslim students, and students on your campus who could benefit from learning more about the world’s rich religious and worldview diversity. Please “leave a comment” and share your ideas. We are stronger together.
Tricia Seifert is Associate Professor and Department Head of Education at Montana State University. She also maintains a faculty appointment at the University of Toronto. She is the PI on the Supporting Student Success research study.
Student success and learning is a shared responsibility among members of the campus
community. It is too large and too complex to be the purview of one individual or group in postsecondary education. Student affairs/services (SAS) professionals and faculty must work together and understand one another. As Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh and Whitt and Associates (2010) explain:
“to achieve a positive organizational culture that supports students as a by-product of a good educational experience, the commitment and effort of all members of the academic community are needed”.
However, it can often be quite difficult to make the time to learn about one another. Luckily, this is where the Supporting Student Success research team comes in. We’re going to share what we’ve recently learned about how faculty members perceive institutional retention and student success efforts on their campuses.
Our goal here is provide a space to discuss how to better support one another. As SAS professionals, we have an opportunity to lead and educate about programs and services, how collaborations work, and the importance of these initiatives for students. In order to do this, we must first understand faculty colleagues’ perspectives and the subcultures that influence these perspectives.
We know various subcultures exist within our institutions depending on the division/area one is working in, job title/position, and daily roles. The subculture(s) we belong to can influence how we make sense of events and actions (Kuh & Whitt, 1988). Kuh and Whitt (1988) note:
“academics make up a complex set of subprofessions characterized by fragmentation and specialization”.
The notion of subprofessions, which may be viewed as subcultures, therefore inform this research. The influence that a subculture has on the behaviour of its members is facilitated by departmental and institutional contexts, mission/mandates, communication and leadership styles, and individuals’ experiences.
Subcultures exist for both SAS professionals and faculty members. For faculty members, this typically comes in the form of one’s rank, years employed, broad disciplinary area, and responsibilities. As such, we are interested in how faculty at various academic ranks (tenured/promoted, promotional, and non-promotional) differ in their perceptions of retention and student success. Although past research has examined campus culture and student success broadly, limited empirical research has been conducted on to what extent faculty members’ perceptions of campus culture and institutional retention efforts differ by academic rank.
Faculty Perceptions of Retention and Student Success
Our findings are based on survey data that was collected at twenty-four postsecondary institutions (seven community colleges and seventeen universities); respondents include both faculty and SAS professionals. Our initial analyses explored the relationship between faculty and staff members’ awareness and engagement with programs and services designed to support retention and student success. This post looks specifically at the faculty sample by academic rank.
Our sample consisted of 977 faculty (full- and part-time) who taught undergraduate students in the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 academic years. The breakdown below shows the composition of the sample we analyzed by rank, years employed, and broad disciplinary area.
For our first set of analyses, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare composite measures by faculty rank. Seven different outcome/composite measures were examined (three at the departmental level and four at the institutional level). Composite measures include the following:
- Conveying to students that they can succeed and facilitating involvement,
- Setting goals and objectives to helping students succeed,
- Dedicating leadership and resources to promoting retention objectives, and
- Relaying information about academic and personal support services.
These measures are crafted from individual survey items, for which respondents indicated the extent to which they agree or disagree based on declarative statements using a Likert scale. Respondents were required to answer 60% of the questions that made up each composite to be given a score for that outcome.
At the departmental level, the analysis revealed:
- Tenured/Promoted (3.73) faculty have more positive perceptions of the degree to which their division conveys to students that they can succeed and facilitates involvement than Non-Promotional (3.55) (p<.05).
At the institutional level, the analysis revealed:
- Promotional (3.05) faculty have more positive perceptions of leadership and resources dedicated to promoting retention objectives than Tenured/Promoted (2.85) (p<.05).
- Tenured/Promoted (3.37) faculty have more positive perceptions of their institution’s efforts to relay information about academic and personal support services than Non-Promotional (3.13) (p<.01).
For our second set of analyses, we used block regression to examine how differences in the composite measures by academic rank may be explained by other potential explanations, like years employed, broad disciplinary area, respondents’ awareness of student support programs and services, and engagement with these programs and services in inter-divisional partnerships. This approach essentially entails adding different blocks of variables into a regression sequentially to see how the inclusion of those independent variables matter in explaining the dependent variable (the departmental and institutional composites), and how they impact the estimates of the other independent variables.
The analyses revealed several informative findings that can be used to modify policy and practice:
- Tenured/Promoted faculty appeared to have more positive perceptions of the degree to which their department and institution conveys to students that they can succeed and facilitates involvement than Non-Promotional faculty. Tenured/Promoted faculty also appeared to have more positive perceptions of their institution’s efforts to relay information about academic and personal support services than Non-Promotional faculty. However, both of these differences became insignificant once additional blocks/covariates were added.
There is an opportunity for SAS professionals to connect with those who are in Non-Promotional roles and ensure that in their short- or long-term positions at our institutions they possess an understanding of retention objectives and are encouraged to participate. With the number of Non-Promotional faculty members (sessionals, adjuncts, and lecturers) increasing on our campuses, we need a proactive approach to reaching these critical members of our institution’s instructional team.
- Faculty employed 0-4 years were found to have more positive perceptions than those employed 11+ years across departmental and institutional success measures (conveying to students that they can succeed and facilitating involvement, setting goals and objectives to helping students succeed, and dedicating leadership and resources to promoting retention objectives). This finding remained in the presence of the additional blocks/covariates.
Working with these younger faculty members is crucial, as they will be leading our institutions in the future and have the energy to transform them. They can function as allies in bridging existing academic and student services silos. Inviting them to be a part of SAS programming, making ourselves known to their students, and increasing two-way communication is imperative. In addition, reaching out to senior faculty by drawing upon their experiences and history at our institutions is valuable. It is time to reinvigorate these individuals! At this stage in their careers, the majority of faculty will have achieved tenure and as such may have more time to sit on committees, champion initiatives, and throw their support behind new innovative ventures.
- Arts and Humanities faculty were found to have more positive perceptions of the degree to which their department conveys to students that they can succeed and facilitates involvement than Social Sciences/Education and Health Sciences faculty. However, Engineering faculty were found to have more positive perceptions than Arts and Humanities across institutional success measures. These findings remained in the presence of the additional blocks/covariates.
Developing orientation workshops and outreach materials to be dispersed throughout the academic year with regard to the role of SAS and available programming across all departments/disciplines may assist with these inconsistencies.
- Awareness measures (prior familiarity with and frequency of learning about student support programs and services) were found to have a strong positive effect on perceptions of success. However, this effect became weaker when we added actual use (frequency of referral to services, communication, and collaboration with divisions across campus) of programs and services into the regression model. While knowing about student support services is valuable, it appears that actually using or engaging with student support programs and services is what matters most in positively influencing faculty members’ perceptions of department and institution retention efforts.
SAS professionals’ encouragement of positive faculty interactions with services is therefore of key importance, as when faculty are involved their perceptions of retention and student success are improved.
We hope these findings are valuable and that we can continue this discussion in the future. Next steps for our research are to examine faculty members’ behaviour toward departmental and institutional retention efforts beyond perceptions.
Christine Arnold (@ChristineA_MUN)
Kathleen Moore (@Kathleenmoore_)
I went back to school this year. Not literally but figuratively. On July 1, I began a new job as Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University (#montanastate). Ten days later I was in front of a classroom of new first-year students during summer orientation, doing what department heads do. I welcomed the students to MSU. I congratulated them on the brilliant choice to become a bobcat (the MSU mascot). I shared that becoming a teacher provides them a chance to leave a positive impression on the future students whose lives they will touch. I also confessed that I felt just like they looked.
Underneath my confident persona, I was scared. I don’t know what it means to be a department head. I’m not sure of my role. There are new acronyms every day; buildings that I’ve never stepped foot in; meetings that I’ve never been invited to. I’m facing situations never encountered and supervising a staff who two months ago helped me operate the copier. I’m a first-year student all over again.
So I shared my fear and trepidation with this group at orientation. I let them know that we will learn together. We will struggle together. We will make mistakes together. I’m part of the Class of 2016. (It seems much more logical to state the year one matriculates then graduates.)
And I also shared what I had learned in my brief time on the job.
Stated simply, there are amazing people on this campus (and yours too) who will drop everything to aid in their success.
Let me provide a couple of examples.
- When I didn’t know how to access the university’s secure computer network, I asked the department’s administrative associate. She painstakingly walked me through the multitude of pull down menus. This was helpful but I also searched “access secure network” from the university website and bookmarked the step-by-step instructions for connecting from my Mac.
When students don’t know how to access the institution’s Learning Management System or other technology platform, who do they go to? Is there an IT Help Desk somewhere centrally located? Are there step-by-step guides on the university website? Are these guides searchable using several different terms? Because let’s be honest, it’s possible (no, more like probable) that not all new students will know that D2L has been re-named Brightspace LE.
It’s helpful to have a person be a resource but it’s just important to develop our resourcefulness.
One more example . . . .
- In my first month, I hired several full-time staff members and navigated university policy and procedure for crafting letters of appointment for countless sessional instructors and Graduate Teaching Assistants. The College’s personnel officer has been patient and kind despite me asking the same question 100 times. I am grateful beyond words.
As I observed the personnel officer’s fortitude in answering my repeated questions, I was reminded of the patience and kindness that academic advisors, financial aid administrators, and folks in the Registrar’s Office show to students every year. With each new class, they answer the same question 1000 times. It’s probably why offices have developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) webpages. But beyond the technology, it’s the care and consideration shown to students through conversation that make the difference.
There is comfort in knowing that someone is there to help guide through the post-secondary process.
And at the end of the day, knowing that I don’t have to do it alone is what has mattered the most to me. As a new member of the “Department Head’s Roundtable,” I have met others from across campus who confront similar questions and face related challenges.
There’s a reason why protagonists in novels rarely go it alone. Rather, they are part of a “merry band of brothers” or the “sisterhood of the traveling pants.” There is strength in numbers and comfort in community.
As we begin this new academic year, I invite you to share how you found the community from which you gain strength and what you are doing to assist students in finding theirs. Please leave a reply so that we can learn how people are creating community on campus.
If you want to be part of the ongoing conversation, “follow” us @CdnStdntSuccess and “like” the Supporting Student Success Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you.
By Crystal Hutchinson, Health Promotion Specialist, Simon Fraser University
While attending Supporting Student Success research team’s (@CdnStdntSuccess) presentation on “Principles for Creating Student Focused Postsecondary Organizations” at CACUSS this summer, I was thrilled to see physical space emerge as a key area influencing organizational culture in higher education. My excitement was due to my role at Simon Fraser University (SFU), where I lead the Well-being through Physical Spaces project on behalf of the Health Promotion team (@SFUhealth_promo). This project aims to improve the well-being of SFU students by enhancing the physical campus environment. There is a growing body of literature that demonstrates a connection between built environments and mental, social and physical health. As a result, physical environments within higher education settings present a strategic opportunity for us to impact student learning, engagement and well-being.
SFU’s focus on well-being through physical spaces is innovative and leading within Canada. Although it was developed prior to the release of the WELL Building Standard (Delos Living LLC, 2015), it similarly focuses on considering psychosocial well-being in the design of built environments. Physical Spaces is one of six areas for action to impact student well-being in SFU’s Healthy Campus Community initiative which is informed by health promotion theory (World Health Organization, 2010; Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, 1986). The project also aligns with the Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015) that identifies creating supportive campus environments and working cross-departmentally to enhance student well-being.
About the Well-being through Physical Spaces Project
The Well-being through Physical Spaces Project was developed in 2013 through a literature review that indicated the quality of physical learning environments has a significant and measurable impact on student achievement, productivity, satisfaction and well-being (Earthman, 2002; Hill & Epps, 2010; Lippman, 2010; Whiteside, Brooks & Walker, 2010; Young, Green, Roehrich-Patrick, Joseph & Gibson, 2003). However, most research has been within corporate and health care sectors as well as in education at the elementary and secondary school level, suggesting that the interplay between the built environment, student well-being and learning within post-secondary settings is emergent. Data collected from focus groups and existing undergraduate surveys at SFU was also analyzed to inform the project and to explore how students perceived various physical spaces on campus in relation to their well-being.