BUILDing Well-being

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.

Background

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.

SFU Health Promotion Physical Spaces Infographic_Page_1 Continue reading

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Supporting student success at the graduate level

In recognition of “Careers in Student Affairs” month, Jacqueline Beaulieu shares her perspective as a new doctoral student looking to make the most of her educational experience and the opportunities for future career development in student affairs. 

This past weekend, I took advantage of the warm weather and enjoyed a lovely walk at the Toronto Beaches. I am new to the city, having recently moved from Kelowna, British Columbia to begin full-time Ph.D studies at OISE in the Higher Education program. If I had one tip for new graduate students, it would be to steal quiet moments like this whenever possible. And if I could offer another tip to those of you who are supporting new graduate students: encourage them to find and take that time in a way that works well for them.

From my experience, the first month of graduate study represents an exciting time. It’s about taking the academic plunge and immersing yourself in topics that you enjoy. If you’re new to the school, city and/or country, there’s the excitement of getting to know your surroundings. There are plenty of people to meet and multiple ways to get involved. It can be a bit of a whirlwind: lots to read, write and think about. As a result, sometimes your mind just feels really ‘loud’. Giving yourself time to be still, reflect and strategize can really tip the scales in favour of your learning and success.

I am regularly asked about my reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree in Higher Education. Here are a few of my answers:

  • I was asked to engage my research skillset more often in the workplace
  • I experienced a huge spike in my own curiosity levels
  • I am excited to meet and be mentored by people who share passions for research, student affairs and international education
  • I love teaching and would like to gain experience in this area
  • Above all, a doctoral degree is for you and the people with whom you will share the learning and experience (present and future); it’s not about you

I have learned so much in the past month. Here are a few more of my tips for new graduate students:

  1. Know why you are here and the rules that you are willing to play by

Take some time to reflect on this and write it all down. It can be extremely helpful to have access to your own clarity of thought during moments of intensity. I have found my own list to be very helpful and am adding to it as I go.

  1. It’s ok to initially focus on academics

From my perspective, graduate school has a tendency to turn Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on its side. Academically, it can be quite demanding from the moment you step out of the starting gates. Of course, feeling comfortable in one’s surroundings and fostering friendships are equally important and you’ll want to start this process right away. That being said, it is important to be patient with yourself and realistic about the process. It will take time and effort to achieve a degree of comfort and confidence with your academics. I made this my primary goal for the first six weeks and it feels great to have reached a point where I can comfortably spend additional time on other aspects of the transition.

  1. Play ‘offense’ over ‘defense’

As a graduate student, it is easy to feel pressured to perform to the highest of standards. Similar to a defensive player in hockey or soccer, you can find yourself worrying about messing things up for yourself and/or your team. From my perspective, approaching graduate studies with a ‘defensive player’ attitude only enables you to get in the way of your own success and possibly that of others. Refuse to be tricked into ‘defense-mode’ by your assignments, thesis or dissertation. Instead, choose to play offense! Dream big. Run towards your goals. Just go for it! Know that you won’t have all of the skills that you need right away, but that’s why you’re here and all part of the fun. Take risks and allow yourself to be vulnerable to mistakes and struggle. Stay positive. It’s all about maximizing the opportunities for learning, however you can.

  1. Treat graduate school like a team sport

Although you will spend a lot of time on your own reading and writing, it is wise to approach graduate studies like a team sport. Allow people to join your team and do the same for others. You will need them and they will need you. Build a community that includes faculty, fellow students, departmental staff, the librarians, the person who runs the local coffee shop and of course, your family and friends.

I am pleased to report that I am enjoying my time at OISE. I am learning a lot from my classes. The diversity of life experience in a place like this is incredible. I have also joined the Supporting Student Success research team, which represents a great opportunity to apply what I am learning to research topics that are of importance to me. As a new Ph.D student, my research teammates have offered and provided a lot of help and for this, I am thankful.

-Jacqueline

Interested in pursuing graduate studies at OISE? Join us at the upcoming Fall Info Session! Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm in the OISE Library. For more information, click here.

Students Who Inspire

I woke up this morning to learn Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize. I had just finished Malala’s book when I wrote my last blog post. I was floored by the power, presence and peace by which Malala told her story of passion for education in the face political turmoil and violence in her community, her region, and her country.

_68703870_68703869 Credit to the BBC

Prior to reading, I Am Malala, I knew little about the history of political strife in Pakistan. I knew little about the state of education in Pakistan and the extent to which girls, under the Taliban, were limited from gaining anything but the most basic education. Malala Yousafzai opened my eyes and I hunch, the eyes of many in this world.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the Nobel Peace Prize committee chairperson, recognized that Malala “has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.” [Visit the New York Times website for more information on this year’s prize and Malala’s story.]

Improving their own situations and those of others.

Yesterday, I learned the University of Toronto would host one of the regional finals for the Hult Prize – a competition in which postsecondary students develop ideas and strategies to solve the world’s seemingly intractable social problems, like non-communicable diseases and famine. The prize comes with a US$1 million award as well as a host of networking and mentorship opportunities.

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to a 17 year old activist, who has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of girls’ education, surviving a shot to the head by the Taliban in 2012. The Hult Prize entices postsecondary social entrepreneurs to work collaboratively to “tackle grave issues faced by billions of people.” In both cases, young adults are being recognized for their ideas, initiative and innovation.

I’ve been thinking a great deal these past months about the role that students can play in co-creating a college and university environment and experience that supports their peers to achieve their academic and personal goals and climb to new heights in their learning and understanding of complex issues.

I fear that the media stories of negative student actions, detailing very real and serious situations of discrimination, harassment and/or assault, clouds the view of the positive student actions that take place on our college and university campuses every day. While I fully support the need to confront negative student actions, I encourage those in the higher education community to notice and praise the student actions that take courage, require compassion, and are examples of students engaging to improve their own situations and those of others.

In honour of the inspiration that Malala’s story has given me these past weeks, I invite you to share a story of student action that has inspired you. Please leave a comment in the space below. I would love it if we could populate this blog with a multitude of examples trumpeting the great work of our students.

By Tricia Seifert

Simplifying the Experience Building Process + Networking

The last couple months, we’ve been sharing posts about the incredible ways that students support their peers’ success. Recently, one of the Supporting Student Success research team members introduced me to Aly Madhavji, a University of Toronto alumnus who wrote “Your Guide to Succeed in University.” Aly exemplifies the student who connects his peers to opportunities and coaches them through tough times. He is definitely a role model and one worth copying.

With convocation upon us and summer just around the corner, I invited Aly to guest blog and share tips for staff members who work with students during this busy season of job-searching. I invite you to share his post both with your staff and students.

Simplifying the Experience Building Process + Networking

Two of the biggest things that students miss out on during their post-secondary education are building career experience and learning how to network. Regardless if a student is a recent graduate or has simply finished a year of college or university, building experience and networking are vital to a successful long-term career. As with anyone, sometimes students need to learn and hear about these topics multiple times, in different ways, or from various sources.

Over the summer months, it’s critical for students not leave a gap in their resume. The main possibilities are: taking summer courses, part-time/full-time work, travelling, developing a skill (dance, languages, sports, etc.), or volunteering. I would recommend a combined approach but we’ll focus on developing skills through volunteer or work experience. My distinction between volunteer and work experience is that volunteering generally provides flexibility, leadership opportunities and more personal development; whereas, work experience will supplement income and build independence related skills.

What are the first-steps for students?
Start by putting together a refined resume. Be sure to incorporate feedback from the Career Services Centre, peer feedback, and reviewing various online formats & templates. Once a student has a refined resume, they are competitive for the job searching phase.

Let’s break down job searching into a few different avenues for what a student should do:

1) Have others search for them (Recruiting Firms)
a. Contact recruiting firms or recruiters through online searches, LinkedIn, and through their network.
b. Students should meet with the recruiters, and explain their credentials and what type of position they are looking for.
Results: Get access to new job portals and even while they’re not looking, recruiters will be looking for them.

2) Post their credentials (online resume for numerous companies)
a. Ensure they have a LinkedIn profile and update it with their resume.
b. Find job portals to create a profile, such as Workopolis, Monster.ca, Career Centre portals, etc.
Results: This will allow individuals, companies, and opportunities to find the student, even if they didn’t directly search for them.

3) Apply to positions of interest
a. Find specific positions of interest through their college/university, Career Centre, LinkedIn, job portals, networks, etc.
b. Try to seek opportunities to personalize the process through coffee or lunch meetings.
c. Submit a tailored cover letter and resume for each position
d. Follow-up with friendly phone calls or emails.
Results: This will allow the student to target specific opportunities build relationships with staff from the specific entity.

It’s important to remember that job searching isn’t easy, especially in this tough economy. A student ought to know that they are not alone if they’re having trouble, but perseverance is the key to success.

A critical area of the job searching process is building relationships, which forms the networking component. Networking is a give and take relationship. One of the biggest misconceptions related to networking is that networking is limited to a specific time and place. Networking is something you can practice anywhere, anytime!

Here is a brief introduction to my networking formula which comes in 4 key pieces and it is very useful for students:

1) Network up and Down

  • Networking shouldn’t be confined to superiors, think about the people both within or outside of your circle; every single person has a talent, skill and a connection that could be beneficial.

2) Help others including your competition

  • Remember the people around you aren’t your competition; working together to refine your applications, tag-team networking, and practice interviewing is more beneficial.
  • The key here is that being genuine and helpful pays-off.

3) Make friends not “Networks”

  • Approaching the networking process as a way to build friendships will help you enjoy the process and you’ll be more successful.
  • Networking is a 2-way street; make sure you’re “giving” at least as much as you’re “taking”.

4) Be yourself but don’t be nervous

  • Remember that this is just a learning experience and you’ll get better from observing the people around you and through trial and reflection.

Remember, this is only a snapshot into building experience and networking skills. Feel free to get a Free copy of Your Guide to Succeed in University, rated the #1 Hottest Study Aid in Canada and #2 in the US, which discusses these topics in more depth. It is available on all major e-platforms (iBooks, Google Play, Amazon, etc.) at http://www.SucceedinUniversity.com . There is also a free downloadable poster on the “About the Guide” section of the website, which is permitted to be customized with your institutions logo and used in print and electronic format.

Posted by Aly Madhavji, Author of Your Guide to Succeed in University
Email: alymadhavji@live.ca

Share Your Blueprint: Student Experience Video Competition

We are officially launching our ‘Share Your Blueprint’ student experience video competition! We know that you interact with postsecondary students on a daily basis, and as such we invite you to encourage them to create videos showcasing the blueprints they have developed throughout their education. 

Please share the following call for submissions with students who you think would be willing to share their college and university involvement experiences.

Thank you for your support.

Tricia Seifert & Christine Helen Arnold (Youth Outreach Coordinator)

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Share Your Blueprint

Student Experience Video Competition

The Supporting Student Success research team invites submissions for our 2014 ‘Student Experience Video Competition’. In the format of a short 4-5 minute video, we would like students to depict and discuss the blueprints they have created for themselves during their time at college and/or university. What initiatives and programs have you participated in, who have you engaged with, how did you get involved and how do the pieces fit together to support your success? Student blueprints may include but are not limited to: interactions and/or relationships with college and university staff, advisors, counsellors, faculty and peers; study groups; learning skills workshops/programs; career training; community outreach; leadership opportunities; peer helper programs, employment on campus; residence life; student government; clubs and sports.

The contest carries a first prize of a $75.00 Pizza Pizza gift certificate and a second prize of a $50.00 Starbucks gift certificate. The top 5 videos will be featured on the Supporting Student Success research team’s new youth outreach website, entitled Blueprints for Student Success. The website is dedicated to educating high school students about the services and programs offered on college and university campuses.

Contest Rules:

  • Video creators must be current students in a college and/or university.
  • Students are to be creative, humorous, ingenious and authentic in conveying the blueprints they have created.
  • The video must be original material between 4-5 minutes in length and not submitted previously for any event or contest. The content must not infringe on any person’s third party rights.
  • Individual students or groups may submit videos.
  • Prizes apply to both individual and group submissions (groups are responsible for determining how to distribute/share winnings).
  • The Supporting Student Success research team reserves the right to disqualify any videos that contain advertisements or contain any unlawful, misleading, malicious, discriminatory, sexually explicit or other objectionable content.

Submissions:

  • Please upload your completed video to YouTube. Once successfully uploaded, please submit the following items to shareyourblueprint@gmail.com:                 1) Title of submission, 2) Names of all participants and 3) YouTube video link.
  • The deadline for all submissions is Friday, March 14th 2014.
  • Any inquiries can be directed to Tricia Seifert tricia.seifert@utoronto.ca or Christine Helen Arnold c.arnold@utoronto.ca.

Engaging Student Staff in Professional Development

Posted by Leah McCormack-Smith

I was lucky enough to attend my first Ontario Association of Colleges & Universities Housing Officers (@OACUHO) Residence Life Conference in 2003 at the University of Windsor. I was a resident assistant at Humber College, and was lucky enough to be presenting on accessibility with a few of my coworkers.

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More than a decade later, I can still remember the experience of walking through the doors of the conference entrance to register. Dressed in a rainbow of school clothing, people were cheering and for the first time I really understood that residence life was a vibrant community outside of my own school. Rather than just an RA at Humber College, I was part of a large network of para-professional student staff, and there was theory and best practice within our work. I spent a weekend learning, networking, and rejuvenating for a second semester of work. I felt connected.

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This year I was lucky enough to send six of my staff to the Residence Life Conference at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and watch them experience some of the same things I got to be a part of in 2003. The excitement of making new friends, and learning about interesting ideas and solutions to shared challenges in residence life. Best of all, for professionals it offers an opportunity for us to reevaluate the processes and pedagogy we use in our home institutions and adopt new and innovative ideas that excite our staff.

 Thinking to some of the data we’ve seen through the Supporting Student Success research, I think conferences like the Residence Life Conference highlight how important communication and information sharing is for the field of student affairs and services. In Canada in particular, we are in the thick of examining our approach and the pedagogy of our profession. A common theme we heard throughout the focus groups and interviews was the importance of sharing our goals, our understanding of our students, and how student life affected academics for students in university and college. Conferences not only allow staff to engage with each other to discuss problems and possible solutions, but also allow us to understand ourselves as members of the wider profession.

For this reason, I believe it is important for institutions to send our staff to conferences like the Residence Life Conference – we should engage our student staff in discussion about professional issues and encourage them to form their networks. Not all of our student staff will end up becoming student affairs and services staff – the vast majority won’t – but for those who do, us as their supervisors should help to stoke the passion and help them find their place within our ranks.

In Search of the Silver Bullet: Communication and Our Students

Posted by Leah McCormack-Smith

Of the biggest challenges facing the relationship between post-secondary institutions and their students, communication seems to be one at the forefront. Do students know what resources are available? Do they understand the system and supports? Do they know when classes and exams start? How do we tell them so they will actually hear what we are saying, and listen?

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When I think back to my first foray into post-secondary education at Humber College, things were “simpler”. All communication was done by paper and sent through the mail. I was given an institutional email, but it wasn’t used for anything official. There were no smart phones, Facebook or Twitter, and the website had some information about services, but if you wanted to know something you needed to ask a faculty or staff member or go to an office. Things were much more face-to-face transactional in nature, but answers sometimes came slow and there wasn’t the ease and immediacy of information that is expected now (by faculty, staff and students). This experience was not 25 years ago. This was 2001.

By my second experience into post-secondary education, the landscape had changed immensely. In 2005 when I entered University of Toronto, knowing how to use CCNet (the precursor to Blackboard) was a must. Emails were used by faculty and departments to communicate information, and websites were more thorough. However, information about start dates for classes, fees, and course selection were still sent by mail, and this was when Facebook was in its infancy, and there was still no Twitter. Communication still happened mostly face-to-face or by phone, and email was still a hit or miss way to connect with certain staff and faculty based on their comfort with the technology.

As an undergraduate student at U of T, I saw this change dramatically in 4 years. Now as a staff member (and not that far removed from the generation of students just entering post-secondary study) I feel the gap in their needs and expectations of communication, and my understanding of how the institution “does” it. This is where the challenge, I believe, lies. Understanding how communication happens for a generation that doesn’t really remember a time before computers, has been on Facebook since elementary school, and has been using smart phones for years is different from my youth experience, and as a staff member I feel it is now up to me to figure out how to bridge that gap and how to communicate effectively with this group of students. I need them to know what I need them to know.

U of T started the process of hearing the voices of our students through NSSE and other focus groups and surveys. On May 16, using the previous work and knowledge to inform the conversation, U of T held a Communication Summit to bring together the different areas of the university along with its students to strategize the best ways to communicate with them – meeting both their needs, and the institutions.

At the recent Student Life Professionals retreat held at U of T, some of the results of this were discussed. Not surprisingly, students are looking for information to be as streamlined as possible, and want that information somewhat tailored to them. There are a few people who are more likely to have their emails looked at (such as the registrar’s office) and students are wary of being “spammed” by information from the university. They are also looking frequently to Facebook and Twitter for information.

From the conversations at the session, along with some of the data we’ve seen through the Supporting Student Success study, the one thing that is clear is that there is no silver bullet for communication. Students are all getting information from a variety of sources, and all have preferred methods, which are probably far less uniform than they were years ago. Methods and means of communication are also changing rapidly, and institutions, staff and faculty need to be adaptable enough to meet new needs and incorporate new means of communication in accessible and meaningful ways. Students need to continue being a part of the conversation on how they are communicated with, because the solutions of today may not be solutions a year from now.

One of the pieces of the conversation that really stuck with me, however, is that one of the best allies in all of this is other staff. We need to be cognizant of how we are communicating with each other, and that we are being responsive to each other’s needs in regards to communicating with students. Do you have a cool event you want your colleagues to promote? Make sure you know their deadlines and distribution dates for e-newsletters and their listserv policies. Do they accept posters or only want text and links? Can the tweet the information or post it on Facebook for you? These are all helpful things to consider so that institutionally we try to cut down as much spam mail as we can, but also help each other out to be as responsive to student needs as possible.

We want them to hear us, and I think they want to listen. We just need to try to make sure that we are speaking the same language, and include them in the conversation so that we as professionals can stay in touch with new methods of communication, and how they are using them. It’s a changing landscape, and flexibility will be the thing that probably serves us best in the long term.