Six months after a college task force released a report stressing how critical it is to make first-year students feel at home, York has hired nine full-time residence life coordinators.
Until now, York employed graduate students and sometimes faculty members only part time as residence life coordinators. For a stipend and a rent-free apartment, they were expected to devote 20 hours a week to supervising dons, implementing programs and stickhandling crises in one of the University’s nine student residences. It wasn’t enough.
Things are going to be different from now on.
"We are moving to a model of having professional staff oversee residence life programming similar to what has been occurring for several years at universities such as Toronto, Alberta and Western," says Chantal Joy (left), recently named assistant director of residence life, Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development. Her newly hired residence life team – two managers and seven coordinators – will work 35 hours a week, almost double the hours put in by their part-time predecessors. They also bring a wealth of experience to their new positions. University educated with degrees ranging from family studies to business, each has three to six years experience managing or running student programs in university and college residences across Canada. "They bring more expertise to the table and have more time to devote to the task," says Joy.
Hiring full-time residence life coordinators marks York’s increased commitment to incoming students, as recommended by the Task Force on the Colleges report, Strengthening York’s Neighbourhoods, released last November (see the Dec. 1, 2006 issue of YFile).
"Research demonstrates that the residence experience can have a positive effect on student retention and student learning," says Joy. "As such, the institution is looking to maximize that."
The task force said York’s colleges should do more to engage frosh during their transition to university because getting involved and feeling connected can make all the difference to their social and academic success. It made 28 recommendations primarily aimed at improving the quality of the student experience. Recommendations ranged from changing college reporting structures to increasing co-curricular and cultural programming, and included bolstering the Fellows system, involving colleges more in recruitment and orientation – and hiring full-time residence life coordinators so masters could concentrate on programming.
Above: Seven of nine members of the new residence life team, from left, Ashley Grenville, Kristina Osborne, Ian Crookshank, Pavel Graymason, Heidi Bednar, Sarah Burley and Jimi Bursaw. Missing are Melanie Kong and Kim Mortreuil.
Joy’s new team will play a key role in enhancing student success. "Those who do this professionally come with a bank of knowledge about student success, young adult development and best practices," says Joy. "This is the treasure they bring to York."
"It’s an exciting change for us," says Joy. "It’s a big change."
Thirty years ago, many Canadian universities didn’t have residence life coordinators. Now they are essential. "The reality is this is a very different world in terms of liability and of the level of responsibility we have to students today," says Joy. "It’s different than it was 30 years ago and requires more attention and expertise."
"There’s also a generational difference," says Joy. "Parents are not the same as parents 30 years ago. They have higher expectations of universities. It’s a more competitive market."
Hired in June, Joy’s team is spending the summer training, learning about York and preparing for the year ahead. They’ve reviewed policies, procedures, structures and programs and discussed how to enhance services delivered to students. Still responsible for supervising dons and night porters and responding to emergencies, residence life managers and coordinators will play a leading role in providing personal and academic support and life skills training for students, and in building a sense of community in each residence by organizing social activities. "We’ll be far more engaged with students because we know we can have an impact," says Joy.
York is one of a handful of Canadian universities with a collegial system where residences are affiliated with academic Faculties. Joy’s new team aims to strengthen that connection by offering opportunities for students to interact with professors and "to connect what they are learning in class to what they are doing outside class," says Joy. "The new residence life model allows us more time to build those connections."
York has a favourably low ratio of residence life coordinators to students – 1:265-400 compared to other universities where the ratio can be as high as 1:1,800. So there’s great potential for creating a positive impact, suggests Joy. She plans to do residence life surveys every year to make sure she and her team are providing the best services to the most students.
At York, residence life coordinators used to report to college masters, but now report to Joy, whose position was created to oversee the residence life team. "Our department is playing a stronger role in residence life," she says of the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development, led by Frank Cappadocia.
Two of the nine residence life team members are managers. They will be playing a leadership role in training dons and residence life coordinators, reviewing hiring procedures and putting out residence publications.
The following make up York’s new residence life team:
Manager, Residence Life at Vanier College
Heidi Bednar comes from McMaster University where she has been working as a residence manager for the last three years. In that capacity she contributed to the development of a progressive staff development model that was honoured as "best program" in 2006 by the Ontario Association of College and University Housing Officers. During her tenure she has also acted as professional adviser to a service learning program and as course facilitator for a leadership certificate program. Bednar completed her undergraduate degree in family and social relations at the University of Guelph and is currently working on a certificate in family mediation from McMaster University.
Manager, Residence Life at Calumet College
Kristina Osborne has over five years experience in student services. She has held leadership roles in residence life and student life at the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto at Mississauga, and most recently at 89 Chestnut Residence, University of Toronto as the assistant to the dean. In that capacity, Osborne initiated a ground-breaking program known as Learn to Unlearn that aims to encourage students to challenge their assumptions about the world around them and become engaged citizens. Osborne earned a bachelor of arts in family studies from the University of British Columbia and also completed courses in psychology and counselling practice at the University of Alberta.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Tatham Hall (McLaughlin College)
Sarah Burley comes from Georgian College where she has worked at the manager of residence life for the last three years. As the only residence life professional on that campus and only the second to hold her post, Burley played a key role in building the residence life program at Georgian, working collaboratively with key services at the institution to deliver quality programs and assistance to students in the residence. Before that she was involved in residence life at the University of Western Ontario where she also completed her undergraduate degree in English and history.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Pond Road Residence
Jimi Bursaw has been working as a residence manager at McMaster University for the last three years and, before that, as a student life coordinator for National-Louis University in Illinois. Bursaw has found time outside of work to remain involved with the Ontario Educational Leadership Centre as a teacher facilitator over the last six years. He completed two undergraduate degrees at the University of Windsor in drama and psychology, and was involved in residence life during that time.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Norman Bethune College
Ian Crookshank completed his undergraduate degree in business administration at Wilfrid Laurier University where he was also active in residence life. As a residence manager at the University of Windsor for the last four years, he led the charge on a number of new initiatives including a partnership with the athletics department, the development of a new programming model that led to a 200-per-cent increase in programs being offered in residence, and the creation of new student leadership positions in the residences.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Founders College
Pavel Graymason has been a member of the York University residence life staff for the past five years, most recently as a part-time residence life coordinator for Founders College. In that capacity, Graymason played a key leadership role in the don training program for two years, initiating a review and restructuring of the program to make it more relevant and meaningful for staff. He recently completed his master of environmental studies with concentration in environmental philosophy, at the same time serving as a teaching assistant.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Winters College
Ashley Grenville is currently working on her masters in art history and by the time she wraps up her studies will also have earned a diploma in curatorial studies. She has been a member of the York University residence life team for four years and takes on this new post on the heels of a two-year tenure as part-time residence life coordinator for Winters College. Grenville played a key role on the working group that prepared York’s new student code of conduct, advocating for important changes to how conduct is handled at the University and in the residences.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Stong College
Melanie Kong has a number of years of experience at York, first as a don and most recently as a part-time residence life coordinator for Stong College. She is completing her masters of education degree, and has been a teaching and research assistant for the Urban Diversity Pre-service Teacher Education Program. Kong has provided leadership to the don training program at York in the last year and recently took on responsibility for coordinating the next phase in the redevelopment and expansion of the training program.
Coordinator, Residence Life at Glendon
Kim Mortreuil hails from Alberta where she has been a member of the residence life staff at the Augustana campus of the University of Alberta for the last three years. Most recently, she worked as a hall coordinator in a first-year complex. During her tenure she provided support for some major changes to the Augustana campus as it became affiliated with the University of Alberta. Mortreuil recently graduated from the University of Alberta with a bachelor of arts in psychology and physical education.
By Martha Tancock, communications officer, with short profiles from Chantal Joy