Vari Hall info blitz aids thousands of students on first day back

Student Community & Leadership Development staff had anticipated that 2,000 loot bags loaded with information, snacks and York memorabilia would be more than enough for the first morning of the University’s First Days Back information blitz in Vari Hall. However, by 10:30am the call went out for more bags and staff in the SC&LD office were busy stuffing bags hoping to get enough ready to meet the high demand.

Above: At 2pm yesterday, business was still brisk as York students flocked to the Vari Hall Rotunda to take advantage of information resources, freebies and games offered as part of the First Days Back information blitz

If loot bags are any indicator then York’s First Days Back event was a success. Students embraced the event, flocking to the Vari Hall Rotunda on York’s Keele campus by the thousands. At times lined up 10 deep, they waited patiently, chatting with friends, calling out and exchanging hugs with others they had not seen since strike action by teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants resulted in the suspension of classes on Nov. 6, 2008.

In addition to First Days Back, York students also looked to York’s Web resources in record numbers. Staff in York’s Student Services Division spent most of last week compiling months of work into the easy-to-use Back to Class Web resource for returning students. Once the site went live on the weekend, students flocked to the Web to cruise through the wealth of information. Lucy Bellissimo, York’s associate registrar for systems & communications, was thrilled by the traffic to the Back to Class site. “The Web site has received 25,000 hits, which is huge,” said Bellissimo. “It is the top site in the Student Services area, followed closely by other sites that contain information that students are looking for as they return to class.”

Left: Students drop by the Peer Health Education booth for a refresher on wellness and stress management

In addition to the heavy Web traffic, Bellissimo said she had to call in reinforcements to help staff the Student Services information desk during the opening hours of the First Days Back event. “Wow! Was I surprised," she said. "We handed out all of our bookmarks to students and although there was a lineup for information, we got to everyone. It is really nice to see the activity and the students were so positive.” 

Brian Poser, associate director of the Atkinson Centre for Mature & Part-time Students (ACMAPS) was also pleased with the response of York students to the University’s efforts to welcome them back. “The entire University mobilized for three months in preparation for this day,” said Poser. “I am encouraged by the pan-University effort that’s underway to help students get back to class and pleased with how receptive the students are to everything that is being offered.”

As part of its return to classes offering, Poser developed a Back to the Books presentation delivered in ACMAPS sessions held on Friday and Saturday. The demand for Back to the Books has been so great that ACMAPS has posted a Web video of the presentation. Poser said student response to the presentation has been wonderful. "I think they know that everyone at York has been working very hard to make the transition positive,” he said.

SC&LD’s orientation & student experience assistant Michael Kasaboski was also pleased with the Vari Hall turnout. “Students have been very glad to get back to class,” said Kasaboski. “It’s been all positive. They really like the fact that we’re providing them with all the information they need and in a form that’s easy to understand and digestible.”

Students also flocked to the york is U booth, where volunteers were handing out free hugs. Daniel Burke, a fourth-year psychology student and a york is U volunteer hugger, said he "wasn’t stressing" and said he spent the time away working on his fourth-year thesis. Faisal Abbasi, a fourth-year business administration student and york is U volunteer, was also happy to be back. "I’ve not had too many changes in my classes and I am feeling confident and ready," he said.

Right: Daniel Burke gets ready to hug

For Jenn Holmes, a fourth-year nursing student, and Jennifer Fajertag, a fifth-year kinesiology student, getting back to class has been a bit like orientation all over again with the same kind of energy and enthusiasm. As members of the Peer Health Education Team, Holmes and Fajertag were busy staffing the Peer Health Education booth. Students who stopped by got a chance to play the Wheel of Wellness game to win prizes; they also received information leaflets and other resources about time management and stress reduction.

“I’m really excited to be back, it is great to meet everyone,” said Holmes. "I’m not worried about my studies, I know that I’ll get the work done and I am feeling very confident." 

Fajertag had spent her time away from class applying to graduate programs in speech language pathology. “I am glad to be back, it’s kind of like orientation week all over again,” she said with a smile.

Maura Matesic (left), a reference librarian with the Scott Library, said her experience with students who stopped by the York Libraries table at First Days Back had been positive. “I am very impressed,” she said. “The students have been focused, they’re happy and they’re eager. The Scott Library was very busy this morning. Students are really hustling and there is no negativity.”

In addition to extended hours, the York Libraries are also offering an amnesty for students with overdue materials. “The libraries are offering a grace period for students to Feb. 18. If they get their overdue materials back before Feb. 18, there will be no fines,” said Matesic.

First Days Back will continue until Thursday. York’s colleges, york is U and a host of other divisions are offering a number of events. See YFile Feb. 2 for all the information on First Days Back.

In addition, York has invited students to a special town hall meeting tomorrow for a presentation on academic remediation and reintegration into student life, followed by a question and answer session. The hosts will be Vice-President Academic & Provost Sheila Embleton and Vice-President Students Rob Tiffin, and panellists will include President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri as well as several deans and senior administrators. The meeting will be held from 4 to 5:30pm on Feb. 4 in the Moot Court at Osgoode Hall Law School, Keele campus.