For third-year student Rabia Sajun, it was the pace that surprised her the most as she swapped roles with President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri Feb. 28 in York’s inaugural President for a Day contest.
York’s president(s) exchange stories during a breakfast meeting on Feb. 29
Sajun was also amazed at how much York’s president crams into each day. “The very short periods of time that you have to meet with someone, perhaps 45 minutes or so, and then you have to be somewhere else, and you are there for just five minutes before going to the next meeting,” she said, admitting she was “just a little tired.”
Sitting across from her in the President’s Boardroom in the York Research Tower at a wrap-up breakfast yesterday morning was York “Student for a Day” Mamdouh Shoukri. “Did you give them clear instructions at the office yesterday as the president and tell them that from now on, this is how breakfast for the president should be?” he said with a big grin as he tucked into a bowl of fresh fruit.
The two had traded places as part of what could be a Canadian first – a university president swapping roles with a student for a full day. As part of his experience, Shoukri took the hour-long GO Bus ride from Streetsville to the Keele campus, backpack in tow, and then worked his way through Sajun’s ambitious timetable, which consisted of two lectures, a physics lab and a 90-minute meeting with the Chemistry Society. It was no easy feat, he admitted, as Sajun is doing concurrent degrees in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and the Faculty of Education and one of the classes was biology, a subject Shoukri had not studied since high school.
The experience and his conversations with the students he met during the day reaffirmed his commitment to increasing space for York’s students. “On one hand, we have some wonderful infrastructure such as the TEL Building where I attended a lecture in a great lecture hall,” he said. “I was so pleased with the quality of the instructors and the lab instructors and their dedication to teaching. You can see they go beyond the call of duty and work hard at engaging and interacting with students.
“However, on the other hand, the quality and state of our infrastructure is not even,” he said. “It was very clear to me as a student that student space is lacking, most notably in both libraries and the Student Centre. Almost all the seats were filled in the middle of the day.
“Places such as the Student Centre, where students socialize, need improvement,” he said. “It raises the issue of student space in my mind to a different level and the urgency of working with the student government to expand the centre.
Off the bus and ready to go, Shoukri says he found the GO Bus ride to be quite relaxing
“Of course,” he added, “the microwave issue left something to be desired.” While noting that there is just one microwave in the Student Centre for students to use to heat their meals, Shoukri said, “I’m really pleased though to let everyone know that the York Federation of Students has just purchased a significant number of microwaves to help students. We are just waiting for the wiring to be upgraded and then the microwaves will be installed.
“On a personal level, the day was a lot of fun and it was fantastic for me to be able to engage with the students,” he said. “The conversation I had with the students in the Chemistry Society was wonderful and I also had a great lab partner in the physics lab. I learned so much about how proud students are in this University and how great our students are.”
Sajun had a similar experience during her day of meetings with York administrators and a student experience roundtable she held as part of her day in the president’s role. “I was really impressed with the people I met and the time they took to explain things like York’s safety initiatives to me,” she said.
“I also had a chance to meet with the 40 other applicants for the President for a Day contest during the roundtable and one of the topics we discussed was how to increase pride in the University,” she said. “Even though we are a commuter school that doesn’t mean we can’t have school pride.”
Sajun, who decided to enter the essay contest because she was proud of York, said she was delighted to meet with the other applicants. She said the group had a productive meeting and came up with a series of recommendations to connect residence students with commuter students and some strategies for joint events that could be held among York’s 400 student clubs.
Shoukri echoed that he heard many of the same points from students he met during the day. “It served to affirm what I have heard from students,” he said. “It was such an incredible experience and I am really looking forward to doing it again next year.”
Both Sajun and Shoukri kept a Twitter account of their experiences, which has been compiled using Storify and is available here.
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor