Inaugural Forum on Student Success puts focus on collaboration and learning

An engaged group of faculty members, instructors, staff and student leaders from across York University joined together April 25 to explore collaborative methods and practices for maximizing curricular and co-curricular student learning through high-impact strategies and student-centred approaches.

The University’s inaugural Forum on Student Success: Making the Case for an Integrated Approach” took place in Vari Hall and highlighted the many ways that York’s departments, units, Faculties, programs and divisions can help foster student engagement and student success.

A student asks a question during the Forum on Student Success

Highlights of the day included:

  • an opening session delivered by the event organizers – Rosanna Furgiuele, associate professor, Department of French Studies, Glendon College; and David Ip Yam, project director, student service excellence – compelled the audience to think about ways to promote integrated learning through first-year seminars, based on their experience of having created one at Glendon;
  • an insightful speaker series featuring: the Student Self-Assessment Survey from Mark Conrad, director, institutional enrollment and resource planning, and two phase 1 and 2 AIF projects dealing with the student experience from Mazen Hamadeh, head of Stong College, associate professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science; Jennine Rawana, head of Calumet College, associate professor, Department of Psychology; and Paula Wilson, professor, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science;
  • concurrent hands-on workshops about using design thinking approaches to enhance courses, programs and services as well as enhancing academic orientation; and
  • an engaging and informative keynote presentation by Jennifer Keup, director of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

“I am really impressed that we have a 20-60-20 split – 20 per cent Faculty members, 60 per cent staff and 20 per cent student leaders (in attendance) – and I think that it is really nice in terms of diversity in the room,” said Ip Yam. “Why? Because service excellence, innovation and student learning depends on our ability to move forward as a whole campus community.”

A popular session titled “Using Design Thinking Approaches to Enhance Courses, Programs and Services” featured the Student Experience Design Team, an initiative started by Ip Yam that brings together a team of students from different years of study and cohorts to help improve understanding of the real and lived student experience with services at York.

The Student Experience Design Team and David Ip Yam, right

Students also participated in focus groups to help improve the student experience with services at York. This session ran concurrently with a session called “Enhancing Academic Orientation” for those who are involved in planning and offering academic orientation. It was hosted by: Ross McMillan, director, student engagement and first-year experience, Student Success Centre, Division of Students; Greg Langstaff, coordinator, YU START New Student Transition Program, Student Success Centre, Division of Students; and Lyna Truong, student success program administrator, Student Success Centre, Division of Students.

“[Design thinking] is being used a lot right now by organizations and other businesses, so we are thinking about how we can take methods from that model and implement them at York, either through Faculty using design thinking in their courses or staff applying the principles in their initiatives with students,” said Joy Panjaitan, a fourth-year design student and member of the Student Experience Design Team. “Design thinking is all about empathy and collaboration, so [it is important] how we integrate that into the work that we do.”

“It will help students because we are reaching out and asking them and learning about their stories and taking the time to make them feel heard while also taking what they say and trying to integrate that into what we do instead of assuming what they want,” Panjaitan added.

Another highlight was the engaging keynote presentation by Keup titled “Success has Many Parents … Examining Student Needs and Opportunities for Cross-Campus Collaboration in the First-Year of University.” The presentation distilled decades of research on the needs of students going into and through the first year of university, and gave participants the space to think critically about how to go beyond creating programs to create high-impact structures at York U to facilitate learning and development outcomes.

Organizers and participants say they hope to see events like this continue in the future.

“It was great,” said Brian Yau, a fourth-year student at Schulich and member of the Student Experience Design Team. “This was an opportunity to [engage in] discussion among staff and all the different departments about how they think about programming for students.”

Yau added that events like this support students as they become leaders and guide students to think beyond their own experience to the experiences of those who will attend York in the years ahead.

“I’m a first-generation student myself,” said Yau. “York … will always be a place for me to write a new chapter in my family as it is for so many students across the GTA and across Canada. It will always be important for me to improve the experience and contribute to the community in my own way.”