Back to Class 2015

We are fast approaching the start of what promises to be another exciting academic year at York. The summer flew by! I really hope you found time to relax and rejuvenate in the sunshine and warmth. I spent more time in the city this year because my son Bennett was playing a lot of baseball. Conveniently, this allowed the whole family to enjoy the Pan Am Games; one or more of us saw the opening ceremonies, archery, beach volleyball, track & field, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, competitive swimming, diving and baseball. Without exception, I was impressed by the venues and inspired by the athletes – particularly those who boast a connection to York! I’m not sure how I feel about an Olympic bid, but for those weeks in July and August, I felt a renewed sense of pride in being a Torontonian.

But now, September has arrived and a fresh new cohort of students has landed on our campuses. On Saturday – in wicked heat – 1,200 Orientation Leaders and the Residence Life team helped 2,213 students move in to our buildings – we’re full and managing a wait list! Throughout the day, President Shoukri and I hosted orientation sessions for 1,100 parents and an ambitious schedule of programming commenced Saturday afternoon to help the class of 2019 transition to University.

Orientation at York
Orientation at York

Central to this has been the incorporation of our flagship transition program, YU START, which includes three components: online enrolment; online learning communities; and, an on-campus orientation experience. The program’s outcomes – as assessed by York’s Institute for Social Research – are really impressive so we’ve expanded again to include more than 8,000 students from seven Faculties.

This year, the third component will happen TODAY (Tuesday, September 8) on York Orientation Day, when we’ll host one of Canada’s largest ever student orientation events. The incoming class will be welcomed by University leaders at New Student Convocation (including a full academic procession!) and educated about York’s community expectations, including consent. In the process, they’ll meet and bond with their peers.

This programming is key to our Strategic Plan and, specifically, our student success priority focused on the First-Year Experience. Please join me in thanking our colleagues in Student Community & Leadership Development, the YU START leadership team and our Faculty/College partners for their tireless efforts to re-vision transition programming at York. With Lizzio’s Five Senses theory as our guide, we’re actively partnering with students to fuel success.

New friends at York Orientation. Image by Michael Kasaboski.
New friends at York Orientation

This isn’t the only area where we’ve made significant progress. Across the Division, we’re championing and advancing projects related to enrolment management, student financial support, and career and leadership development. We’re equally focused on our enablers, including valuing people and resource integration. As a team, we have earned a reputation for being respectful, accountable and collaborative. We aspire to excellence, foster innovation and are inclusive. We care . . . about our students, our colleagues and York’s reputation. I say this all the time, but I am tremendously proud of our collective contributions to moving York forward, and of our work on behalf of the students we serve.

Next year promises to be busy and exciting: we’re launching a new brand that will be reflected in all our recruitment materials; work on York’s Mental Health Strategy continues; and the Division recently launched a new program to establish individual and team objectives.

Here are some other key initiatives of import to us and our Vision:

  • We will continue to lead – in concert with the Provost, the Office of Institutional Planning & Analysis, and Enrolment Planning Group – the implementation of York’s Strategic Enrolment Management Plan. To be blunt, we need to focus squarely on the student experience and process improvements across the enrolment continuum.
  • Every campus in Canada has reaffirmed its commitment to addressing sexual violence. York has been a leader in this area and will continue to innovate. Last February, York’s Board of Governors approved the “Sexual Assault Awareness, Prevention, and Response Policy.” Over the coming months, we’ll continue to move forward across three key areas:
  • education and awareness;
  • policy/procedures implementation and reporting; and
  • support for survivors.

This has long been a personal cause for me and I’m proud to be a member of the Council of Ontario University’s Working Group on Sexual Violence.

  • In May, 2015 the Government approved funding for a York University campus in Markham. I’ll be relying on Catherine Salole from SCLD and our new University Registrar – Carol Altilia – to help vision the delivery of student services for learners at the new site. It’s exciting, but the planning timeframe is ambitious.
  • Last but certainly not least, you’ll have read the President’s statement on a draft Institutional Integrated Resource Plan, which includes (among others) priorities related to academic advising, degree complexity, teaching & learning and becoming more student-centric. These are of particular and significant importance to colleagues and units across the Division. We’ll hear more from the Provost and the Vice-President, Finance & Administration on next steps later this month. In the interim, Brendan Schulz and I are meeting with key leaders to think about how we might reimagine engagement to make York the most student-centric commuter campus in the country.

I thank my colleagues for everything they do, on a daily basis, for our students and for the Division as a whole. I know how hard they work and that the next few weeks will be taxing. When tiredness sets in, I encourage everyone to reflect on the many ways the Division of Students is advancing York’s mission by providing services, programs and facilities that foster academic success, student development and an engaged community. We support and inspire students to contribute as global leaders. Three years in to our strategic plan, I believe that we are delivering on our mission.

Be proud. Champion the values we hold dear and the work we do to ensure every student flourishes. Tell colleagues from other YU units, the high-school student on your street or a new professional aspiring to join our team.

Go Lions!

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