Last spring at this time, final preparations were underway to ready the campus for hosting the PanAm/Parapan Am Games. The primary focus was our new stadium: temporary seating was duly installed, fencing went up and the entire site and much of the broader campus were brightened with PanAm banners to celebrate the Games. Something else really fabulous happened at the same time: pedestrian pathways! Combined with new signage, these were installed to help people – most notably newcomers and visitors — find their way to and from the event. It seems simple, but, given the size of our campus, and in the absence of a clear and accessible path, people get lost. The pathways were a significant advance, one that is showing long-term impact.
Providing a clear pathway to people new to a postsecondary learning environment is equally crucial. Research tells us that students who are effectively onboarded to university are more successful: they persist at higher rates, they have higher grade point averages (GPAs) and they’re more satisfied. The positive response from our students is one reason why we’ve invested so much time and energy in our flagship new student transition program, YU START.
It was like a checklist for me. If you follow all the steps you can independently prepare yourself for school. I just felt lucky to have it, because my parents didn’t understand how to help me with things like enrolment, course selection and, most importantly, financial aid. YU START provides links to OSAP and requires you create a student financial profile to apply for bursaries and scholarships, which was key.
Jesse Amankwaa, Health & Society, member of the York Lions Football Team
There are three components to YU START: online enrolment, a virtual learning environment and York Orientation Day. When experienced together, these elements intend to help students transition successfully to York University by focusing on the five senses that Alf Lizzio argues are key: a sense of purpose; a sense of connectedness; a sense of resourcefulness; a sense of academic culture; and a sense of capability. To help new students navigate unfamiliar terrain, YU START is a tool for distributing information about learning-skills programs, disability services, financial literacy, career development, the libraries and how the Colleges contribute to student success. It includes modules that teach new community members about what will be expected of them in a first-year course, the importance of providing feedback and making their voices heard, and about York’s intolerance for sexual violence. Fundamentally, YU START was designed to make newcomers feel welcome and valued. This is particularly important given the size, scale and diversity of our learning community.
I found YU START to be a wonderful and well-designed introduction to the various resources available to students. It definitely helped me to have a smoother transition to life at York U.
Mark Subekti, Finance & Business Economics
The numbers of learners impacted by aspects of YU START last year were impressive: more than 6,000 new students participated in online enrolment; nearly 4,000 participated in our online learning communities; 1,300+ completed the summer certificate program; 1,200 registered for campus tours; and there were more than 9,000 visits to York’s RED Zone last summer. Combined with a re-visioned approach to Orientation (that has been orchestrated in partnership with our amazing student leaders!), it is undeniable that we are positively impacting transitions to York. This speaks directly to our second strategic goal: By 2018, “all first-year students have access to programs that support their personal transition to York and foster their continuing success and engagement.”
So what is happening with YU START in 2016? On Monday, May 2, the YU START platform went live, and we began the process of enrolling and supporting thousands of new students who will make up our incoming class.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, Ross McMillan (Director, Student Engagement & First-Year Experience) wants you to know about a number of highlights and improvements to this latest version of YU START:
- We have expanded our Faculty partnerships; Lassonde, Education and Science are now using parts of the platform (in addition to previous partners AMPD, FES, Health, LA&PS and Schulich).
- There has been a major redevelopment of the Online Enrolment Tutorial to include video screencasts that explain how to enrol in classes, as well as clearer course-enrolment guides telling students which courses they are eligible to take (this was our #1 question from last year).
- New and enhanced processes and content are included, including an ESL component, a designated Residence module and robust sections on Aboriginal Student Services and sexual violence.
- Based in part on the success of the SCLD Accepted to 2019 Facebook Group, our online student community will be hosted on closed Facebook groups that are supported by trained YU START student leaders. There are 33 Facebook groups (determined by our Faculty partners). For those who do not wish to use Facebook, we still have a discussion board in the YU START platform.
- Instead of giving students multiple links/sites to register for different Orientation programs, there will now be a single point of registration for Orientation programming housed in the platform. This will include registration for York Orientation Day, International Orientation, Mature Student Orientation and select College Council–sponsored social orientation programs.
If you are interested in experiencing the YU START platform, check out our demo site. Please note that you will need to complete at least one section of the “enrol here” portion to unlock the rest of the platform. The site is accessible to the York University community via Passport York. For external readers, contact Ross McMillan at email@example.com if you’re interested in learning more about YU START.
(YORKU STUDENTS: if you’re reading this please use yustart.yorku.ca).
Two final points:
- Please save the date: York Orientation Day is happening on Wednesday, September 7. This is the largest, centrally coordinated one-day event at York — more than 8,000 entering students and hundreds of staff and faculty are expected to attend.
- Ongoing improvements to YU START would not be possible without the vision and engagement of our valued partners in the Division of Students, University Information Technology, Learning Technology Services, the Centre for Human Rights, York’s Faculties and Colleges. We would like to specifically recognize Brendan Schulz, Lara Ubaldi, Greg Langstaff and Pri Saini for their leadership and unwavering commitment to this project, as well as our YU START Student Coordinators Grace Olenja and Shikala Beare who are working with more than 50 YU START student leaders across campus.
YU START is a great example of how innovation, partnerships and planning discipline are driving the Division of Students toward the achievement of our strategic priorities. Go team! If you would like a presentation to your team about Orientation and YU START, please contact Ross McMillan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janet & Ross