Category Archives: Posts by the VP Students

End-of-term Parent & Family Updates

York U’s fall 2017 term is coming to a close, and by now your student is likely preparing for final exams. They have been studying for more than three months, developing expertise in their chosen field and expanding their worldview. The exam period is an opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained, but it can also be a stressful time for students. York U has prepared the following tips for parents and families to help support your student through the exam period. In this end-of-term parent and family update, you’ll find:

  • Important sessional dates;
  • Final exam stress management techniques;
  • How to help your student stay motivated; and
  • Campus safety and weather information.

Visit York University’s Parents & Family website for additional resources.

​Important Dates

  • Dec. 4: Fall Classes End
  • Dec. 5: Fall Study Day (no classes; University open)
  • Dec. 6 to 21: Fall examinations
  • Dec. 22 to Jan. 3: Holiday break

For a complete list of all Undergraduate Fall/Winter 2017/18 Important Dates, visit the Registrar’s Office website.

Image by York University.
Important exam period dates for York U students.

Health & Wellness – Final Exam Stress Management

Image by York University.
Help your student prepare for the final exam period by emphasizing the importance of one’s health, including getting enough sleep.

As December 1 arrives, exam anxiety becomes one of the most common concerns for students. A little routine exam anxiety is not a bad thing; in fact, having a sense of urgency is actually beneficial in that it alerts your body to be prepared to mobilize energy stores.” Without a sense of urgency, students wouldn’t have the motivation to meet the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. If, however, the anxiety gets too overwhelming, you should encourage your student to take some proactive steps to cope with anxiety before and during exams.

Health comes first

Often parents place emphasis on success and achieving exceptional grades, but the best advice you can offer your student is to make sure they make self-care their priority. Here are some tips you can share with your student to help them optimize their health and well-being:

  • Your student should always communicate with someone close to them when they feel stressed or anxious.
  • It is important that students avoid making important decisions when they are distressed or feeling overwhelmed.
  • Exercise can help reduce stress by releasing endorphins and increase blood flow to your brain for improved cognition.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol as they can worsen anxiety and depression.

Last but not the least, your student should always remember that exam stress is only temporary and will eventually pass. At one point or another, the dark clouds will give way to sunshine and perhaps even a rainbow!

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep

Sleep is the most important thing that students often forgo in order to study, complete assignments or enjoy a night out. However, the quality and quantity of sleep a student gets determines how effective they will be the next day. Sleep is also necessary for consolidating memory, diminishing stress, restoring the body’s energy supply and repairing muscles and tissues for optimal functionality. If your student is not getting at least seven hours of sleep, let them know that altering their sleep habits, schedule and day-to-day routines can have huge impact on the quality of their night’s rest. Here are some things your student can do to get a good night’s sleep.

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule – Set a regular bedtime, wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends) and take 20-minute power naps to make up for lost sleep.
  • Use your bed for sleep only – Your student should avoid using their sleeping space for doing work, eating or watching TV as it will be harder for them to unwind when it’s time to hit the hay.
  • Naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle – During the day, increase light exposure by spending time outside and have a well-lit workspace with sources of natural light to help your student feel awake and alert. Your student can also enhance melatonin production at night by turning off television and computer screens as well as by avoiding reading from back-lit devices such as tablets and smartphones.
  • Try some relaxing bedtime routines – Before going to bed, your student can create a relaxing, noise-free environment and wind down by reading a book, listening to soft music, taking a warm bath or doing some light stretches.
  • Eat well and exercise – Avoid eating heavy meals at night and limit caffeine intake in the evenings. Exercise regularly as even 20-30 minutes per day can result in a deeper and more rejuvenating night’s sleep.

WellTrack™

York University.
Encourage your student to download the Welltrack app, which makes it easy to monitor your health and well-being.

York University has made WellTrack™ – an online resource for managing stress, anxiety and depression – available to students. WellTrack™ is a secure and anonymous way for users to assess their personal well-being and quickly gain access to resources tailored to meet their individual needs. Students are able to engage in self-guided therapy and interact with tools designed to help them adjust their thoughts and behaviour. The app also includes a Moodcheck tool to help build a database of people, places, and things that are positive and negative for your mental health. Other components include a Zen Zone (for meditation), a Thought Diary and Activity Scheduler. WellTrack™ is available as an app and as a website at welltrack.com.

Motivation During Exam Season

If you can’t fly, then run,
If you can’t run, then walk,
If you can’t walk, then crawl,
But whatever you do,
You have to keep moving forward.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

Your student might be starting to get homesick, lonely or frustrated with all the work that University brings. They may not have seen their friends in a while or had the chance to spend a night out free of worries. At this point, there is one thing that can get them through exams: motivation.

No, not a “coach-yelling-at-you-from-the-sidelines” kind of motivation, but an internal desire that pushes you to attain success. We absolutely cannot emphasize enough the significance that motivation plays in your student’s success. University students who lack motivation can unfortunately run into numerous social and academic difficulties, but this piece will help you avoid this by providing you with ways in which your student can stay motivated!

The first thing to recognize is that there is only one type of motivation and that is self-motivation. Family, friends or co-workers can help your student get excited to accomplish a certain task, but at the end of the day your student will have to channel their own willpower to get the job done.

Secondly, it is important for your student to establish a strong, compelling and personal “WHY” for being at university. This will give them something concrete to focus on and serve as the light at the end of the tunnel when they are feeling down. One of the best ways of staying motivated is to be surrounded by others who are motivated. Your student should establish friendships with those who are also academically motivated and willing to help them when they need inspiration. They can also find a mentor who will be available to talk when your student feels they need a fresh perspective.

Most importantly, tell your student that they should never let failure discourage them. It is vital to stay positive, celebrate successes and learn from mistakes. The biggest key to success is: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Last, but not the least, encourage your student to focus on what their future will hold if they continue to work hard and accomplish their goals. Start by first looking toward the near future for motivation, which could involve an upcoming fun weekend or a night out with friends after exams. Then, gradually increase the timeframe – one month, one year, four years (graduation!), ten years – until they have created a picture of their career path and the successful future that can serve as an excellent motivator in the present.

Weather Conditions & Safety

During the winter months in Canada, it will get darker out earlier in the day and there is an increased chance of inclement weather. For these reasons, it’s important to keep safety top of mind and to be aware of York’s various safety resources and procedures.

In the case of a weather event or an emergency on campus, York University has various methods of keeping students, faculty, staff and their families informed. Information is made available through:

  • Mainstream media including television and radio
  • Social media
  • The York U Safety App
  • York University webpage
  • York University Information Line (416-736-5600)
  • Emergency LCD screens placed around campus

In weather or emergency situations, you’ll also find information regarding class scheduling and examinations on the Registrar’s Office website.

Ongoing personal safety is also important.

If your student needs to get to their car or another location on campus after dark and doesn’t feel safe doing so by themselves, they can take advantage of York’s goSAFE service, one of the largest services of its kind in Canada. This year-round operation sends two staff members to your location to accompany your student on their walk to another building, the bus stop or car. They can be reached by phone (416-736-5454) or via the York U Safety App.

The York U Safety App is a must for all students with smartphones. It provides direct calling to campus security and goSAFE as well as campus weather information and access to all other campus safety-related services.

For more information, please visit the Safety website and bookmark York’s Parents & Family website! You can also follow York University on Twitter and Facebook.

Fall Reading Week Returns to York University

Between the new subway station, the construction of a new student centre and the expansion of the Schulich School of Business on campus, York University has some significant changes on the horizon. One such change directly benefits students: York’s Senate has passed a student-led proposal to reinstate a full Fall Reading Week beginning October 2018.

The final proposal to amend the Senate Policy on Sessional Dates and the Scheduling of Final Examinations was brought before Senate in October 2017, where it was passed with full support. The decision to schedule two full-length Reading Weeks is in response to the needs of students and is intended to support academic success and student wellness by providing a more effective study/revision period.

Image by York University
York University will reinstate a full Fall Reading Week in October 2018.

Supporting Student Initiatives

There are many benefits to having a full Fall Reading Week. Students will have more time to prepare for midterms, complete important assignments and prepare for the remaining assignments in the term. The driving force behind the longer break, however, was to help students balance their academic progress with awareness of health and wellness. With a few extra days to revise during the Fall term, students will have more opportunities to access key academic support services and decompress, easing academic strain. York University places a high emphasis on supporting student health and wellness, which is integral to their academic success.

Carol Altilia, Registrar of York University, spoke about the significance of the move towards a full Fall Reading Week: “Supporting this student-led initiative underscores the importance that the Division of Students places on partnering with students to advance their matters of concern and emphasizes the University’s commitment to supporting student wellbeing and mental health.”

Image by York University
The full-length Fall Reading Week will provide students with additional opportunities to study, access key academic support services and achieve work-life balance by focusing on their wellbeing.

The impact of the change includes a number of adjustments to Orientation scheduling and modifying the means by which the study day between the end of classes and the first day of exams will be provided to all students. For more information regarding York University important dates, visit the Registrar’s Office website.

Student Accessibility Services: Announcing organization changes to better support the learning, mental health & wellness needs of our students

York University provides students with a range of health and wellness resources to create a healthy, inclusive and supportive environment that fosters well-being among members of the York community and contributes to students’ academic success. Lucy Fromowitz, Vice-Provost Students, and Dr. Marc Wilchesky, Executive Director, Counselling & Disability Services, are pleased to announce the following organization changes to better serve the needs of York U students.

Image by York University
Personal Counselling Services will be renamed Student Counselling & Development (SCD).

Effective immediately, Learning Disability Services (LDS), Mental Health Disability Services (MHDS) and Physical, Sensory & Medical Disability Services (PSMDS) will be collectively renamed “Student Accessibility Services” (SAS) and Personal Counselling Services will now be called “Student Counselling & Development” (SCD). These changes will help students and the University community easily identify the appropriate support provider for students’ specific needs. Note that the Glendon campus will continue to provide health, wellness and accessibility services on that campus under the current name of The Accessibility, Well-Being & Counselling (AWC) Centre.

Maureen Barnes, current manager of Learning Disability Services, will assume the role of Director, Student Accessibility Services to ensure an efficient and effective transition of York’s three separate accessibility service units into one department that will deliver consistent and transparent services to students. Karen Swartz and Mark Mingail will continue in their current leadership roles in SAS. Polly MacFarlane, current director of Personal Counselling Services, will assume the role of Director, Student Counselling & Development.

Image by York University
York provides a range of health, wellness and academic resources to support student success.

The realignment of SAS includes developing a new communications plan to help all members of the York community differentiate between accessibility services (learning; mental health; and physical, sensory and medical) and counselling services. Although SAS will no longer use the various unit names (Learning Disability Services, Mental Health Disability Services and Physical, Sensory & Medical Disability Services), each of those teams will remain intact and will continue to support students as they do currently.

York’s decision to position the two support pillars – Student Accessibility Services (SAS) and Student Counselling & Development (SCD) – is in keeping with an ongoing transition throughout the postsecondary education sector in both Canada and the United States. Current scholarship and industry practice points to a shift away from the use of the term “disability” when describing services and resources toward the more inclusive term “accessibility.” The name change to Student Accessibility Services emphasizes the significant role of the accessibility unit in helping to make the campus more accessible for learning. The name change to Student Counselling & Development better reflects their mandate to help York students realize, develop and fulfill their personal potential in order to maximally benefit from their university experience and manage the challenges of university life.

These organization changes, in turn, support and align with the Division of Students’ vision – to be Partners in Student Success.

Changes will roll out gradually in digital and print communications over the next month and be complete by the New Year.

For more information about Student Accessibility Services visit: yorku.ca/accessibility-services

For more information about Student Counselling & Development visit: yorku.ca/student-counselling

Welcoming Lucy Fromowitz and Celebrating Sizzlin’ Success at the Division of Students Barbecue

Here at YorkU, we have a lot to celebrate this summer: we can reflect proudly on our accomplished graduates as they go out into the world, the foundation of a brand-new Markham campus, and the advent of what promises to be a wonderful 2017-2018 academic year with the appointment of our new Vice-Provost Students, Lucy Fromowitz!

To welcome our new leader and celebrate our staff’s commitment to student success, the Division of Students gathered on Friday, July 21 at The Underground for a Sizzlin’ Success Barbecue. During the event, staff members from the Division of Students shared classic barbecue fare including burgers (with alternate options for various dietary restrictions), salad and popsicles, and settled in to learn a little more about our new Vice-Provost Students and the upcoming year at YorkU.

The Sizzlin’ Summer Celebration

Immediately upon walking into the Sizzlin’ Summer Barbecue, Division of Students staff were treated to a display of YorkU pride. The event committee had transformed the Underground with red and white decorations, balloons and lights to reflect the YorkU colours. After some lively conversation between colleagues, our student MCs took the stage to start the afternoon’s events. Angelica Lyn Grospe and Sebastien Lalonde are dynamic student leaders in the YorkU community and they kept the event rolling with humour and style!

Introducing: Lucy Fromowitz

After welcoming the crowd and inviting Randy Pitawanakwat, Coordinator, Aboriginal Student Services, to acknowledge the Indigenous land upon which YorkU stands, Angelica and Sebastien introduced Lucy Fromowitz.

As a previous YorkU student and employee, Lucy has a unique understanding of the University’s history and identity. In each of her professional roles, Lucy has provided leadership in enhancing student engagement, learning and success. In her new role at YorkU, Lucy will lead the campus in the coordination of advising and student services, promote communications with students, and support strategic enrolment planning and recruitment— all while helping to create a safe, healthy campus environment for students at YorkU.

Lucy took to the stage to discuss the unique role of The Division of Students. She notes that the Division works to create opportunities for student success by supporting student services, daily administrative requirements, marketing and outreach operations. We also work closely with YorkU’s student population to form a community of ideas and engagement. Students inspire everything we do, and the significance of that was central to Lucy’s address. For Lucy, thinking like and with students is the key to our mandate.

“We have to approach things the way our students do: with curiosity,” she said. “We create with our students.”

Lucy honoured the commitment of the Division of Students staff to supporting student success and service excellence. To demonstrate the dedication of everyone in the department, she asked staff members who had been with YorkU for 25, 10 and five years and then one year to stand up. As people rose with their peers, the room cheered and clapped in recognition.

Lucy continued by saying that, as YorkU moves into the future, engaging with our students and listening to their diverse perspectives will be a cornerstone of creating positive change. Our values – Respect, Accountability, Excellence, Care, Innovation, Inclusion and Collaboration — will guide us as we move into the 2017-2018 academic year, yielding new opportunities. Together, students and staff will continue the collaborative dialogues that make the YorkU campus a progressive, distinct, student-centric place.

After a lighthearted selfie with Lucy, Angelica and Sebastien breezed through the long list of YorkU acronyms, listing terms such as ACE, CDS, SCS, VPF&A, OSCR, CSBO, LSE, SCLD and YU to “help” Lucy reorient herself to York. “York has its own language,” they said, leading to nodding heads and smiles as staff called out the acronyms as they were spoken.

Celebrating the Division of Students Staff

Angelica and Sebastien then introduced Brendan Schulz, Executive Director, Student Success, Carol Altilia, University Registrar, and Sheila Forshaw, Executive Director, Resources.

To illustrate how everyone in the room had a role in supporting our students across the student lifecycle, each audience member stood up as Brendan, Carol and Sheila called out key milestones — recruitment, admission, document processing, registrarial and financial services, health and wellness, student development, care and support, leadership development, career planning. All 200+ staff stood, often more than once, as their collaboration and cooperation was highlighted. The University Registrar next drew attention to the updated “Building on Successes” handout capturing the unit-specific achievements of the past year (2016-17) and encouraged everyone to pick up a copy on their way out.

After recognizing the Division of Students staff, a lively game of “Tips for Lucy” commenced where each table filled out a questionnaire with insider information about the best places to eat, find a quality coffee, mingle with students or unwind, along with the best campus view and the fastest route from Bennett to Tait McKenzie. The interactive game – a brainchild of the Student Success Centre (SSC – another acronym!) team — was an excellent way for staff members to share their experienced perspectives on YorkU with Lucy and with each other.

All staff then gathered outside in the sunny square for popsicles – the perfect close to a summer BBQ.

To experience the event in pictures, click through the Sizzlin’ Success Celebration Flickr feed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yorkuniversity/albums/72157684025278664.

A special “thank you” to the Event Committee for planning the Sizzlin’ Summer Celebration: Rheza Evangelista, Julie Rahmer, Donna Cope, Saba Rafiq, Catherine Salole, Shanthini Jeyakumar, Dianne Twombley and Mary Dytyniak!

The Division of Students reflections on success

Happy summer to you!

As we see our students crossing the stage during Convocation this week, it is a good time to reflect on all the great work that has been accomplished this past year.

Some key accomplishments from the year include:

  • Held the largest-ever York Orientation Day event.
  • YU START earned two nationally recognized awards for innovation – one from CACUSS and the other from CAUBO.
  • Launched the Student Mental Health strategy as part of the overall Campus Mental Health strategy.
  • Received Canada 150 funding to enhance and deliver our largest ever annual Career Success Symposium for students with disabilities.
  • Debbie Hansen named Executive Director, Community Supports & Services. She and her team are leading the new Centre for Sexual Violence Response, Support & Education.
  • Completed the expansion of our Accommodated Test & Exam Centre.
  • Skennenko:wa Gamig (The House of Great Peace, formerly Hart House) formally opened on  June 21. The facility, dedicated for use by Indigenous students, staff and faculty as a gathering space, will provide additional programming space for CASS and serve as a gathering place for the Indigenous community at York.
  • In August 2017, ACMAPS will celebrate its tenth year of dedicated service to mature and part-time students. In that time we’ve helped literally thousands of students on their journey to graduation, including York’s eldest graduate ever at age 89, Alma Kocialek.
  • Long-time York University Lions head athletic therapist Cindy Hughes inducted into the Canadian Athletic Therapy Association (CATA) Hall of Fame.
  • York University Lions wrestling brothers Mohab El-Nahas and Shady El-Nahas each won gold medals in their respective weight classes at the Canadian Open Judo Championships in Calgary.
  • York University Lions quarterback Brett Hunchak will participate this summer in the Edmonton Eskimos training camp as part of the CFL-CIS Development Program.
  • Completion of Manage My Academic Record website – enhancing student wayfinding.
  • Implementation of Electronic Funds Transfer for refunds to student accounts.
  • Implementation of comprehensive new Senate “Forgiveness” policies.
  • System and staff readiness for the transformation of OSAP/Net Tuition.

On July 4, Lucy Fromowitz will be joining York University as our new Vice-Provost Students. You will have seen from the earlier announcements that Lucy comes to us with a wealth of experience and expertise. We are really looking forward to partnering with Lucy to move the Division forward.

Best Regards,

Carol, Sheila & Brendan

Divisional Successes and Improvements in 2016

Interior winter holiday decorations

As the year draws to a close and we get ready to spend a few quiet moments with our friends and family, it is also a good time to look back at what lies behind us and to acknowledge the successes and improvements we’ve worked so hard to achieve as a Division.

Here are the highlights from 2016:

Structures — Physical & Organizational

  • Renovations have been completed to Hart House for use by Aboriginal students, staff and faculty. Stay tuned for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early 2017 as the Centre for Aboriginal Students (CASS) and others continue the Indigenization of York’s Keele campus.
  • We have secured funding for and begun construction of the expanded Accommodated Test & Exams Centre.
  • The Student Success Centre has been established, and in that context we also welcomed the Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part-Time Students (ACMAPS) into the Division.
  • Learning Skills Services moved to the Learning Commons and expanded its reach through the launch of the Learning Skills Peer team.
  • We improved and strengthened the Enrolment Management Group in support of Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM).
  • We restarted Retention Council.
  • The Sexual Violence Response Office (SVRO) was launched and is being supported by the Office of Student Community Relations (OSCR).
  • Student services planning has begun for the Markham campus.

Strategies, Programs & Processes

  • We have a Peer Mentor Program for students with disabilities and mental health issues led by students with lived experience in these areas. This means two-way support.
  • We have expanded our Mature Student Peer Mentor Program from ACMAPS.
  • We received a large donation to address mental health issues for varsity athletes.
  • The Career Success Symposium for Students with Disabilities proved valuable and popular.
  • We secured more than $40,000 in sponsorship dollars from throughout the University to implement the 2016 LeaderShape Institute.
  • We took the Leadership & Career Strategy from a test to a pilot, allowing students to recognize value, identify skills and articulate their ideas. The pilot was rolled out to 200 students and 39 supervisors.
  • We, the only university in Canada to have such funding, continued to grant it for the Autism Spectrum Disorder Pilot.
  • We expanded the It All Adds Up campaign, which focuses on helping students identify the many sometimes unacknowledged successes and accomplishments they’ve already achieved in their academic careers.
  • The Integrated Voice Response System was redesigned.
  • We initiated a number of process reviews including one for OSAP in readiness for Net Tuition.
  • We rolled out development plans.
  • Students (as well as faculty and staff) can now draw on the support of weekly visits from York’s very own Therapy Dog, Barnaby.
Three women with a dog, who is licking the face of one of them.
Barnaby and his affections.

Launches & Implementations

  • the Pan-University Mental Health strategy;
  • initial mental health stress-relieving strategies for exams at the Aviva and Tait McKenzie Centres;
  • the Gluco Fit program in partnership with the Canadian Diabetes Association, supporting community members from the Jane/Finch area who have been identified as pre-diabetic or have diabetes, and assisting them with fitness and nutrition;
  • the YUAdvise professional development competency framework for advisers;
  • Electronic Fund Transfers (Direct Deposits) enabling students to receive refunds faster;
  • the Alcohol Strategy for Students;
  • Manage My Academic Record;
  • the Visual Schedule Builder;
  • the revamping of the Undergraduate Academic Calendar;
  • the Undergraduate Academic Calendar online editor;
  • a new Curriculum Management System (initial stages);
  • the Degree Progress Report to 400 users;
  • a February Convocation in Absentia for more than 800 graduands;
  • the reporting of course waivers;
  • a new process for scheduling forums;
  • revised forgiveness policies;
  • a quality-assurance program to assess the student experience.

Successes

  • We collected more than 9,000 prospect leads during Fall recruitment.
  • We exceeded our digital marketing campaign goals.
  • Ontario 101 confirmations were up 6.7 per cent.
  • We witness a 10 per cent increase in offers made to 105s (that’s 1,650 more).
  • Our international applications and offers were up by more than 35 per cent.
  • We organized the largest one-day Orientation event east of the Rockies, hosting more than 4,000 first-year students in the Lion’s Stadium for York Orientation Day.
  • We saw a 55 per cent increase in the number of students engaged with the Disability Services Career Mentorship Program.
  • We accommodated a 15 per cent rise in volume through Alternate Exams.
  • One of our Residence dons, Maseh Hadaf, received the Julianne Pettigrew Award, which recognizes the top conference presentation at OACUHO (the Ontario Association of College and University Housing Officers), to which our Residence Life Team sent a delegation.
  • The TRY (Toronto-Ryerson-York) Cup once again resides with York University as the Champions of the Intramural world for Toronto.
  • We won the National Championship in women’s tennis.
  • We made our presence felt at the 2016 Rio Olympics:
    • 5 York Athletic Therapy grads worked there;
    • John May (current women’s volleyball coach) coached the Olympic beach volleyball team;
    • York Lions Khamica Bingham (4×100 sprint) and Britt Crew (shot put) competed for Canada.

York Lion mascot high-fiving a male student in a hallway (Accolade East)

There’s a lot to reflect on and even more to be proud of — York’s Division of students clearly takes it mandate as Partners in Student Success very seriously.

We hope that these successes and improvements will serve as motivation for all of us to work even harder in 2017 to bring them to their full fruition, and to add even more points of pride to the Division.

The Inclusive Campus: Changes to Documentation Guidelines for Mental Health Disabilities

Group of young people standing together speaking (one black man and three white women)

Consistent with York’s culture, history and values, our University has earned a reputation for providing high-quality support to students with disabilities. This is captured — superbly — in the quote below from a student who offered the following when asked to comment on the support received from Counselling & Disability Services (CDS).

I would like to say that the academic accommodation that I received through CDS . . . was the single greatest aid I had in completing my degree. I truly don’t know if I would have been able to complete my degree or get As in my last few courses if I did not have that accommodation. . . . I don’t know how else to explain my gratitude . . .  thank you, CDS.

This is an affirmation of the great work being done to support students with diagnosed disabilities by our disability services staff in Counselling & Disability Services. This work is further supported by Personal Counselling Services (PCS), which strives to assist all students — regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosed disability — to reach  their full personal potential, maximize their University experience and build resilience. On behalf of the Provost, our faculty colleagues, staff from across the campus, and — most notably — all our students: thank you.

With that as context, Marc Wilchesky, the Executive Director of CDS, and I want to provide an update related to academic accommodations. Specifically, Mental Health Disability Services adopted new documentation guidelines in January 2016. Simply put, students no longer have to disclose their specific mental health diagnosis to register for academic accommodations and supports. These changes align with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s recent Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions (June 2014).

Some students may voluntarily choose to disclose their specific diagnosis to MHDS because professionals therein have expertise that can inform the accommodations process. It’s important to emphasize, however, that students are not required to do so. Instead, the medical documentation only needs to confirm a diagnosed mental health disability and list the specific functional limitations. Students will be eligible to receive the full range of appropriate academic accommodations based on any functional limitations related to the disability.

This change is in keeping with York’s commitment to promote a healthy, inclusive and supportive learning environment that fosters mental health and well-being. It’s a progressive approach being emulated across the province — and yet another example of York’s leadership. It’s but one of the many reasons I am so proud to lead the Division of Students.

More information about MHDS and the new documentation guidelines can be found at: MHDS Registration Information

The Student Self-Assessment Survey: Supporting and Building Agency for York Students

Shot from above of people walking along a path, their long shadows showing

Under the auspices of the Division of Students’ Strategic Plan, and in pursuit of our vision to be Partners in Student Success, York has adopted a highly strategic approach to enrolment management. Simply put, Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) engages key constituents to identify, define and organize themselves around clearly articulated enrolment goals. It also mobilizes the campus to pursue those goals purposefully to produce dramatic, sustainable results. Key to SEM is enrolment intelligence, data that helps us understand the student experience to inform how we recruit, retain and communicate with our students. The intelligence is gleaned from a comprehensive review of existing enrolment-related data, as well as through new research. A great example of the latter is the Student Self-Assessment Survey.

Since 2013, incoming students to York have been asked to complete an online survey that is aligned with Alf Lizzio’s work on transition theory. Developed by our brilliant colleague Mark Conrad (Director, Institutional Enrolment & Resource Planning, Office of Institutional Planning & Analysis), the survey uses a combination of published measurement scales to give York baseline data about our students and what supports they require to be successful: (i) reasons for attending university (internal and external motivation); (ii) academic and career-goal clarity; (iii) self-concept as a student (academic self-efficacy); and, (iv) general coping skills (personal/social resourcefulness and grit). Although it’s entirely voluntary, last year almost 50 percent of our new students chose to participate. As a result, we know a lot more than we did previously about how prepared our students are for postsecondary study, about their reasons for attending university and about their capacity to persist. We are using that information to develop and deliver support resources for the students who need them most.

A hand writjng, with a coffee mug in the background

At the beginning of this week, invitations to participate in the survey this fall went out to incoming first-year students. After they complete the survey, each participant will receive a report that includes their score, an explanation about each dimension and some suggestions/tips to help them build their personal capacity. In October, we will follow up with those students and invite them to log into a portal using their Passport York ID to review their results again, see average scores for all respondents and view additional resources for each dimension of the survey. Those resources include some fantastic new videos that feature continuing student role models.

The Student Self-Assessment Survey serves multiple purposes. For one, it is helping us learn a lot more about our students and what they need to be successful. It also, however, helps develop agency (or resourcefulness) in our students, making them more self-aware and better equipped to seek out campus resources. Consistent with the Division’s commitment to evidence-based decision making and assessment, the survey and its outcomes remain a work in progress continually informed by student feedback. To date, it’s been very positive, with 78 per cent of respondents in 2015 agreeing or strongly agreeing that the site provided helpful resources, while 69 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the videos provided useful tips. Among the qualitative comments was the following:

The videos and links were very helpful and stirred up motivation in me to do a better job in University. Sometimes stress can cause the motivation to drop drastically, but seeing all the resources available on campus spurs a new fire at the core.

A hearty thanks to Mark Conrad and Michelle Miller for their tremendous leadership on this project. What a great, real-life example of our commitment to being Partners in Student Success.

Let’s Talk Divisional Values: Collaboration

A sign with the word "Collaboration" laid across a green, lined index card.

Embedded in the Division of Students’ strategic plan are seven values: respect, excellence, innovation, collaboration, accountability, care and inclusion. Individually and collectively, these values — nested deeply within those of York University as a whole — reflect who we are and who we aspire to be. Collaboration is particularly important because it describes how the Division will achieve its priorities.

Collaboration and cooperation reject competition as the best way to secure resources and achieve success. There’s a simple quote I like by the comedienne and actress Amy Poehler: “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” That has certainly been my experience.

In the context of the Division’s work at York, I think about collaboration as a strategy for transcending silos and driving innovation (more on that value later!). Ample examples indicate how collaboration guides the Division of Students’ vision to be Partners in Student Success. One that comes immediately to mind is YU START, our flagship transition program that we profiled on this blog recently. Quite simply, YU START would not be possible without the engagement of key partners including associate deans, College masters, College Council presidents, Orientation chairs and a variety of student leaders. Working collaboratively and cooperatively, these women and men are challenging our amazing colleagues in the Student Success Centre to continually improve their programming for incoming students. All the while, they are supporting and fueling a student experience at York that stands out for its fresh ideas and supportive character.

Another great example is the York Orientation Directors Association (YODA), the group of student leaders who organize and deliver Orientation Week at York each fall. With representation from every College and several Faculties, YODA is accountable for pan-University decisions that have a significant impact on students and York as a whole. They take their responsibilities very seriously, particularly, for example, in the context of organizing large-scale evening events for thousands of students new to the independence of a university environment. They also live the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We’re going to continue learning from their example, because, further to Amy’s quote, collaboration changes people and processes for the better.

Exploring Pathways to Career Success for Students with Disabilities

White glass indoor bridge leading up to a doorway opening in a white wall

Earlier this month, I finished my term as the Chair of the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (H-B) Board of Trustees. Volunteering at this outstanding organization has taught me so much about care for kids with disabilities, their goals and aspirations for the future and — perhaps most importantly — the resilience of the families who rely on H-B for a wide array of services and supports. During my years of service, I have been humbled by their endless courage and strength.

When I met recently with members of the Family Advisory Council to seek their input on the hospital’s 2016–2017 priorities, “transitions” emerged as a dominant theme. Specifically, clients and families expressed concerns about how kids with disabilities transition out of the pediatric health-care system into adult services, and out of secondary school to postsecondary education and/or into the workforce. This last issue was particularly important to parents: individuals with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in the workforce and can face challenges with the job-search process.

At York, equipping young people with the tools they need to lead fulfilling professional and personal lives is one of our priorities. Through a multitude of means, we are working to provide particular support to students who might face special challenges. One specific example is the Disability & Career Committee, which was established in 2010 and includes representatives from Counselling & Disability Services (CDS) and the Career Centre (CC).

The goals of the committee are twofold:

  1. to create an event that would provide York students with disabilities (e.g. physical, learning, mental health) with an opportunity to connect with employers, community service providers and employees to learn more about employment supports, workplace disclosure and accommodations in the workplace;
  2. to build partnerships with community agencies and employers that support students with disabilities, not only to nurture these relationships for future career opportunities but also to build York’s reputation as a professional and supportive environment in which ALL students have equitable access to a range of campus services that assist in facilitating their success.

Smiling woman sitting behind a sign saying "Devices 4 Disabilities" and in front of a CDS banner

To further both aims, we started small in 2011 — with a panel discussion that attracted nine students with disabilities and four community partners/employers. Five years later, that event has evolved into a full-day symposium, the Career Success Symposium for Students with Disabilities, with a keynote speaker, breakout sessions and increased participation from both students and community partners. In 2016, the event featured as its keynote speaker Michael Landsberg, a Bell Let’s Talk spokesperson and the host of Off the Record on TSN; 101 students participated and 14 employers/community partners attended. This marks fabulous progress on our strategic plan to be Partners in Student Success.

This event evolved from a strong partnership between two units within the Division of Students in which we shared our areas of expertise to help meet students’ needs and to encourage their success. We have also created lasting partnerships with community agencies and employers, further strengthening York’s reputation and building future opportunities for York students.  While the symposium takes place once annually, it has created awareness about and “opened doors” to the many workshops and services offered at the Career Centre throughout the year.

The event has also fostered professional development. While the Career Centre has one staff member with expertise in serving students with disabilities, the symposium provides more exposure to these students. As a direct consequence, the whole CC team has gained tools to better support this cohort in their career exploration and job search.

Two young men standing in front of a projected image thanking participants for joining attending the symposium of career opportunities for students with disabilities

Student participants found great value in the event, as these select testimonials from the 2016 event make clear:

Thank you so much. . . . The event was really awesome, and it was a pleasure meeting all the other attendees and hearing about the different services that work to help create an accessible environment for job-seekers with disabilities. I really appreciate all the planning that went into this event; everything was so well coordinated as well. Thank you.

—Tyler Cenac

 I left the event feeling empowered about my future. The event introduced me to resources I didn’t even know existed. Michael Landsberg was such an inspiring speaker. Meeting him has allowed me to meet someone in my area of interest. The workshops were beneficial, as we got to explore areas of interest or weakness in a smaller group.

Ian Wilgus

The career symposium was a great experience for students with disabilities, as it was very uplifting and a morale booster, because you were around like-minded people coming from different walks of life. They were all battling different obstacles to make a mark for themselves, and this gave an opportunity for everyone’s true potential to come out. . . . I felt like employers, organizations and fellow colleagues were looking past these visible and invisible disabilities to be able to give individuals advice on the basis of their merits.

Alamgir Khandwala

Attending the career success symposium at York University for students with disabilities really impacted the way I see myself achieving my career goals and being successful in the workplace. Getting information from various employers about work accommodations and when to disclose to a potential employer was truly empowering. These tips helped me consider the contributions I can make within an organization by knowing how my disability affects me, using my skills and working to my strengths. Most importantly, the takeaway message for me was that as a person with a disability, I can move forward and achieve my career goals successfully and feel confident in applying to a number of opportunities available in the workplace.

—Esther Lawrence

Please join me in congratulating those members of the VPS team who have contributed to making this event happen, and the students who made the time to participate. My hat goes off to all of them!

 

Janet

 

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