Tag Archives: YU START

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.

Clear Pathways Help Guide and Facilitate Student Success


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.

Tw students walking toward baloon-decorated bookstore on Keele campus

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.”

Two women sitting in Life Sciences Building with a laptop and textbooks

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 rossm@yorku.ca if you’re interested in learning more about YU START.

(YORKU STUDENTS: if you’re reading this please use yustart.yorku.ca).

Close-up of YU poster in glitter

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 rossm@yorku.ca.

Warm regards,

Janet & Ross

The First-Year Experience: Paths to Success at York

York folder amd pen

This past spring, as students sat writing exams, final preparations were underway to ready the campus for hosting the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. The primary focus was our new stadium: workers duly installed temporary seating; fencing went up; and the entire site, as well as much of the broader campus, was draped with symbolism to celebrate the Games.

Alongside that process, however, something else really fabulous happened. Driving in to York early one morning from Shoreham Drive en route to Tait McKenzie, I saw a mini-bulldozer carving out pedestrian pathways. Combined with new signage, these were being installed to help people — most notably newcomers and visitors — find their way. It seems simple, but in the absence of a clear and accessible pathway, people get lost. Given the size of our campus, these paths and signs are a significant advance that will have long-term impact.

Providing for people who are new to a postsecondary learning environment is equally crucial. Research tells us that students who are effectively on-boarded to university life prove more successful: they persist at higher rates, they have higher Grade Point Averages (GPAs) and they’re more satisfied.

This is precisely why York invested in the development of its flagship transition program, YU START. It has three components: online enrolment; a virtual learning environment; and finally, York Orientation Day. Together, the intent is to help students transition successfully to 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.

Graphic representation of Lizzio's Five-Senses Model

To help new students navigate unfamiliar terrain, YU START distributes information about learning-skills programs, disability services, staying mentally and physically healthy, academic integrity, student rights and responsibilities, career development, academic resources such as libraries and about how the Colleges contribute to student success. It includes modules that teach new community members about what is expected of them in a first-year course, and about York’s community values. Fundamentally, YU START seeks to provide a road map to student success through and beyond year one. This is particularly important given the size, scale and diversity of our learning community.

Last summer, nearly 4,000 new students participated in YU START’s virtual learning environment, and we continue to receive positive feedback about how it’s impacting their transition to York. With Fall Reading Days just behind us, first-year students are beginning to find their groove. But they still have a way to go. Let’s remember that everybody, and every new experience, benefits from having a clear path.

Young man staring out of a window, his back turned

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!