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.
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.