This summer, the student life department has undergone a few changes, and is now known as the Centre of Student Engagement.
According to the mission statement on their website, the centre’s “campus and community based co-curricular programs, services and initiatives promote student engagement through innovative opportunities that contribute to student success.”
During my first year, I was under the assumption that Ulife, UTMSU, and Student Life were all a part of one big department. A few months later, I was shocked to find out that Student Life was a completely separate office.
Sitting with Dray Perenic Price and Alysha Ferguson, the two student development officers at the centre, I learned more about the motivations that drove the Centre of Student Engagement to become who they are on campus.
Ferguson’s focus is on community engagement, which includes bringing in more community partners to provide students with a variety of volunteer opportunities. Price focuses on leadership and learning, which includes the co-curricular record, student organizations, and the new Alumni Mentorship program.
When asked about the recent name change of the office, Price comments that “students were really confused about what Student Life meant—sometimes they thought it [was] where they [got] their T-card or where they [found] housing. [Student Life] had a very broad meaning.”
The team had conducted a survey last February, where they asked students general questions about the student life department. While some responses reflected exactly what Student Life did, what many students were also saying about Student Life’s provided services surprised them.
“Taking that [survey], we wanted to figure out and define exactly what we wanted our office to do, and if Student Life was really the right name for it,” Ferguson added.
It took them a day to decide what would better encompass the type of work they were doing, and when they did, Ferguson commented, “[The new name] was perfect. We loved it.”
Price believes that the new name will encourage students to go to their office first as an established student engagement hub. There, the team will be able to help students find ways to get involved on and off campus.
“Even if it means directing them to another department—but ideally we want students to take advantage of what’s here [for them],” Price adds.
The Centre for Student Engagement also conducted research on why being engaged on campus was beneficial for students.
“Students who are engaged on campus tend to have higher marks, [as] they are more connected to the campus. They are able to make friends [with ease] […] and it even helps [improve] students’ mental health,” Price says.
Ferguson believes that their job at the office is more about directing each student’s individual passion and interests, rather than providing only a handful of programs that may or may not interest everyone.
“We want to make sure students find those different ways that they’re engaging [on campus] […] Whenever students [come] in here and tell us what they are passionate about, we want to either find a program we can offer them or find another spot on campus, but we never want to take that passion away from a student,” she says.
Currently, the Centre for Student Engagement has 39 work-study students—two of whom are student engagement coaches who meet one-on-one with students. These coaches answer questions from students who are lost and unsure of where to start, and direct them towards programs offered by the centre or by any of the many student clubs on campus.
The Centre for Student Engagement, along with a new name, is also launching a variety of new initiatives. Under the “Leadership and Learning” umbrella is the Alumni Mentorship program, which launches at the end of October. The program will partner each undergrad with a UTM alum with similar interests and career goals. The pair will meet one-on-one and discuss whatever questions the undergrads have.
In terms of new community engagement initiatives, the Leadership in Action project will team up groups of students with a community partner, with whom they will identify a way they would like to bring about a social change.
For the CSE’s Civic Engagement Portfolio, there will be an extension into the social justice sector, rather than only the political field. During the second semester, they will be running two events every month, discussing social justice issues and topics that students want to talk about. They will also be bringing in experts to engage in these conversations and answer questions.
Other new programs include the Leadership Bootcamp, which will be taking place over a span of three days during the upcoming fall reading week. The event, based on the book Grit by Angela Duckworth, will address topics such as self-discovery, learning how to be resilient, knowing where your success lies, and how to cope with failure.