Victoria Barham, Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Studies

The team in the Office of the Vice-Dean of Undergraduate Studies was tightly focussed this past year on improving the student experience and developing strategies to increase student retention.

To prepare for the new academic advisement model being rolled out across campus this September, our first-ever student satisfaction survey was sent out to students. The aim of the survey was not only to gauge student appreciation of current faculty services such as the Undergraduate Studies Office, the Mentoring Centre and our international programs, but to solicit student input in setting priorities for improvement. We hope that the survey results will provide an effective communication tool for students and, most importantly, help us measure the impact of our current efforts to work together so students have access to the information and support that they need to succeed and thrive.

We are very committed to offering our students meaningful and rewarding opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. Our faculty has the largest number of CO-OP students of any faculty on campus (CO-OP is offered in 18 of our programs) as well as the largest number of students who take part in international mobility initiatives such as international exchanges, internships or field research courses.

Again this year, students chose to engage fully in their studies by participating in activities we offer, such as the following:

  • a directed research project, in which qualified fourth-year students get research experience by partnering with a faculty member
  • an honours thesis, for fourth-year psychology students
  • Community Service Learning (CSL) placements both on and off campus
  • field placement courses
  • the Walls-to-Bridges course, offered by the Department of Criminology, which takes uOttawa students into an Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre classroom in which they study alongside prison inmates
  • the Governor’s Challenge, offered by the Department of Economics in partnership with the Bank of Canada, where the uOttawa team made the final round of competition, and following which several team members received offers of employment from the bank.

The commitment of our units and faculty to providing an unparalleled university experience is also apparent in initiatives spearheaded by professors such as Daniel Stockemer, of Political Science, who involved his students in publishing an online journal featuring undergraduate research on politics, policy and society. This prime example of professor engagement attracted submissions from students in universities around the world, including Harvard!

Faculty-wide, many other activities contribute to the quality of the undergraduate student experience. Social Sciences Week, presented again last September, is growing in importance, letting students participate in workshops to help them develop practices furthering academic success. This winter also saw the launch of our first Mental Health Awareness Week, with students and staff encouraged to participate in wellness and self-care activities. Proceeds from the Giving Tuesday campaign helped make the week possible, while also being used to fund scholarships for students whose studies have taken longer because of their mental health struggles. Program-specific thematic weeks were also very popular this year. As well, it was gratifying to see once again that the academically-focussed events hosted by student associations were typically those which attracted the highest turnout. This speaks eloquently to our students’ desire to be fully invested in their studies.

We also have ambitious plans for the coming year, including implementing new initiatives to support student retention, introducing major changes to a number of existing undergraduate programs and laying the groundwork for new ones. Most excitingly, thanks to a $500,000 gift to our Ventures initiative, we are gearing up to provide opportunities for first and second-year students to cut their teeth as social innovators and bring their creativity, optimism and determination to helping community-based clients. Students will be asked to find innovative solutions to challenges that their elders have been unable to overcome. It will be fascinating to see what they come up with!

Victoria Barham, Vice-Dean Undergraduate Studies

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