When our alumni talk of their academic experience in the Faculty of Social Science, they almost always mention inspiring lecturers, or the stimulating discussions they engaged in with other students in seminar-style classes. More than twenty years after graduating, they still remember their first-year economics classes with David Gray, and the excitement of political theory classes with André Vachet. Equally important is the encouragement and informal academic advising provided by faculty members. This fall, graduates of the Faculty will be embarking on advanced degrees at universities such as Oxford, the London School of Economics, Harvard, Tsinghua, as well as at other Canadian universities – and of course at uOttawa. Professors such as Linda Cardinal, Anne Mevellec, Larissa Kurtovic, Eric Champagne, Christabelle Sethna, Hélène Plamondon and Leslie Shiell, amongst many others, play a crucial role in encouraging our students to imagine themselves pursuing graduate studies, challenging them to measure themselves against the best students in the world, and ensuring that they are well-prepared for success.
But seminars and lecture-style courses are not ideal environments for supporting students in acquiring some of the competencies – such as team-work and creative problem-solving skills - that research shows will be crucial to professional success over the next twenty years, nor do they always provide students with the opportunity to connect the ideas they are learning about with real-world issues. The launch of the Ventures Initiative this past year therefore marks an exciting step in enriching the learning opportunities for our students. Rebecca Tiessen’s students in International Development: Contemporary Theories were challenged to develop a strategy to facilitate the integration of refugee students onto Canadian university campuses. Alexis Truong’s Community Action and Intervention in Criminology class were tasked by CHEO’s Youth Net with developing a new outreach strategy to engage underserved youth population such as adolescent males which research shows don’t engage with mental health prevention programs. Those enrolled in Global Politics with Ryan Katz-Rosene had to try to develop a strategy on how to engage millennials with organizations advocating in international politics. And Marie-Eve Desrosier’s class on Theories of Conflict was challenged by Global Affairs Canada with evaluating different early-warning tools for specific conflict regions aligned with the Canadian political priorities to determine their effectiveness. At the end of term, students were brought together to share their work at our first-ever Social Innovation Fair – and the creativity on display was truly impressive. Equally significant, many of the students are continuing to work together, to actually move their project from the ‘Big Idea’ phase to something real. The Faculty is deeply grateful to the faculty members who were willing to pioneer this program; we also want to particularly acknowledge the crucial support and leadership provided by Fahd Alhattab, our Social Innovator in Residence, and the vision and generosity of the anonymous donor who has made Ventures possible.
We are also proud to announce that we have just completed admitting our first cohort of students through the Inclusive Admissions process. Over the past several years uOttawa has been raising the minimum high school average required for admission to our undergraduate programs. This has been beneficial at many levels, but it has also made it harder for students who faced special challenges in completing their pre-university studies to secure an offer of admission. Moreover, many high-school students have also felt pressured to cut back on extra-curricular activities, or have chosen less-challenging courses in high school in order to boost their averages. So this past year, we invited students who had concerns about their academic eligibility to submit a Declaration of Personal Experience to accompany their application. After reviewing the additional information provided by students who chose to avail themselves of this option, the admissions committee was often able to feel confident in offering a place to students who would have otherwise been refused. Now we are gearing up to welcome these students to campus in the fall.
Overall, we are incredibly proud of the many different initiatives, both big and small, that have been launched this past year. The dedication and professionalism of the staff in the Office of Undergraduate Studies and in the Student Experience team makes many small miracles possible, and I am grateful to them every day. Look forward to hearing more tales of innovation next year!
Victoria Barham, Vice-Dean Undergraduate Studies