AACUSS Highlight - On-the-Go Support Offered by The Counselling Centre at Saint Mary’s University

Submitted by: Sarah Morris, MEd. Assistant Director of Student Services

Saint Mary’s University prides itself on innovation, so much so it’s one of the pillars of our Institutional Strategic Plan. For the Winter 2017 semester The Counselling Centre decided to pilot an innovative project, in the hopes of offering support to students using a different approach. As a result, On-the-Go Support was born. Historically, several universities in Canada and the United States have embedded counsellors in other services across campus (i.e. residence, international centres), however, On-the-Go Support is different than such offerings.

On-the-Go Support was not meant to duplicate counselling sessions already available on campus. Rather, it was intended as an option for students to make a preliminary connection with The Counselling Centre who were in need of mental health support but, for whatever reason, had not made it into The Centre. Conversely, it was also meant to offer one-time support to those who may have needed assistance but not necessarily ongoing counselling. Such one-time support included offering validation/reassurance and a place to talk about their current difficulties while providing resources and appropriate referrals, among other things.

On-the-Go Support was piloted in Residence (On-the-Go Support @ Home) and Graduate Studies (On-the-Go Support @ Grad Studies). Residence was selected as many first year students live on campus and require transitional support that goes beyond their first semester. They may not necessarily need ongoing counselling and their concerns could possibly be met using a single session or brief model. Graduate Studies was selected as many graduate students face a unique set of challenges in their academic careers. However, they tend to be more isolated than their undergraduate peers while having less access to specialized services targeted to such peers. In Residence a therapist from The Counselling Centre was present in an office central among the three Residence buildings every Friday from 1:30 to 4:00. In Graduate Studies a therapist was present in the Graduate Studies office every second Monday from 2:00 to 4:00. Appointments were entirely on a drop-in basis and limited to 30 minutes maximum.

On-the-Go Support was received well by many individuals across campus and talked about readily. In terms of student uptake, we met with 10 students in Residence and 4 students in Gradate Studies throughout the semester. Several of those students were encouraged to pursue ongoing therapy at The Counselling Centre, and a few did follow through, while others were provided with resources and/or referrals and encouraged to drop-in again, if necessary.

Like any pilot project, On-the-Go Support had some challenges. One of the bigger challenges was finding optimal locations for the service. Securing an office that offered privacy (to uphold confidentiality) that was also somewhat central in a communal space (in the hopes of offering visual cues) was difficult. Additionally, securing a space that provided adequate safety for the clinician and students was essential. For graduate students, in particular, situating On-the-Go Support in the Gradate Studies office may have deterred some students from seeking support who required it, for fear that programming staff and/or faculty may see them seeking help or be notified of their need for help (which was not the case).

Looking ahead to September 2017, the intention is to run On-the-Go Support @ Home and @ Grad Studies again, which would allow a more throughout full-year assessment of the service. Meetings were conducted with various University personnel to explore the frequency of presentation, location and other challenges encountered in the Winter semester.

If anyone is interested in learning more about On-the-Go Support offered via The Counselling Centre at Saint Mary’s University please feel free to reach out to us using the information below:

Cindy Boland, M.Ed. Psychologist (Candidate Register)

The Counselling Centre, Saint Mary’s University

923 Robie Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3C3

Phone: (902) 496-8172     Reception: (902) 420-5615

Email: cindy.boland@smu.ca

AACUSS Keynote: John Austin

The AACUSS 2017 conference committee is excited to welcome Dr. John Austin from Ryerson University as this year's keynote. John brings a wealth of experience to the field of Student Affairs and will be addressing how we, as Student Affair's professionals, work to inform, inspire and influence our students and ourselves. 

John holds an M.Ed in Higher Education Administration from the University of North Carolina and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy from Fordham University in New York City. His 24-year career in Student Affairs has been at a mix of specialized performing arts schools such as the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, School of American Ballet, and Canada's National Ballet School and large traditional post-secondary institutions such as the University of North Carolina and New York University. John currently serves as the Executive Director, Student Affairs at Ryerson University where he has responsibility for 6 departments: Housing and Residence Life, Student Life, Student Learning Support, Student Health & Wellness, the Ryerson Career Centre, and Special Projects (which houses the award-winning RU Student Life and #RyersonSA Creative). He has great interests in social justice, change management, fundraising, and Student Affairs innovations. The focus of his doctoral research resulted in the dissertation topic, “Leading Learning in the Arts: Skills and Competencies of Performing Arts School Leaders”. You can find him on Twitter at @RyersonJohn.

Too Poor for Post-Secondary, Too Rich for Financial Assistance

Allen Wolfe
Financial Aid & Awards Officer, Saint Mary’s University

Many students are stuck in the middle, too poor for post-secondary, but too rich for full financial assistance, which makes a difficult situation. This problem is plaguing millions of students and families across Canada and is due to a combination of issues; rising tuition costs, smaller pools of financial aid, and difficult financial assistance calculations that put the burden of paying for university on parents that cannot afford it.

In November, the Government of Canada announced that students would now have a fixed contribution towards their Canada Student Loan calculation. The new fixed student contribution, of between $1,500 and $3,000 per academic year based on their family income and family size, will provide students with the predictability of a fixed amount to contribute towards their education costs. The simplified fixed contribution will allow low and middle-income students to better save, budget, and plan for post-secondary. In addition, more students will be able to continue to work and gain valuable job experience without having to worry about a reduction in their level of financial assistance.

The only province in our region to make a student loan related announcement this year was the province of New Brunswick. They recently announced the rollout of Tuition Relief for the Middle Class program. This will help make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible for families with multiple children attending university or community college. The amount of tuition relief will change based on the size of the family to a maximum family size of seven. The amount of tuition relief also decreases as the student’s family income increases, until they reach the maximum income cut-off.

Institutions can do their part to help the students stuck in the middle by encouraging them to apply for financial assistance. There is a historical stigma attached to student loans and even though there have been significant changes that have been taken place and that there are many advantages to the program, many eligible do not apply. We can also direct students to apply for external scholarships using scholarship databases like Yconic, Universities Canada and Scholarships Canada. These databases help students gain access to millions of dollars worth of awards. Sometimes it only takes an hour of work to apply for an award!

 

Collaborating for Student Success

By: Travis Myers

Early in 2016, Student Residences at Memorial University started to envision a way to better support students living on campus. The original question of how to apply better technology upgrades for residence computer labs turned into a great project and partnership between the Student Residences unit, Information Technology Services (ITS), Memorial University Library and Ancillary Services.

In summer 2016, a committee was struck with stakeholders that had a vested interest in developing a space that would provide a desktop computer lab, printing center, campus card support, wireless internet support, tutoring center and food service options.  Memorial University operates several learning commons on campus which provide an array of academic and tech support services.  It was proposed that a space in residence, open to the entire campus would be a great way to support residence students given the proximity to their living space, but would allow the rest of the university community to congregate, work and spend time on a part of campus that they would not normally visit.

Working together with the various units, everyone was able to provide their expertise to what students, faculty, staff and visitors would want in such a space.  Funding was applied for and a grant was issued to get the Hatcher Learning Commons off the ground.  The space would allow for a computer lab, booth type seating for study space, collaborative work areas, as well as a sizable tutoring section.  With Ancillary Operations teaming up on this initiative, the project allowed for the University’s food service provider to open a Jumping Bean Cafe which sells premium coffee products and a lunch menu daily and a Smoke’s Poutinerie which offers late night food operations twice a week.

The Hatcher Learning Commons opened in September 2016 and has been a success with students being able to access the services from 2pm-2am daily.  Staffed by students, it has been a great opportunity have a wide variety of work experience for these student with the clients they support.  Staff at the service desk will provide IT support to those visiting the commons, provide assistance to students who have questions about residence operations, issues campus cards, liaise with academic advising for students who are seeking academic support and any other issues that happen to occur when a client has a question or concern.  There is a strong relationship between the staff of the Library Commons and the Hatcher Learning Commons to ensure regardless of which site you visit, the service level is the same.  Collaboration of the student staff teaching and supporting each other has been a great thing to witness as it has provided them the opportunity to show and strengthen their leadership skills, provided an opportunity for independence in the work setting and in turn the client's experience has been very positive.

One of the greatest student supports offered at the Hatcher Learning Commons is the free tutoring service.  Students who are strong academically and have previous teaching and tutoring experience are hired to provide one on one and group tutoring to any student at Memorial University, with a focus on first year students and first year courses.  The Hatcher Learning Commons offers tutoring in English, chemistry, physics, biology, math and engineering, 7 days a week.  As the semester calendar changes and there is a pressure on tutoring, there is the ability to offer group tutoring sessions and increase frequency to meet those demands if needed.  This space has allowed for a large amount of group study and peer tutoring because of the layout of the space and the atmosphere allows for this to happen naturally.

The committee is very pleased and excited about the response from the university community for this new learning space and is very excited about how students have subscribed and utilized the services.  Moving forward, there are opportunities to bring in more academic support partners and as always, upgrades to learning technology to continuously support the users of the learning commons.  It has been a pleasure having so many hands working together to ensure that the students visiting the Hatcher Learning Commons have the best experience possible to support their academic success.