It’s been another rough year for the University of Alberta as an institution. Staff cuts, funding from the provincial government that isn’t enough, and controversy over Occupy protests and honorary degrees. And of course, with larger class sizes and shrinking faculty, there’s the declining student experience to worry about.
But as I look back over my five years at the U of A, I realize that nothing much has changed. There has always been some type of controversy, either over plagiarizing deans or market modifiers. If you talk to a U of A alumnus from 20 years ago, I’m sure they will recall institutional controversies that took the spotlight during their time as well. In 1987, the university made the decision to limit enrolment to 25, 000 students. In March 1992, U of A students marched on the legislature to express their displeasure with provincial funding cuts. In 2003, the potential removal of the tuition cap became a major student issue. In addition, the Students’ Union led a campout the same year in Quad to protest tuition increases by the BoG.
So there’s controversy. The institution conyinues to struggle. The “student experience” is always an issue. But instead of criticizing from the back seat, you can do something about it.
Now, I’m not here just to tell you to simply get involved, because I’m sure you’ve all heard that before. But get involved as way to get what you want out of university. Take your student experience into your own hands. It’s easy to criticize the institution that we attend for all its failings — and there are undoubtedly failings. But everyone, on an individual level, can make their personal student experience a positive one.
If a positive student experience for you means getting involved in student groups on campus, then get involved. If it means having personal relationships with professors, then take the initiative and get to know professors. I’m sure you’ll find that if you actually approach professors, they’ll be interested in helping you succeed.
If a positive student experience for you means meeting people and making connections, consider living in residence or joining a greek organization. If your positive experience means a job when you leave, then go to the career centre and find out how tomake this happen. If you want to help people, volunteer with a campus or regional organization for social justice. If you want to help students or learn about politics, get involved in the Students’ Union. And of course, if you want to learn to write and think critically about your institution, volunteer for The Gateway.
When you first come to university, you’re dazed and confused. It takes time to figure out how everything works here. But as you understand the environment, and all the opportunities this environment affords you, consider what you want to get out of your time at this institution. Make a list of things you want to do or accomplish and set out to do them. It sounds clichéd, but there really is something for everyone here. You just need to set out and find it.
University is a time to grow up. It’s true — there’s nobody to hold your hand through your degree. It’s not a cake walk. There are institutional obstacles. Of course, small class sizes would help the student experience, but when you can’t get that, or you can’t get the dream class you wanted to take, or your program requires you take a seemingly irrelevant class, don’t let it negatively impact your student experience. Forge out your own positive experience instead. Even having met and overcome institutional obstacles will be something you’ve learned from being here.
I liked being engaged in my campus community, but doing cheers in Quad isn’t for everyone. The important thing is that whatever is for you, do it — and there is something. That’s what will make your positive student experience. If you take matters into your own hands, you will have gained something after leaving university. I know I have.
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.