Students’ Union to implement board in 2019/20 academic year for WUSC program at the U of A

This article is the third in a three-part series on the WUSC program at the University of Alberta. Click here to read the first and second article.

With the addition of a board to WUSC, the SU plans to assist organizationally, instead of playing a more hands-on role in the WUSC program.  

After concerns about the WUSC program were brought to Students’ Council in February 2019, the Students’ Union (SU) will implement a two-fold approach to assist the DFU program starting in the 2019-2020 academic year. The SU has created a board to oversee the DFU, which is mandated to meet every three months, as well as connected the WUSC local committee with Student Group Services (SGS), a SU service that helps student groups by providing programming and assistance with administration. These steps hope to improve the transition of the local committee from year to year and in the succession of leadership roles.

After former business councillor John Hussein brought up concerns about the drop-out rates of WUSC students, Emma Ripka, 2018-19 vice-president (operations and finance), said she followed up on Hussein’s concerns and met with the local committee.

“[Hussein] brought to light some issues [about] WUSC students not being as successful as they could be due to either academic struggles, mental health struggles, or [struggles] just integrating into the campus community,” she said.

Jean de Dieu Hakizimana, a former WUSC recipient and political science graduate, said the reason he suspects for students dropping out relate to financial worries and not knowing about the funding they can access elsewhere.

“For the active WUSC committee or even the SU vice-president (operations and finance) to keep in touch with the student, assure them that there is funding, [they] can get grants, and [they] can apply for scholarships [is important],” he said. “It’s that stuff people are not aware of.”

Without that communication, he added, students get worried, drop out and get a job.

John Abwe, 2016 WUSC recipient and a third-year education and science student at CSJ, echoed Hakizimana’s concerns about the money that will be available after the first year. He said that students should be told what the SU will provide with the DFU and what they need to do for themselves.

“[Someone should] clearly show them, ‘this is how your sponsorship is,’ and break it down into ‘the first year will be like this, the second year we’re expecting you to get a job, and start working,’” he said. “If you don’t know how things work, then it will be hard for you to adjust,” Abwe added.

Nancy Hannemann, director of global education at University of Alberta International, said she doesn’t know that students dropping out has been a problem and that the WUSC recipients from the last four years are all still at the university. In previous years, she said, students who weren’t strong academically were asked to withdraw, and some choose to leave after a year if they decide to pursue a different path. For students who had academic issues, she said the help provided before they were required to withdraw depends on the students themselves and the initiative of the committee.

“It’s a communication issue, there’s assistance out there and whether students are aware of them or not is the question,” she said.

From the administrative side, she said students are asked to talk to International Student Services (ISS) if they have any questions. With training for WUSC and the President’s Award, WUSC committee members are being trained how to support and advise WUSC students to come to ISS with questions.

“I think we’re making increasing efforts to really be on top of the students and making sure that they get the support they need,” Hannemann added.

WUSC local committee succession

Hakizimana said the WUSC committee membership has been fluctuating and because the group is not very well known, it’s hard to recruit people.

“Recruitment was a big thing, but retaining membership was… [also] a big challenge for the WUSC,” he said.

Hannemann said the services WUSC students have can change depending on the strength of the committee each year. Right now, she said, the committee on North Campus is trying to recruit additional members to strengthen it, especially younger students for more continuity.

“That’s always a struggle… for every student group making sure that records are kept,” she said.

A Student Refugee Program Board, which had representatives from the WUSC committee, the SU, and the university administration has not existed for the last five years, Hannemann added. This was due to a lack of continuity between the committee and the SU.

Hussein said the WUSC local committee wasn’t the strongest when he came, and he had to figure some things out for himself.

“[The committee] does a great job, I don’t want to undermine the job that they do… but I think there’s more we can do,” he said. “I think the SU could provide some basic supports,” he added.

Changes coming in 2019-2020

After a meeting on April 16, the Student Refugee Program Board will be restarted to be the overseeing body of the program.

In this way, the SU will play a succession role within WUSC, with the vice-president (operations and finance) making sure the board runs every year and that knowledge about the organization is transmitted to next year’s committee.

The board will meet again in September 2019 and on an ongoing basis, Ripka said. The SU mandates that DFU boards meet at least three times per year, and Ripka said the board will decide what schedule will work best for them. The distribution of money to the WUSC recipients is an agenda item for the first meeting, she added.

The WUSC local committee has also been connected with SGS to help with succession planning and governance structures of the group, Ripka said. SGS has staff who can help the local committee with the rules for registration, transitioning, budgeting and executive training.

The Gateway reached out to the local committee for comment on this story, but were unable to get a response.

Kate Turner

Kate Turner is a second-year Native Studies student and was The Gateway’s Winter 2019 Staff Reporter. She is passionate about human rights, learning languages, and talking to people about their passions. When not furiously typing away, she usually can’t be found because she’s out exploring and having adventures.

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