June 23, 2020Print | PDF
Wilfrid Laurier University’s first cohort of students in the Master of Education (MEd) Student Affairs field of study program will graduate in July. They leave Laurier with a renewed sense of purpose, confidence and passion that will impact the lives of post-secondary students across Ontario.
The cohort of 25 students brought with them skills and knowledge accumulated through their combined decades of experience working in the student affairs field at universities and colleges across the province.
“In all of our various roles, we’re working with students who are dealing with really heavy issues right now,” says Christine Gillies, MEd Student Affairs candidate and a lecturer at Renison University College’s English Language Institute. “I’m leaving the program motivated to create better connections with students on a personal, professional and academic level.”
The two-year, part-time MEd Student Affairs field of study program includes courses and a capstone seminar in which participants explore student affairs services that impact the quality of post-secondary education, including academic support and services, advising, student life, residence education, experiential learning, wellness and recreation.
“One of the things I loved about the program was learning alongside passionate colleagues from a variety of student affairs areas in college and university settings,” says Allison Dietz, MEd Student Affairs candidate and student care coordinator in Laurier’s Waterloo campus Dean of Students office. “This experience enriched our understanding of the student affairs field and highlighted how we’re all working towards the same goals as student affairs professionals.”
When she started in the MEd Student Affairs field of study program, Dietz already had a wealth of professional experience to draw from, having worked in student affairs roles for more than a decade.
“No matter when students start this program in their career – whether they are new professionals, or exploring or enriching their current career – I would wholeheartedly recommend this program,” says Dietz.
When the MEd Student Affairs field of study program launched at Laurier in 2018, there were only a few Canadian programs dedicated to student affairs. Assistant Professor Kathleen Clarke says that Canadian student affairs professionals would traditionally look to existing research for guidance, or seek higher education opportunities, from the United States.
“The Canadian context is very different so it is important that we study how things work here rather than drawing from work that has been done in the U.S.,” says Clarke. “Laurier is known for its student experience, so it makes sense that we’re taking the lead to develop professionals in the field.”
Throughout the program, students are encouraged to spark public conversations about Canadian issues in student affairs. Several students answered the call by submitting assignments to higher education journals and magazines. Some undertook independent research studies in addition to the requirements of the master’s program, while others submitted national conference proposals.
For one of the program’s assignments, students were tasked with updating references and adding content to Wikipedia pages dedicated to student affairs. During the winter 2020 term, two program cohorts edited a total of 33 Wikipedia pages, including the addition of 311 references and approximately 32,000 words of content.
“Students will graduate having made a lasting mark on the public conversation surrounding the emerging body of Canadian student affairs research,” says Clarke.
Students in the MEd Student Affairs field of study program focused on their own workplaces and roles while completing projects and engaging in seminars. For example, during group discussions, students would look at critical issues surrounding student success such as decolonizing classrooms from the perspective of admissions, academic advising, career development, student life and equity, diversity and inclusion.
“My goal is to reduce barriers for students transitioning into university,” says Andrea Pape, MEd Student Affairs candidate and new student advising coordinator at the University of Guelph. “My colleagues gave me a better understanding of the focus and perspectives in each of their areas of student affairs, which will allow me to know where to partner in the future to better serve students.”
Reflecting on their personal development, students spoke about how much the MEd Student Affairs field of study program taught them about themselves.
“Our expanded knowledge of different components of care has enriched everybody’s practice,” says Dietz. “This program has positioned us to be leaders and to improve things in our own world, in big and small ways.”
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