June 24, 2021Print | PDF
Jenna Olender, manager of Learning Skills and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University, is the recipient of the Distinguished Professional Award from the Learning Specialists Association of Canada (LSAC). Olender received the award during a virtual presentation as part of the organization’s national conference in May.
“Working directly with students, I am constantly reminded of the value of my work and the impact that we are able to have on students’ lives, which is very motivating in and of itself,” says Olender. “Knowing what’s happening across the country in our field right now makes the timing of this award especially meaningful.”
Introduced in 2017, the LSAC Distinguished Professional Award recognizes an LSAC member who demonstrates leadership in the development and delivery of innovative learning supports. Since joining Learning Skills and Development at Laurier – formerly named Writing and Study Skills Services – in 2007, Olender has dedicated her professional practice to creating comprehensive, inclusive support programs that help students reach their academic goals.
The Learning Skills and Development team operates at Laurier’s Brantford campus, offering one-on-one, group and peer-led writing, studying and learning development workshops, as well as events and resources for pre-undergraduate, undergraduate and graduate students.
“We need to shed the idea of thinking of ‘the student’ as only one type of person and have the foresight to recognize where it is important to be paying attention. I am grateful for the spotlight that is shining on the work that we are doing.”
Under Olender’s direction, the team forms partnerships with other service areas across the university to develop tailored programming to meet the needs of Indigenous, mature, transfer and online students, as well as those who are facing significant academic challenges. During the 2018-19 academic year, 82% of students at the Brantford campus engaged in at least one activity offered by Learning Skills and Development.
Olender’s collaborative work with Indigenous colleagues to expand Indigenous student support services at the Brantford campus has resulted in improved availability of and access to peer-led, culturally driven supports, including the introduction of a senior peer mentor for Indigenous students, writing circles and collaborative drop-in sessions with an Indigenous support coordinator.
“Jenna has demonstrated her ability to understand the unique needs of Indigenous students and works tirelessly to support and work with our Indigenous students in academic support settings,” says Margaret Neveau, Laurier’s Indigenous student support coordinator at the Brantford campus.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and academic service units at Laurier transitioned to a fully remote support model, Olender and her team were ready. Olender prioritized accessible online learning support environments and resources, which allowed the Learning Skills and Development team to adapt quickly with little disruption.
“Working with Jenna to identify potential challenges faced by Laurier students who were taking online courses has led to a productive and effective collaboration in seeing how we can integrate course design elements with student supports in order to help our students achieve greater success,” says Mary Scott, Laurier’s director: eLearning. “Jenna's knowledge of and compassion for our students' experience is at the heart of her approach to find better pathways for them to meet their academic goals.”
Understanding neurodiversity in the student population is next on Olender’s horizon. Neurodiversity is defined as individual differences in brain functioning. From a learning strategist’s perspective, neurodiversity recognizes that differences in how people learn are not deficits and should be supported. She also plans to maintain her unwavering commitment to embed empathy into her practice as a learning professional.
“We need to shed the idea of thinking of ‘the student’ as only one type of person and have the foresight to recognize where it is important to be paying attention,” says Olender. “I am grateful for the spotlight that is shining on the work that we are doing.”
Olender was one of the inaugural recipients of the Donald F. Morgenson Staff Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2020. She is also the recipient of a 2021 Laurier Employee Achievement Award in the “inclusive” category. All Employee Achievement Award winners will be recognized during a virtual presentation event on Friday, June 25.
The Learning Specialists Association of Canada is a voluntary, national association for professionals who focus on the application of learning theory in higher education. By offering instruction in learning strategies and study skills, LSAC members support and further the educational goals of students, faculty, staff and school administrators. More information about LSAC can be found at www.learningspecialists.ca.
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