Igniting purpose with the Student Experience Action Plan

Co-created by students, instructors and staff, the plan will inspire efforts over the next three years to ensure every student thrives at U of A and beyond.

Student getting picture taken at student experience action plan launch.

On January 31, students, faculty, staff and members of the community gathered on North Campus to celebrate the launch of the Student Experience Action Plan (SEAP). Over 300 people came together in the Student Union Building alongside President Bill Flanagan, Provost Verna Yiu and Melissa Padfield.

Melissa is the first person to take on the position of deputy provost (Students and Enrolment), a role centred around the student experience. As one of the co-sponsors of the SEAP, she is thrilled to share more about the new action plan, its co-creation, and the ways it will help every student to thrive at the University of Alberta.

Melissa Padfield speaks at Student Experience Action Plan event on Jan. 31.

Melissa Padfield, deputy provost, Students and Enrolment and project co-sponsor speaks at the Student Experience Action Plan launch on Jan. 31.

How does the SEAP bring an integrated student focus to Shape: A Strategic Plan of Impact as well as many other plans and initiatives across the university? 

Central to Shape is the intention to increase to 60,000 students in the next 10 years. When we started this project, we asked ‘How do we not only grow, but grow with quality while keeping student voices at the forefront?’ The SEAP is the answer to that question. We want to make investments in areas that truly support the success of every student. Whether graduate or undergraduate, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, international or domestic - this plan is about making every student journey the best it can be. 

The SEAP is a roadmap for ensuring students can reach their full potential at the U of A, according to their unique needs, interests and dreams. Together with our leaders and community, the action plan will guide our efforts and decisions over the next three years. As SEAP launches, I am so excited to witness this plan become a reality. 

Verna Yiu speaks at the Student Experience Action Plan launch.

Verna Yiu, provost, emcees the launch.

The co-creation process that was used throughout the project has been praised by students, staff and instructors as “what engagement should look like”. Can you tell us more about the co-creation approach?

From the beginning, we knew that we could not simply consult our U of A community. We needed to actively build and strategize as co-creators, especially with students. This is crucial. If we want to articulate what the student experience is and discover what it could be, we need to co-design. In many ways, the SEAP is the first of its kind. It is an action plan with relationship at its core. Whether those relationships are student-to-student, student-to-faculty, or student to the university, we know that relationships are central to the student experience. This plan was co-designed through dialogue, engagement, and exploration, created for our community and by our community.

Over the last year, we held more than 100 engagement sessions with students, instructors, staff and alumni on all three of our campuses to co-create this plan. As the SEAP launches, it is a reflection of our community’s needs, voices and aspirations. I am so grateful for the level of involvement and commitment from everyone who participated, especially our students. They were willing to be transparent and vulnerable while sharing the best and hardest points of their university experience at the U of A. Some of their stories were challenging and even heartbreaking, while also showing hope and pride for the planning being done. In all, we heard from over 10,000 students! 

What are some of the ways in which the SEAP is already driving tangible investments at the U of A?

Tangible action is at the heart of the SEAP. While many initiatives are coming up, I’m proud to share some of our earliest steps, responding directly to what we heard from students. 

First, we're addressing frustrations with counselling services' wait times. Mental health is and remains a top priority for our university community. Immediately, Counselling and Clinical Services will increase capacity from 14 to 22 clinicians, adopting a new stepped-care model to improve access for all students.

Next, we heard that academic agency and flexibility are crucial, with 83% of students listing a user-friendly course registration process as very important or essential to their student experience. Beginning in March, we will be introducing a new way to register for courses. Replacing the course registration functionality in Bear Tracks, My Schedule Builder is an intuitive tool that will allow students to view multiple schedule options while blocking out time for their personal commitments. More details will be coming later in February! 

During our engagements, cleanliness was identified as a critical factor in creating welcoming spaces. We recognize that a cleaner campus has positive intersections with more accessible facilities and our sense of safety. We are thrilled to pilot increased cleaning standards in all learning spaces, common areas and libraries across campuses for Winter 2024. A survey in the spring will assess the impact of these standards, and plan for future evaluations. 

Lastly, we will be investing $720,000 to renovate three classrooms in the Tory building this summer. Renovations will include levelling the tiers, installing new furniture and lighting, and increasing seating capacity. These renovations will increase the capacity and accessibility of these spaces, ensuring they are meeting today’s standards of technology, interdisciplinary learning and leading-edge education.

Student with Guba and Patches at the launch.

What are the next steps for the SEAP? 

First, we will have two more launch events, at Campus Saint-Jean on Feb. 6, and at Augustana Campus on Feb.14. 

Our project team will also have activation booths on all three campuses beginning in February. The goal is to continue to engage students in the plan and generate excitement about new insights so we can keep shaping the student experience together. 

In our next phase, our emphasis shifts to developing and refining the goals outlined in the SEAP. This necessitates ongoing engagement with our university community. Additionally, we are committed to annual reporting on key focus areas and factors contributing to successful student experiences. We want to ensure students see their voices continually reflected in each initiative. 

As we move forward, ongoing co-creation is absolutely essential. With the plan now set in motion, it’s not about sitting back and watching - we need every person in our U of A community to actively contribute to bringing it to life, as well as assessing its effectiveness and making ongoing improvements. Everyone's input is invaluable as we work to create a positive student experience for our current and future community. 

We encourage everyone in the university community to sign the SEAP Charter to solidify their commitment to upholding the principles of connection, challenge and exploration and to fostering exceptional student experiences.