How the U of A is working to improve the student experience

Marlena attends the Student Experience Action Plan launch event on North Campus.



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Marlena (she/her) is in her third year of English and History major in the Faculty of Arts. Originally from Vancouver, Marlena joined the U of A from B.C. last year; however, her family is originally from Germany. She plans to study in the After Degree Education program to become a teacher once she completes her BA. Outside of school, she is a busy bee dedicating her time to volunteering and work. Marlena escapes the buzz by taking time to read, listen to music, walk her three dogs, watch movies and discover Edmonton’s cafe scene. She prefers Rutherford South for its quiet atmosphere and historical architecture.

On January 31, I had the opportunity to attend the Student Experience Action Plan (SEAP) North Campus launch event, where I learned about the SEAP’s goals and plans on how to improve student experiences. Taking place at the heart of North Campus, the event occurred in the Students’ Union building atrium, in an atmosphere buzzing with vibrant energy and eagerness to delve into the transformative objectives of the SEAP.  

Before attending the launch event, I had a significant question lingering in my mind: what is the SEAP? In preparation, I had the opportunity to interview Kat Black and Danielle Gardiner Milln, both integral SEAP project team members. With my limited understanding of the SEAP initially, engaging in a conversation with them provided me valuable insights into some of the crucial goals the SEAP has in enhancing the student experience.

The SEAP is not a one-time solution but an ongoing process of improvement and adaptation. Black emphasized its ongoing nature. She shared, “What's great about our co-creation process is that even though we have this final document, the work is ongoing, it is constantly iterating as the student experience is changing…even though we have a document with these set recommendations…we are nowhere near finished as we continue to evolve, evaluate and implement new strategies.” The acknowledgement that the work is ongoing reflects a commitment to staying responsive to the changing needs of the student experience. 

As a student, tuition costs and funding are often a concern for me. As such, I asked about the importance of the SEAP’s commitment to transparency and affordability. Gardiner Milln explained from her personal experience as a student, “Being able to plan my life and how much I need to work, and how much I can dedicate to my studies is important to know that I’m not going to be financially ousted from school.” 

It‘s reassuring to know that the SEAP aims to ensure that the university’s resources are aligned with student priorities and values. There is recognition of the intertwined nature of the financial stability for students and the transparent distribution of university resources. 

Given that the action plan is targeted towards the student experience, all community members should get involved in learning about the SEAP. When arriving at the event, I was welcomed with jazz music, creating an upbeat atmosphere for the learning and understanding of the student experience. The jazz grabbed the attention of passing students to join and learn about the SEAP. 

After opening remarks by the U of A’s Provost and Vice-president (Academic) Verna Yiu, the launch proceeded to cover the 7 themes of the SEAP’s goals, which I appreciated learning more about. This included creating a safe and connected campus, maintaining transparency regarding tuition and additional costs, academic agency, fostering a student-centered learning environment, prioritizing student success, building relationships and the feeling of belonging and supporting transitions in and out of study. Something that impressed me is that their data and themes were formed from talking with students, instructors, staff and alumni about their personal experiences. By basing the SEAP on student surveys and feedback, it builds a connection to creating a sense of improvement and change on all U of A campuses. Using a student-centric approach is in alignment with the SEAP’s commitment to putting students at the forefront of their priorities. Their plan acknowledges students’ unique needs, challenges and aspirations, working towards educational experiences that are tailored to promote the success of everyone across all campuses. 

One of the topics that stood out to me when talking about creating a connected and student-centered learning environment was the mention of renovating three Henry Marshall Tory classrooms (“Tory” for short). As a student who spends most of her time in Tory, the recent building closures have impacted my day-to-day routine. It is reassuring to know that the university is taking action to improve the state of the building. 

Another highlight during the launch was the mention of changing course scheduling and planning to improve and promote academic agency. Instead of having to struggle with the current method, a new and organized scheduling system (My Schedule Builder) will be introduced this March. This significant announcement not only acknowledges the existing challenges but also implements a strategic initiative aimed at enhancing and fostering academic agency among students.

After the key speakers had concluded their presentations, I had the chance to ask some students their thoughts. One recalled, “It is a great plan and very comforting knowing the university is always looking for ways to improve while also listening to the students' opinions.” Another added that, “It is just a matter of taking the plans and goals from the action plan and turning them into reality.” 

The SEAP is not merely a standalone initiative but rather the foundational step towards a series of improvements. It serves as a catalyst that sets in motion the attempt to realize its goal of enriching the student experience. The metaphorical expression used during the launch, describing the SEAP as a spark to “igniting purpose,” encapsulates the profound impact and ripple effect expected to unfold on campus. 

After attending the launch event, it is evident that many are trying to spread the crucial message and action that the SEAP effectively represents. By embracing innovation and addressing some of the shortcomings regarding the current student experience, the SEAP is paving the way for a more student-centric and efficient education environment. It marks the beginning of a new plan where students can navigate their academic journey with greater ease and confidence. 

Want to learn more? Check out the full SEAP. 

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