President holds town hall

(Edmonton) Within the province, there’s a lot of pride in the University of Alberta and its graduates.

That’s one of the messages University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera shared with attendees at the inaugural town hall for students held in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science.

Speaking to the group Oct. 13, Samarasekera said that in talking with communities and groups across the province, the recurring message is pride in the institution, the work and research done, and the quality of the graduates it produces. Samarasekera said she also does a fair bit of listening, and no voice is more important than that of the students.

“We receive feedback from students regularly, and I want you to know that we are listening and we are making changes,” she said. “We certainly value our students and we have worked hard with the student community to ensure you are getting better access to supports to help you both personally and academically.”

Samarasekera outlined the roles of the Student Success Centre and Physical Activity and Wellness Centre, whose functions assist students with issues related to academic support and mental physical health. She also announced an initiative through the Office of the Dean of Students, called Take Back the Term, which is a conference to give students who may be facing personal or academic-related issues the chance to “recapture some of the enthusiasm they had when they first arrived on campus and re-energize their sense of being part of the community.”

Samarasekera also spoke of new initiatives designed to enhance the university experience. She spoke of new programs such as the Green and Gold Student Leadership and Professional Development Grant and the newly launched Undergraduate Research Initiative. Samarasekera also noted that student input was also directly involved in the revamping of the university’s website. These changes, she said, make it easier for students and prospective students to navigate their way around the online presence of the university, and are only the beginning of the plans for the university’s Internet presence.

“Our vision is to have a web environment that leads all Canadian post-secondary institutions,” she said.

Of the newly opened Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Samarasekera spoke of the promise and potential that the building holds in “the groundbreaking ways that we are going to deliver science education.”

She said that the building has helped recruit both students and researchers alike who came to the U of A because “they could sense the potential” that the building offers.

Samarasekera also covered queries on everything from the tuition differential for international students to the disparity in tuition between the university and Quebec-based institutions and the creation of greater opportunities for deserving international undergraduate students. She also thanked the contributors for their thoughtful questions and sought to provide answers that met students’ expectations.

Samarasekera also sought to assuage any concerns of students by describing the U of A’s proactive approach to meeting a balanced budget during economic uncertainty while maintaining the level of quality students expect. She responded to other questions regarding how a university degree prepares them for success in a given field, even in the face of uncertain economic future.

“By virtue of getting a university degree, you have already recession-proofed yourself,” she said, stating that recent statistics noted more than 300,000 jobs created for people with university degrees eclipsed the loss of 200,000 jobs for people without degrees. “That’s not to say that it’s going to be easy to find a job, but you have to know that the investment you made is already going to be standing you in good stead.”