Taking the big step

(Edmonton) Avneet Hayer doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing how the University of Alberta’s new TURN program has helped her.

“If I didn’t have TURN, I’d be a total mess,” she grins now, three months after arriving on campus as a wide-eyed freshman.

Hayer, who left her childhood home in Vancouver to study for a kinesiology degree in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, is also the first generation of her immigrant family to attend university, which made the experience more daunting, since she had no older siblings, parents, aunts or uncles to answer her questions about what it was like to be an undergrad.

That’s where the TURN program, which stands for Transition to University: Residence Network, helped Hayer, 18, get a handle on being a university student. “When I came here, it was a different environment than high school—so big, I didn’t know where I fit in.

"When she arrived on campus back in August, Hayer was one of 15 first-year students from across Canada and from India and China to take part in TURN. It began as a week-long course that put them in touch with one another and with crucial campus resources and continues throughout the year.

The U of A TURN program was created to help first-year, first-generation students, as well as other students experiencing anxiety, adjust to university life, said Neil Buddel, associate director of Residence Life.

“Some of these students feel they have no reference point, so they drop out because of a lack of fit. They just don’t feel right about being at university; they feel it isn’t for them,” said Buddel, a first-generation student himself.

Now taking a PhD, Buddel consulted with colleagues in University Student Services to develop and deliver the TURN program. “We modelled it along the philosophy of building student community, capacity and confidence.”

During their shared week in TURN, the students, who all live in residence, took part in workshops that focused on their resiliency, skills and strengths and did some team-building exercises. They also reviewed several case studies of student issues such as homesickness and lack of finances and then investigated on campus to find the resources that would address those problems.

“It really allowed us to be more aware of issues we will encounter and then to locate the resources. It’s great to have that heads-up,” Hayer said.
As well, a few faculty members have coffee with the students to share helpful tips in applying classroom concepts to research and volunteer work.

As she finishes her first term at the U of A and heads home for a Christmas break, Hayer feels more confident as a student, has better skills in time management and classroom writing and, as a result, feels she earns better marks.

“I’m also more aware of making time for a healthy balance of life and study.”
In January, the TURN students come together again to create a community project for Lister Centre’s 1,800 residents, Buddel said. “The group wants to do something positive for the students who live on campus.”

Though the group hasn’t decided yet what the project will be, Hayer can’t wait. “Our first semester was all about adapting. The second semester will be about application—taking some of what we learned and sharing that.”