UAlberta staffers lauded for lending students a hand

From career advice and course scheduling to help with theory and textbooks, this year’s staff award winners are leaders at supporting learners.


Making the University of Alberta a caring, creative place where students can flourish is top of mind for this year’s winners of two human resource awards.

Four staffers from across campus received either the university’s Excellence in Leadership Award or the Excellence in Learning Support Award for their day-in, day-out commitment to making the U of A a great place to work and learn.

From answering late-night student emails to tracking down library books, Amy Roy Gratton, Sherri Kessels, Goetz Dapp and Angie Mandeville all love their daily work: lending students a helping hand.

They are among top faculty, students and staff who were recognized at the U of A’s annual Celebrate! Teaching. Learning. Research. event at the Myer Horowitz Theatre Sept. 21.


Roy Gratton, a career education co-ordinator in the U of A’s Career Centre, has spent 10 years in various roles there, helping students and newly minted grads get paid and unpaid work experience, find jobs and launch careers. She received the 2016 Excellence in Learning Support Award, recognizing members of the university community whose role does not involve teaching but who still contribute to the student learning experience.

Roy Gratton organizes several events geared towards student success, including U of A Job Shadow Week held twice a year during Reading Week, various speakers’ series about career options, a summer career camp for high-school students and a career mentoring program designed to connect students and post-doctoral fellows with mentors. Each year she makes about 600 cold calls to recruit hosts and mentors, places 400 students, alumni and post-docs in job-shadowing and matches about 30 students and post-docs per year with career mentors.

“I love the problem-solving aspect of this job,” she said. “Meeting the students where they are at, where they are coming from. That’s what challenges me.”

Roy Gratton works to make sure everyone who turns to the Career Centre for help is well served. She takes the time to listen to their specific wish lists of needs, wants and anxieties, then tries to match them with a job shadow or mentor who can relate.

“I find that made-up person, the one they’ve imagined in their mind, that person they aspire to be. I find and train the mentors and set up the match so that they feel supported.”

Her goal is to make sure graduates leave the U of A with resilience. “I want them to understand that even a job you love is going to be hard, it’s going to be challenging. So how do you build that resilience so you know how to self-reflect, ask yourself what you learned and what you will try next time. Because without self-reflection they are going to do the same thing over and over again.

“I want to create an experience at the University of Alberta where students can graduate thinking, ‘I mattered. I was there, I studied, I left an impression,’” said Roy Gratton. “I want my level of service to speak to that, to let students know they are here because they matter. We want to make those four years stand out for them so they can feel like they were supported.”

‘Dent Mom’ to the rescue

Affectionately known as “Dent Mom” by students in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, Kessels, the second recipient of the Excellence in Learning Support Award, is there for them as they navigate a demanding academic workload while juggling a work-life balance.

Kessels is supervisor for academic teaching services in the School of Dentistry. As such, she’s the go-to person for students who need a bit of advice, offering kind words and encouragement when the going gets tough.

“I get called their ‘Dent Mom’ because I care about them and what is going on in their lives, and I worry about them just like their real moms would,” said Kessels, who has been in her job for five years. Involved with most aspects of the undergraduate dental program, including course scheduling, academic standing and student issues like absence and well-being, she is keenly aware of their need for support, whether it’s in the form of giving a pep talk, answering a course question or writing a reference letter for entry to a graduate program.

“I tell the students I’m like a one-stop shopping centre. If there’s a question or a problem, I’m usually the first person they come to for help. I’m there to provide them with support as they go through a very challenging academic program and I love that they come to me for advice and reassurance, and that I can provide that for them.”

A beloved face on the floor, Kessels is introduced to parents and spouses, and is often one of the first to be told about marriage proposals, new babies and other good news students can’t wait to share with her. “I’m viewed as a confidante and I work hard to maintain their trust in me. They know I work hard for them and they appreciate it.”

Knowing that she helps the students get through their ups and downs while they get their degrees is satisfying. “When a student who has had a lot of challenges and issues during the dentistry program—whether health-related, academic or personal—is able to continue and graduate as a healthy, confident practitioner ready to take on the world, I know I had a part in getting them to that point. It’s great to know that what I’m doing is important.”

Fusing theory and practice

Also recognized for his commitment to the U of A was Goetz Dapp, program manager of the Canadian Centre for Welding and Joining (CCWJ). He received an Excellence in Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding leaders or leadership teams for maintaining the quality of the university’s work and learning environment.

Dapp has overseen CCWJ for almost two years, aiding Faculty of Engineering students in the art and discipline of joinery. Backed by a PhD in theatre studies earned in Amsterdam and some time as a sessional instructor in the U of A’s Department of Drama, Dapp fosters a creative team environment while juggling a host of everyday responsibilities, from managing budgets and fixing equipment to working with students on research projects. The mix is what he enjoys most about his job.

“I have the practical aspects I need to be happy. I’m a hands-on person but I also like the theory side of things, so I am fascinated by the interdisciplinary aspects of what we do.” He got into the art of welding by learning how to make pyrotechnic devices for his theatre work. Now, he guides students in fusing together the practical science and the art of welding.

“You have deep scientific principles at the core, and the actual welding takes place in the space of a few millimetres, but when you start digging into it, this whole universe opens up.”

Dapp’s goal is to make sure students graduate with a deep appreciation for both theory and practice “so they have an applied perspective but with a fundamental knowledge of what it takes to do the job.” He’s proud of what they accomplish—several of them are scholarship winners. In addition, CCWJ has won several awards, including recognition as the only engineering program and one of only two Canadian representatives to receive a prestigious award of excellence from the American Welding Society and the Welding Equipment Manufacturers Committee.

Dapp credits everyday teamwork with CCWJ’s success and though he’s honoured to receive a U of A award, he considers it shared. “We have an amazing group of students, faculty and a very collaborative group spirit. This award is an indication we are headed in the right direction and it’s an achievement of the whole group.”

Booked for success

Angie Mandeville, a public service manager with University of Alberta Libraries, also received an Excellence in Leadership Award. Responsible for the Cameron Science and Technology Library and the Winspear Business Library service desks, Mandeville and her busy team serve “anyone who walks through the doors” including students, faculty, staff, alumni and the general public.

Connecting all comers with more than 4.4 million printed and electronic titles (the U of A is home to Canada’s second-largest academic research library) means that every working day for Mandeville is a page-turner. Daily duties range from helping a student track down a peer-reviewed paper for an assignment to showing a client how to use one of the library’s many printers, and everything in between.

“I love that everyday I learn something new,” said Mandeville, who began her job in 2012 and has been a campus librarian since graduating from the School of Library and Information Studies in 2003.

“How lucky am I that I get to talk to students and help them every day? I love the feeling that you get when you help someone because that’s what we are here to do. We have it all over our library website: ‘Ask us, ask us.’”

Serving the U of A’s thousands of students has given Mandeville insight into the challenges they face, and she and her team are constantly working to make it easier for students to hit the books. For instance, after hearing concerns about the high cost of textbooks, the library worked with its student advisory committee to purchase some for students to borrow short-term instead of having to buy them. Video cameras and laptops will also soon be available.

Lending that kind of support—along with books—is a great feeling for Mandeville and her co-workers. “When I see students during convocation, I’m reminded that by providing resources and spaces, we play a part in their journey of getting that degree, of finishing that project, of publishing that article. We’re really invested in that.”