UAlberta welcomes students back to school

(Edmonton) As the 105th year of classes gets underway at the University of Alberta Sept. 4, the expectation remains that the 2013-14 school year will build on and surpass the previous 104 years of academic excellence.

“I am excited to welcome new and returning students to the University of Alberta. With our world-class programs, facilities and faculty, they have made an excellent choice to continue their education here,” said President Indira Samarasekera. “A university experience is truly about what you put into it, so I challenge our students to make the most of it, to immerse themselves in our campus community and to bring their very best in their extracurricular activities, studies and other pursuits.”

For her part, Lisa Collins, the university’s new registrar and vice-provost, can’t wait to flip the switch on her first year and welcome the more than 37,600 students walking on the five campuses that make up the institution and enrolled in 5,777 classes in the fall semester.

“This is the time when our campus truly comes alive, when the spirit of this place is most evident,” said Collins, who came to the U of A by way of 18 years at the University of British Columbia. “I really love the energy on this campus already.”

Although the bulk of students, 71.14 per cent, call Alberta home, the U of A population will include more than 3,800 students from every province and all three territories in Canada and an international contingent from 142 different countries that makes up about 18.7 per cent of the student body.

The Faculty of Science is the largest faculty on campus in 2013-14 with 6,409 undergraduate students, followed by arts (6,010) and engineering (4,124).

Enrolment in the university’s graduate programs stands at more than 6,200 students, of whom 1,632 are new grad students and 109 are Aboriginal students. As well, more than 6,400 students will be taking classes at the U of A for the first time. Collins says the university had a record 31,000 high school and transfer applicants, which represents a 4.8 per cent increase over last year and a 16 per cent increase since 2009.

“There are many reasons students might choose the University of Alberta. We have a proud tradition of academic excellence, strong community connections within Edmonton and Alberta, as well as a national and international presence,” said Collins. “Applicants to post-secondary institutions have more options than ever before. For those who will now join us at the University of Alberta, I feel this is the best choice they could have made.”

The 2013-14 academic year will also see the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry continue its 100th birthday celebrations, while the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences prepares for its centenary in 2014.

Student Connect: A better way to serve students

The U of A is launching a new student service model Sept. 4 with the intent of streamlining the way students navigate the Office of the Registrar.

Called Student Connect, the idea revolves around new student-focused space in the Administration Building designed to serve students and visitors more effectively.

Collins says the space itself has become more accommodating thanks to a redesign, a technological update and an improved queuing system, but there is also change in the ways students are served by the Student Connect advisers.

“When students and visitors come in the door, we have greeters available,” said Collins, adding students shouldn’t have to stand in line only to find out they’re in the wrong place. “Sometimes it’s just wayfinding—‘I’m looking for this building, can you point me in the right direction.’ Once we confirm they’re in the right place, a Student Connect adviser can manage many questions and transactions over the course of one interaction.”

Student Connect, which had been in the works for two years before its soft launch in July, also incorporates a ticketing system that routes services better and allows students who have a quick transaction to be served faster.

Collins says one of the most interesting things about Student Connect is that it will be responsive to student needs. “The new tools that allow us to get students to the right person as soon as possible also allow staff to measure wait times and peak service times, which will allow us to customize our staffing.”

As well, if there is a question that students are asking again and again, Collins says there is now an opportunity for her staff to post the answer online, hopefully saving students a trip. “These new tools will allow us to constantly refine the service,” she said. “Bottom line, students shouldn’t need to know how the registrar’s office organizes itself. Our plan is to provide as broad a range of services as possible in one place at one time—that’s why we developed Student Connect.”