The Student Life E-Connect Newsletter allows the senior leadership of Student Life to share insights into recent events and news within the division.
Dear Student Life Colleagues,
I was searching for information in UBbox recently when I ran across a file we have unfortunately been using quite a lot these days. Simply entitled COVID-19, the file created back in March intended to house just a few COVID related communications moving into the summer. Who could have predicted that over the course of the next six months, and hundreds of files later, that we would be entering this strange new chapter in higher education?
March 11, 2020 was just another one of your typical Wednesday afternoons at UB, but as students, faculty and staff would soon learn, on this day, it would prove to be anything but typical. With President Tripathi’s announcement that under the unique and uncertain circumstances UB would be moving to remote learning, our lives and ultimately the way we do our jobs would change forever.
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I am reminded of a saying that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” and admittedly over the past year I have experienced some of the same fears, frustrations and uncertainties you have. That said, I have also witnessed firsthand how incredibly lucky we all are to collaborate with colleagues who continually work for the benefit of the students they serve.
From a virtual commencement to innovative ways to engage students, both virtually, and in person, we have met the challenges head-on. During this entire period, I have been guided by the expertise of our Health Services staff and have gratitude for their counsel and leadership during this global health crisis. Equally impressive, Student Life delivered a completely online Orientation program this summer, transitioned student wellness to virtual support systems, served unprecedented number of students through our emergency fund and Blue Table and together we created a comprehensive, one-stop Student Guide website providing students up-to-date information and tips on navigating the UB experience for this unique fall opening.
And as we enter the fall, the hard-working dedicated staff in Campus Living and Campus Dining and Shops are successfully welcoming almost 5,000 students safely into our residence halls, are prepared to offer care and accommodation for our positive student cases and have re-imagined students on-campus dining experience, among many other accomplishments.
I believe we are in a good place to start the semester, but we must be committed and prepared to provide our students with the best possible UB experience, no matter the circumstances.
None of us could have ever imagined that this was how the fall semester would unfold, but I ask for your continued hard work and support over the weeks and months to come. Please consider joining your fellow colleagues and me in taking the UB pledge, a shared commitment to protecting yourself and others as we enter the fall.
Looking back, we have all accomplished so much during this time, not only at work, but away from the office as well. There is certainly much to celebrate. With that in mind, our professional development staff in Student Life had the wonderful idea to commemorate your personal accomplishments over the past months by documenting your life moments in the video at the top right of this letter. I think we can all agree that it really puts things into perspective.
Wishing you all the best this semester - and remember, after all we have been through to never take for granted those typical Wednesday afternoons.
Together we are UB!
The summer is the perfect time for us to review and affirm the mission and values that guide our work in Student Life.
We're asking you to take a survey to better understand the impact of our transition to remote learning in the spring and capture feedback and insight that can help us in our planning for the fall. Survey will take no longer than 10 minutes. Please help Student Life create the best possible campus environment for you this fall. Use the link included in your emailed newsletter
Join Student Life for a series of lectures, programs, and panels designed to enhance your professional toolkit, explore our response to the transition to remote learning, and participate in conversations with colleagues around planning for the 2020-2021 Academic Year. Be on the lookout for a registration email coming soon.
As many of you know, I like to hike mountains. On a recent trip to the highest point in New Mexico (Mt. Wheeler), I wasn’t feeling it and turned around. This was a first for me and made me stop and reflect on “why” I have enjoyed mountain climbing so much. That reflection prompted me to also think about the WHY” of our work in Student Life. In my first two and half years in Student Life, I think it is fair to say that I have focused on the "what" and "how" more than the “why.” But why we do what we do in Student Life is the most important guidepost we can have for making critical decisions that inevitably must be made. Accordingly, as you prepare for the opening of Fall 2019, I ask you to consider what you would propose for the “WHY” in Student Life. If you have not already done so, consider sending your ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep up the good work, good luck in the coming days with our students returning, and more to come on the “WHY” in Student Life.
~ A. Scott Weber, Vice President for Student Life
SLIDE participants met with the Dr. Larry Kilman, associate director and professor at the American Graduate School. The students sat in on a UB presentation and its unique approach to experiential learning, which included a discussion about the differences of graduate school in Europe versus the United States.
UB students took a walking tour of the business district in London, which included a brief history of how London was rebuilt after severe fires.
UB students participated in a walking tour through Paris starting at the Eiffel Tower and ending at the Louvre, learning about history and the importance of the Louvre.
On a tour of Oxford, UB students learned that Oxford is more than a University, but most people who live there are working or associated with the University. The guided tour featured the town, University, various movie sets (Harry Potter) and gave students a glimpse into the University's culture.
On a self-guided walking tour of the Palace of Versailles, UB students learned about the residence of Marie Antoinette and the history of her and her family turmoil.
UB students gathered in front of one of the many iconic bridges in London, England during this year's SLIDE trip.
Along with staff advisors Barb Ricotta, Dean of Students and Phyllis Floro, Director of Student Engagement, SLIDE participants visited the Eiffel Tower and learned why it was built, met other tourists, and spent time relaxing and taking in the site.
SLIDE participants visit the London Eye, where you can see the entire city of London from a scenic ferris wheel.
I am very appreciative of the deep commitment of Student Life professionals and our pursuit of improving the student experience. 2019 promises to be a pivotal year for Student Life as a change agent on campus and I look forward to the progress toward our 2019 strategic goals. With the start of the spring semester, Student Life is active across several fronts to further elevate the UB student experience. Three interconnected master plans are currently underway, including reviews of student housing, student unions and wellness on campus.
The student housing planning process conducted by Sasaki Architects is nearing completion with interesting recommendations on how to improve our current housing stock and consideration of new housing along Lee Road. On a similar note, Brailsford and Dunlavey are helping us understand how we might transform our Student Union to deliver a better student experience. Finally, the UB Wellness Master Plan, in collaboration with Cannon Design, is just underway but promises to be a transformational project. And speaking of transformational projects, the conceptual design for One World Café is nearly concluded with construction expected to start later this year.
We are enjoying increased philanthropic support for our students who have more needs than ever. We continue to be great stewards for the student emergency funds provided by the Gerstner Family Foundation and the Heckscher Foundation for Children. A recently completed Food Pantry Task Force has provided recommendations to meet student food insecurity on campus and its recommendations are being implemented for the 2019 spring semester. Philanthropic support of this effort will be critical for its long term sustainability.
After a successful pilot in Student Life, UB’s student employment program, Here to Career, recently launched on campus. This new initiative will infuse every student employment position with purposeful reflection on certain core competencies to ultimately set our students apart in the highly competitive workforce after graduation.
Finally, Student Life is deeply committed to self-reflection regarding its own operations and how best to achieve its priorities. Following a self-study last year, the programming components of Campus Life have joined Student Engagement and the operation of Campus Unions has been established as a separate office. In addition, Career Services is finalizing its long term plan based on its recently completed self-study. Campus Living is currently conducting a self-study to strengthen their operations and long term vision. I'm confident that these strategic initiatives will continue to propel Student Life and our staff toward a successful 2019 and beyond.
With UB commencement weekend in the rear view mirror, Associate Director for Student Engagement Jude Butch and I had the good fortune of travelling to Berlin, Munich, and Vienna with 20 UB students as part of the SLIDE (Student Leadership International Dialogue and Exchange) program. SLIDE provides students from all backgrounds and majors with a better understanding of the world we live in. While gaining a global perspective on international culture, diversity and leadership, students soon realize that most opinions are porous across international boundaries.
Highlights of the 12 day trip included conversations in Berlin with a Muslim Cleric on immigration and refugee status in Europe and its political implications. Other important viewpoints were heard from Amnesty International in Munich and the United Nations in Vienna. In addition to our cultural exchanges, we were fortunate to visit many iconic landmarks and marvel at the effectiveness of their transportation systems.
A capstone moment for our group was the afternoon spent with students from Technical University of Munich (TUM). Gazing over multiple tables of UB students sharing ideas and common experiences with their counterparts proved to be inspirational.
Experiences like this remind us that we have much more in common with the world than points of divergence. Watching our students head out for a shared night on the town with TUM students reinforced to me, the commonalities we all share. Programming such as SLIDE, made possible through Student Life, reinforces our mission to provide UB students the opportunity to build communities and encourage discovery, both here and on a global stage.
Vice President for Student Life Scott Weber and Associate Director for Student Engagement Jude Butch gather with a few SLIDE participants inside the dome at the top of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany.
Landmarks included the Reichstag/Bundestag building in Berlin, Germany which serves as the national Parliament.
After a year in Student Life, I continue to learn about the important and impactful work we do collectively to elevate the student experience at UB. From residence to dining halls, student unions to our health, counseling and wellness offices, from our work in accessibility, orientation, career exploration, entrepreneurship, student conduct, engagement, and veterans, Student Life staff engages our students in meaningful, purposeful, and helpful programs and services, allowing them to grow and prosper. I am excited and energized by our work.
In January, Student Life Directors met to review and share how each office can contribute to the advancement of University and Student Life priorities. The discussion was lively, engaged, and signaled a deep commitment to our goals. The four priorities of Student Life, which we will pursue with determination are:
1) Elevate academic success.
2) Advance student wellness.
3) Promote and understand post-graduation success.
4) Improve our physical environment.
Priority 1 will work to define and improve the first year experience as a component of improving retention and academic success. Our plan for action steps and time lines for the first year experience will be delineated by the end of spring 2018 with implementation to begin immediately.
For priority 2, we have renewed our commitment to build a wellness center on the North Campus and I expect to help shepherd this to fruition within five years. This will be a collaborative project with our students and many campus partners.
In priority 3, Career Services will conclude their self-study this semester, with recommendations for the future. At the end of spring semester 2018, we will launch a more rigorous first destination survey to track graduate outcomes. A pilot study of our Student Employment Initiative is underway as well, with plans to roll out a more robust program in fall 2018.
Finally, priority 4 will offer improvement to our physical environment and the programs they offer. We will conclude Campus Life’s self-study this spring and couple these findings with our recently initiated Student Union master plan, yielding results that will impact the future of both student unions. In addition, set to conclude in fall 2018, the Campus Living master plan will illuminate the future of UB housing. The Global Market Café is under design with construction to start later this year or early next year. 1Capen continues to bring great value benefit to our students and serves as a shining example of what we can achieve together.
In summary, we have big goals and are pursuing them with rigor, integrity and campus-wide collegiality. This is a very exciting time in Student Life and I feel privileged to be a part of this journey with you. I look forward to continuing to share the progress we are making toward these priorities and collectively defining new ones as we continue to achieve success.