U of T Concierge: Interviewing for Innovation

By Chelsea Kowalski, Innovation Hub Big Ideas Team Member & 4th Year English Student

Over the course of an undergraduate degree, the average student will spend four years here. I’m along that track right now. Four years of needs and wants, questions and curiosities, tricks and campus hacks. But I- like every student- have come to discover that four years is not enough to learn it all. There is always another resource, another group, another organization I never knew existed before that might have been helpful. This is where the UofT Concierge idea could make a difference.

The concept of UofT Concierge is to form a one-stop resource information centre, a task attempted in many ways before. I’m sure you’ve seen programs like ASKme or the new StudentLife app, which can usually point any student in the right direction for the resource they need. But the idea isn’t to replace any current programs and resources, but to bring them together to make the process easier for students to find what they need.

I’m a volunteer for the team of staff and students devoted to exploring the viability of this idea to meet student needs. We have been focused on learning more about student needs, what already exists, and more importantly, what doesn’t. The main questions have revolved around what will work best: a physical location or an online presence, covering all services or starting small, student-run or staff-run or both. There are a lot of questions that must be asked to inform our recommendation, especially when answers to these questions will impact all students. To make sure we had the needed information, everyone on my team branched out and interviewed different people in various positions and roles, who all had experience with responding to student needs.

I had the pleasure of interviewing three different people from student life organizations. I was happy to interview those I did because I had spent some time admiring their work during my undergrad here. My current boss, Colin Henderson, the Residence and Student Life Assistant at University College, was the first person that came to my mind for this interview as he has dealt with more student issues than you can imagine in his six years here. I also reached out to a current Don for a University College residence, Reid Senga, to get a student-staff perspective. Talking with these front line workers, the main obstacle that UofT Concierge may face became clear: every student wants to succeed here, but without a magic formula, many aren’t sure how to make their own. Fortunately, my third interviewee, Rahul Bhat, a Learning Strategies Specialist at Accessibility Services, had some advice to share.

Bhat’s theory on student success could be boiled down to three main things:  A sense of community and belonging, hard skills- both academic and social, and an in with a staff member.

“A community can help you see yourself here. Hard skills, both academic -taking notes, time management, talking to professors- and the social learning about how things work here, like campus navigation, are key as well. And the third thing is a connection to someone who’s here full-time as staff and knows enough to direct you.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to see this project grow from a fairy-tale dream to the beginnings of a viable recommendation. I’m hoping I get to see some of the results before I graduate next year, because UofT Concierge would have helped me as a confused first-year, clueless about what campus had to offer. Regardless of how UofT Concierge evolves and develops into a bigger and known tool for the university, one thing will remain the same throughout the process—the students and their needs.

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