By Sujaya Devi, Design Research Team Lead (Student Life), and Cynthia Zheng, Writer
Each student’s journey through the university is unique. Yet most students spend a significant amount of time on campus—going to classes, studying at the library, hanging out with friends—and the services, resources, and student services at the university play a crucial role in their experiences. Among other services, the Division of Student Life handles Health and Wellness, the Centre for International Experience, the Career Centre, Academic Success, and Housing, and thus it provides a space for students to get support and strengthen skills, including mentorship, leadership, and time management.
The cornerstone of our approach at the Innovation Hub is “students talking to other students.” We believe that peers relate to each other more openly and advocate for each other more strongly and that peer-based support both provides comfort and leads to change. This belief invigorates all our projects, including our upcoming partnership with the Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, in which we are leading student consultations to gather perspectives about mental health on campus. While I, as a staff member, am coordinating this project, students are co-leading the initiative with me.
How do students understand and navigate the University’s programs and services? How might students become active participants in the process that the Division of Student Life uses to design and redesign programs, services, resources, and spaces? What could meaningful student engagement look like in this process?
What happens to all the interviews and data that the Innovation Hub collects? Over the past three years, over 450 students and staff have shared their experiences with our teams. We are honoured that so many were willing to entrust us with their stories and experiences, which helped us identify their needs, suggest and prototype services and supports, and contribute to substantive changes at U of T through over a dozen collaborative projects. The interviews and feedback we receive are the basis from which we advocate for change in all our collaborations, including the New College Dining Hall redesign, the Family Care Office projects, and the classroom redesign under the Transforming the Instructional Landscape Project.
“What simple things could U of T do to be more family-friendly?” We asked this question at our participatory action event last month, in which we sought the voices of student parents and their solutions to the challenges they face at U of T.
Student parents are a growing group of students at the University of Toronto, and they face unique challenges that are invisible to those who do not share their experiences. These challenges create emotional and mental pressures which are exasperated by the limited support available for their practical needs.
To capture these challenges and the overall experiences of student parents at the university, the Innovation Hub partnered with the Family Care Office last year. Through that partnership, we showed that student parents are often unable to find a sense of belonging during their time at U of T. A sense of belonging is important for forming meaningful interpersonal connections, better coping with school and life challenges, and deriving comfort from the knowledge that one is not alone.
Social and Cultural Community at First Nations House
Written by Charis Lam – Design Research Events Lead
In search of factors driving student engagement, First Nations House partnered with the Innovation Hub in summer 2018 to ask: what causes students and staff to engage and connect with First Nations House? Among the factors identified—including assistance with scholarships and housing, personal relationships to staff members. and access to the resource centre—cultural and social programming emerged as a need strongly felt by students. Thus, First Nations House and the Innovation Hub renewed their partnership to investigate what sorts of social and cultural programming students want.
Written by Rachel Davis: Design Research Team Lead for the Trademark Licensing Team
University of Toronto’s Trademark Licensing Department began their partnership with the Innovation Hub in the Summer of 2018 to better understand the ways in which a sense of school pride can be fostered in the lives of students. During this previous partnership, themes such as “survival” and “fragmentation” emerged from the research to describe students’ perception of the university experience. The Innovation Hub continued this partnership during the 2018-2019 academic year to expand on these themes and to better understand student pride at U of T.
By Monique Gill, Innovation Hub Big Ideas Team Member – Neighbourhood Communities
Diversity is a quality that is celebrated widely across the University of Toronto campuses. Our Neighbourhood Communities team is looking at ways in which we can harness the diversification of our student population, and more specifically student neighbourhoods, to better cultivate student connection and U of T spirit. By collecting data on our student’s geographical areas, we are looking at the feasibility developing a platform that would allow U of T students to meet up in their very own neighbourhoods to facilitate student self-organization like social events, study groups, and ride sharing.
By Elvis Ibrahimovic, Fostering Connectedness Team Member
There is nothing more exciting than talking with students! Almost as exciting, was spending a morning speaking with colleagues, students, and other stakeholders about students! As someone who professionally identifies as ‘student-centred’, it was a thrill to focus in on a student (persona) during our Share back sessions. Personas are based on and represent real people, however all identifying information such as their real name and program of study are sanitized to protect their identity.