Photo by Keila MacPherson.
Photo by Keila MacPherson.

Changes to the administrative structure of Trent University’s Academic Skills and Careers department should increase student access to the services.

The changes, which will be implemented at the end of the winter term, involve separating the academic skills aspects from the careers component, and instead having a department of Student Transitions and Careers, distributing the academic skills instructors throughout the colleges. The hope is that doing so will increase student access to the services and provide additional opportunity for programming.

The examination of the current department structure follows the departure of the director of Academic Skills and Careers, Kristi Kerford, who has taken the position of Associate Vice-President of Student Services at Fleming College.

“Careers and academic skills are actually quite different,” said Associate Vice-President  Students, Nona Robinson, explaining that the rather odd pairing of services, and the somewhat hidden location in Champlain College, were factors in deciding to make some changes to the administrative structuring.

On the academic skills side, Robinson is looking to increase awareness of the service. “The academic skills advisors are excellent at providing academic skills support for a very wide variety of student needs,” she said, “But people don’t always know that they are there and they don’t always access them.”

Moving Academic Skills Instructors into each of the college offices seems to be a great method for increasing the visibility and accessibility of their services, and doing so provides additional benefits as well. Adding more services to the college offices will encourage more students to make use of them, and will increase their communal element.

“One of the other things that we’ve been looking at over the last little while is really strengthening the colleges and really trying to make the colleges relevant to all students,” Robinson said. “One of the things that I’ve always got in the back of my head is ‘what more can we put in the colleges so as to increase students’ connection to their college, and the likelihood that they will come by the college offices and hopefully participate in programming?’”

The move could also improve the effectiveness of the services, with students being more likely to access them at an earlier time, therefore having a skill-set to apply to their work habits, which should reduce the likelihood of an academic crisis rather than having students seeking such skills only after a crisis has occurred.

The timeliness of the services is also a factor in the changes for the careers department.

“Often they’ll talk to students who are just about to graduate […] at which point it is kind of a bit late,” said Robinson, emphasizing the fact that the earlier a student begins planning their career path, the better.

Having students access the services during earlier years of study “means that we’re helping students think about their academic pathway and their co-curricular pathway a lot earlier” Robinson said.

Hence the creation of the Student Transitions and Careers department, which will work with students from even before they arrive at Trent all the way along to graduation.

However, this is not a tactic to have students lock themselves into a career path before they are ready to do so. Robinson is adamant that Trent University’s disposition to openness and diversity is a rare asset that needs to be embraced.

The idea behind the Student Transitions and Careers department is simply to help guide students through the many options that can be difficult to navigate.

“This [type of department] is not that common, so this is a bit of an experiment,” said Robinson, but noted that she was hopeful that such a change would be successful based on comments from students, faculty, and other staff.

While the details remain to be worked out, the current idea is that while the Academic Skills Instructors will be moving from their current Champlain location into the college offices, the new Student Transitions and Careers department will remain in Champlain, with the Student Affairs information being moved there from Blackburn Hall.

As for the timeframe, the move will be taking place after the end of the semester, so as to not be overly distracting to students and staff.

Initially there will not be drastic changes in the types of services or their hours, with Robinson wanting to let staff “settle in” and “see how it goes” with the new operational structure before potentially making changes to hours and programming.

Currently, Traill College in downtown Peterborough does not have any academic skills services, but Robinson indicated that she has plans to meet with the Traill College Principal’s Advisory Committee and she is “hopeful that [they] can work out some different options for Traill in order to support the students there.”