The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union executive has been hard at work this summer in preparation for the 2014-15 school year. The executive has set some ambitious goals which they hope will enhance the student experience.
“Having done this once before, I knew what to expect,” said USSU president Max FineDay. FineDay, now serving his second term as president, said that students can expect to see a host of new programs and initiatives this year.
FineDay emphasized the need for all colleges to adopt a first-term reading week, citing a decline in students’ mental wellness due to being stressed and overworked. Some colleges, including many of the health sciences, have not adopted a first-term break.
The open textbook program is another project that FineDay began last year that he would like to see go a bit further.
“I’ll be lobbying with government and sitting on a provincial advisory group and speaking with faculty about what open educational resources are and how they can adopt them for their classes in hopes of saving students a significant amount of money,” FineDay said.
The construction of a new childcare center is also a priority for FineDay. He said he would like to see the university honour their commitment to childcare and to see a significant expansion in the number of spaces available to students.
Childcare “is one of our top priorities as the USSU and of my personal top priorities as the president,” FineDay said. “It’s something the student union has been pushing for years now, and we’ve seen no action on it.”
FineDay is also focused on the selection of a new university president. Following the firing of Ilene Busch-Vishniac from the position in May, former Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Gordon Barnhart was appointed as acting president of the university until a new incumbent is chosen. Although the USSU is not directly responsible for this decision, FineDay plans to push for a greater student voice to be heard during the process.
“We have to make sure that the person is student-focused and has a vision for what the university should be,” FineDay said. “We want to see a successful university in terms of research but we also need to make sure our president doesn’t lose sight of students.”
Vice-president academic affairs Desirée Steele similarly hopes to accomplish several major goals this year. One of these goals is to see an increase in co-ops, internships, study abroad and undergraduate research on campus.
“Something I mentioned a lot in my campaign was experiential learning opportunities,” Steele said. “These opportunities are growing across Canada for students, and they’re growing in importance in terms of what it looks like once you graduate and what opportunities there are for you.”
Steele says she would like the see the administration follow up on its proposed goal of expanding these opportunities by 20 per cent.
“I want to make sure those opportunities are distributed,” Steele said. “You shouldn’t have to be an engineering student to do a co-op or a social science student to be able to do undergraduate research.”
Another priority for Steele is to boost student engagement efforts. According to Steele, the problem with the student consultation that occurred last year is that students didn’t have the information they needed in order to provide the feedback they were asked for.
“We want to give students the opportunity to make their voices heard, and give them the information to make informed contributions to those decisions,” Steele said. “Students need actual content to chew on and not just rhetoric.”
Steele plans to use multiple approaches to the engagement issue, including increased consultation with college councils.
“I’m hoping to try some new things and look for better approaches,” Steele said. “There were two or three town halls last year… I really wanted to go but I couldn’t make any of them. That’s not effective. That doesn’t provide the integrity of decision making that we want to see from our university.”
Steele believes that a more constructive way of making change is to meet directly with representatives from college councils about issues in those colleges.
Vice-president operations and finance Elias Nelson plans to focus on eliminating redundancy within USSU policies so that information is accessible to students in a clear, concise and accommodating manner. This includes revising the Campus Groups Policy as well as the Campus Groups Guide — documents which outline the protocol for creation, ratification and conduct of campus groups — and consolidating them into a single document.
“Right now we have various sources of information for student groups, but they tell you different things,” Nelson said. “It’s not perfectly clear about what is absolutely required and what is suggested.”
Nelson hopes that making this information more comprehensible will expedite the process for student groups trying to ratify. He also would like to change the funding policy to allow students to apply for greater amounts of funding than in previous years by giving the executive more flexibility in granting money to campus groups.
Another priority for Nelson is lobbying public transit to lengthen the U-Pass terms for professional colleges.
“The U-Pass does not extend into the end of their term, and they’re left with a gap in service that I find to be unacceptable,” Nelson said.
Vice-president student affairs Jack Saddleback plans to focus on mental health issues and services for students for the upcoming year by using a more well-rounded approach to mental wellness.
Saddleback plans to draw inspiration from the Jack Project, a mental health initiative based out of Queen’s University. The program is named after Jack Windeler, a first year Queen’s student who died by suicide in 2010. A mental health awareness week is scheduled for Nov. 3–7 and will feature a host of interactive educational games which aim to destigmatize mental health issues in a fun and engaging way.
“People are not susceptible to talking about mental health when it’s seen as such a downer,” Saddleback said. “We want to do it in a fun way where people are going to be more open to talking about mental health. One of the things I love about this campaign is how engaging it is for students of all walks of life.”
Returning to campus after two successful years is Speed Friending. Slated for Sept. 11 from 4-6 p.m. in Louis’ Loft, the event aims to bring people together in a fun and exciting way.
“It’s like speed dating, but just for friends,” Saddleback said.
The USSU will also be hosting Sustainability Week from Oct. 20–24, which will focus on highlighting already existing sustainability initiatives on campus and encouraging students to keep being sustainable.
“I’m super pumped for this year,” Saddleback said. “It’s going to be an amazing time.”