New program looks to ease university transitions

A program initially designed to aid first-year Health Sciences students may ease stress levels for students across all faculties as the program makes its campuswide debut this fall.

Western 1010 is a universitywide pilot program designed to give all first-year students a head start in transitioning to university life. Each online unit, accessed via OWL, is designed to enable students to navigate through university policies and procedures, provide basic skills and tips for success, while encouraging students to assume responsibility for their academic careers from day one.

“We’re taking the services to the students,” said Kinesiology professor Kevin Wamsley, Health Sciences associate dean (undergraduate programs). “We want students to succeed. We want them to not be stressed out about their university experience. We want to assure them they are going to be looked after and, if they take responsibility for their academic programming, everything is going to be just fine.”

Currently, six units are posted, with seven more coming online soon.

On the academic side, Western 1010 teaches students about topics like course selection, academic integrity, navigating the library system, how to write a university-level essay, even how to learn from their exam errors. On the service side, students will explore the university’s offerings when it comes to health and wellness, campus safety, mental health, as well as internship, service learning and career help.

“This is a proactive program, which really enhances the student experience. It doesn’t leave anything to chance,” Wamsley said. “This is Western diving in there and bringing these great services to the students.”

The program’s origin stretches back to last year, when Health Sciences academic counselors noticed a disturbing trend.

“The idea came out of front-line people who said, ‘We are being swamped by students who are stressed out and they all have similar kinds of questions. We don’t know why they are stressed, but this whole generation is stressed out,’” Wamsley said. “That’s all people were talking about.”

In response, Health Sciences developed a series of in-person mini-lectures covering areas where new students struggle most. The faculty made attendance for the lectures mandatory for first-year students.

Student feedback out of that event, along with growing interest among other faculties for a similar program, drove Western 1010 online for greater accessibility and convenience.

“It’s really good information to have,” said Angie Mandich, associate vice-president (student experience), who, along with John Doerksen, vice-provost (academic programs), are charged with overseeing program. “For instance, take the info on careers. We have students who get to fourth year who don’t know what we have to offer by way of career support. It is important for students to know we have all these tools together for them. Western 1010 makes it quite explicit to students.

“But it’s important to keep in mind it’s a work in progress, and will change over time. We’ll add on more and more information as we go.”

Wamsley said the production values of the videos will change, and become more uniform over time with the help of Western’s Instructional Technology Resource Centre.

Currently, the units are not mandatory, but are highly recommended. A decision to make the program mandatory falls to the university Senate.