It was kismet, or something like it, said Jana Luker.
“I was so impressed with what I saw on paper before I even applied. But that idea of having a new position, very forward-facing and student-centred, was really exciting to me. It very much meshes and aligns with my experience and the values I adhere to,” said Luker, the Associate Vice-President (Student Experience), a role she took up June 1.
If you tell her it would appear the position was tailor-made, just for her, she’d agree.
“It feels really comfortable here; it’s like coming home,” she said.
Luker succeeded Angie Mandich, who has served as Acting AVP (Student Experience) since the new portfolio was created in April 2014.
She comes to Western by way of McGill University, where she served as Executive Director (Services for Students) since 2007. She’s held a number of student-focused leadership positions across Canada, including the University of Guelph, University of Toronto and St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.
Her academic background is in psychology, women’s studies, physical education and health education, having completed degrees at Guelph and Toronto. Luker also has a master of education in counseling psychology from Toronto, where she has undertaken doctoral level work in applied psychology.
“I’ve always been involved in student life, whatever that was. I was very happy in Montreal (at McGill), but I am always looking for something that can be helpful to the vision I have of supporting students,” Luker said.
“It will sound a little ‘kumbaya,’ but that’s a vision of global citizenship, and student support, supporting students in their path to bettering society. That may be ‘Polyanna’ but I believe it will make a difference in universities,” she continued.
What really stuck out about Western, Luker said, was it was already on the same page. There was an obvious commitment to engagement and the student experience built into the university’s culture. Providing the best experience, and continually bettering it, is simply engrained here, she said. And that made her choice to come to Western that much easier.
“There’s a huge emphasis on experiential learning for the student experience here. That was something I’ve been struggling to ensure is engrained in every postsecondary institution I’ve worked at,” she said.
“And here, to have it starting at such a higher level, and being able to push it even further, is exciting. People believe it here – I didn’t have to convince anybody. So far, this has been amazing.”
Luker came into her role looking to start out with an “observational year,” looking for areas in which she can assist. She hopes to invest in a strategic plan specific to her portfolio, which aligns with the university’s plan.
“I want to ensure the vision and the mission of student experience is in line with Western’s. I have amazing staff that are so on board with this,” Luker noted.
As for upcoming challenges, Luker nodded toward two growing concerns on university campuses across Canada – mental health and sexual violence. These issues are already very much on the radar at Western, but it remains important to evolve our services as student needs evolve, she explained.
“The biggest excitement for me is how well Western is already doing in so many of the student-engagement programs. That’s really exciting to have that already. What we do, we do really well. All the rankings say that. To be able to take what is exceptional and respond to even more nuanced needs is such an opportunity that you don’t get often,” Luker said.
“But the best is getting to work with students every day. I have the best job in the world – I do what I love, every day.”