Jennie Massey knows she is right for this – and she’s ready to hit the ground running.
Appointed to a five-year term as Associate Vice-President (Student Experience), starting Aug. 13, Massey brings to Western her extensive experience in the North American academic sector, having intentionally situated her career at the intersection of student and academic affairs.
“I am really interested in integrated approaches to learning where we are bridging the curricular and co-curricular experiences in really seamless ways. When we provide opportunities for students to connect and reflect on what they are learning inside the classroom in an applied context, that’s really where true transformational learning can occur,” said Massey, who is currently Director of Student Life at Memorial University of Newfoundland, a portfolio she has led since 2015.
“One of the things that struck me while I was on (Western’s) campus visiting over the past several weeks and months is Western has all of the ingredients to truly be the best student experience in Canada. There has been some sustained and intentional investment into student experience over time, but of course, this organizational structure is still fairly young. There’s a need and an opportunity to really bring together the various programs, resources and supports that empower students to thrive on a university campus in a very cohesive way.”
Massey holds an honours BA in geography from Kings College London (U.K.), an MA in urban political geography from the University of Illinois, and a PhD in geography and planning from Queen’s University.
As a student affairs scholar-practitioner, her research is focused on the geographies of higher education, with special interests in access, retention and persistence. Her work examines the impact of co-curricular experiences on student learning and engagement, particularly for marginalized student populations.
“I’m really interested in taking a thriving approach to student engagement and student success. For many, many years, postsecondary institutions in Canada and the United States, and of course in Europe, as well, have taken more of a deficit approach to education. And by that, I mean, ‘Here are all the reasons why Student X is unsuccessful on our campus’– maybe it’s because they are a first-generation student, or they’re an international student, or because their first language isn’t English. You see a lot of discussions and narratives that focus on a deficit perspective,” Massey noted.
“I’m interested in turning that inside out and really thinking about all the ways in which we can organize our campuses to ensure all students can be successful.”
She sees her new role role as being “a catalyst” that will help move forward some of the aspirations Western has had for some time, she said, something she hopes to accomplish by engaging the entire community. Massey is a “real big advocate” of advisory groups and having students, staff and faculty offering regular input on ways to improve the student experience – whether it is first-year programming or career advising or entrepreneurship – because “each area of the institution has distinctive knowledge and experiences” that together, can help offer a well-rounded, enriching experience for the student body, she explained.
Some of the more recent literature and research in the area of student experience has focused on student thriving, Massey added. We know from research there are key areas universities can invest in, and if they do, they create environments and cultivate learning opportunities in which all students can be successful.
“These are things like academic determination, students who are confident in their abilities and apply their strengths towards personal and academic goals; engaged learning, students who are energized and invested in learning – and the focus of Western right now on experiential learning really fits nicely in that area,” Massey said.
“There’s positive perspective, students who are hopeful in their future and confident in their capacity to learn from challenges and we foster that in the way we interact with students. We find ways for them to harness and unleash their potential through a strength-based approach. There’s social connectedness, students need friends, relationships and mentors and diverse citizenship and they want to be instruments of change in their communities and careers. They see themselves as making the world a better place.”
Prior to joining Memorial, Massey held several student-focused leadership positions in Canada and the United States, including roles at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), the University of Windsor, Queen’s University and Baylor University, where she was Assistant Dean (Student Learning & Engagement) from 2011-15.
“Western is a large and somewhat decentralized institution. It’s going to be particularly challenging to find ways to bring everybody on the same page and get everybody moving at least in a similar direction. But with that also comes really distinctive opportunities, for example, the kinds of resources and supports available under the purview of the Student Experience file, I get all the ingredients needed to create that kind of environment,” she said.
Planning her move to London with her husband Kyle and their two children – William 13, and Olivia, 11 – Massey added the family is particularly excited to cheer for the Mustangs.
“Jennie will provide creative and effective leadership for this important portfolio as it continues to focus attention and resources on building Western’s brand as a destination of choice for the world’s brightest minds seeking the best learning experience at a leading Canadian research university,” said Janice Deakin, Western’s Provost & Vice-President (Academic).
Created in April 2014, the Student Experience portfolio works to “encourage student engagement and to enhance overall student life at Western.” The Associate Vice-President (Student Experience) oversees a number of high-profile areas, including Sports and Recreation, Indigenous Services, Entrepreneurship Centre (Propel), Student Development Centre, Student Success Centre, and the Wellness Education Centre. Student Experience also collaborates with the University Students’ Council, Society of Graduate Students and other departments across campus.
Massey follows Jana Luker to the position full time. Rick Ezekiel served as Interim Senior Director (Student Experience) during the past year.
“Rick has assumed many additional senior-level responsibilities over and above his role as Director (Research, Assessment & Planning). He has been instrumental in advancing many important files within the portfolio, all the while undertaking full-time doctoral studies,” Deakin said. “I am immensely grateful for his expertise and dedication, and I ask my colleagues to join me in thanking Rick and wishing him all the best for continued success in his work and scholarly activities.”