Chris Alleyne fondly recalls his days as a student in residence at Western; and, today, he is head of the portfolio, as the new Associate Vice-President of Housing & Ancillary Services. The former Assistant Director (Residence Engagement) within Housing and Ancillary Services was recently named to London’s Top 20 Under 40, as identified by London Inc. magazine – an honour awarded to young leaders who make a difference in the community. His dedication to his work nabbed him a Western Award of Excellence in 2014. His professionalism and personable nature have made him a recognizable face around campus, particularly during move-in week when he made an effort to meet as many incoming students and parents as possible. Alleyne, HBA’03, talked with Western News about the new post and his personal experiences in residence.
What is your best university memory or residence experience?
Every Wednesday, my friends and I would enjoy our weekly ritual (along with half of campus, it seemed!) and walk from Saugeen to the UCC to listen and sing with Rick McGhie at The Wave (yes, this was Rick’s previous home prior to his current performances at The Spoke). Most weeks seemed inconsequential – but the camaraderie, connection and weekly tradition hold a special place in my heart.
What does your new role entail?
Leading three revenue-generating business units on campus, including Housing, Hospitality and Retail Services. These three areas generate over $110 million in revenue every year and employ 900 dedicated staff members.
What changes would you like to see/implement?
Hospitality Services has an opportunity to identify new ways to meet the evolving needs of our students’ palates. Our student body is changing, reflecting a more diverse international population. I’d love to look for ways to offer more authentic food options, that include dim sum, bubble tea, phở, and poké.
How has rez food changed over time?
Residence food is much more customized and diversified than when I went to school. Back in the day, your only options were the hot line choices or sandwich bar. We’ve since added daily interactive options, fresh sushi, a burrito bar, Mongolian grill, and homemade pizza, to augment our six-week menu cycle. Not to mention the salad bar, soup bar and deli. I eat 99 per cent of my lunches in the residence dining hall, and have been known to take rez food home for dinner for my family from time to time.
What are some challenges you anticipate?
For Retail Services, the Campus Bookstore industry faces some real challenges. It sees growing competition from the likes of the Amazon and Facebook marketplace, and a trend towards faculty using more timely research materials rather than traditional textbooks. We’ll need to continue to expand and diversify our product and service offerings beyond course materials.
Student housing is also evolving. We face more and more off-campus competition, with purpose-built student accommodations being offered by private developers, alongside high vacancy rates in the student rental market. We can’t assume that students will automatically choose to live on-campus anymore. It’ll be imperative to market the intangible benefits to our potential students – the sense of community, peer interactions, and leadership opportunities one experiences living on campus.
What’s the best part of your job?
Getting to work with students every day!
What motivates you most?
Seeing our students walk across the stage at convocation. It brings me immense satisfaction knowing our team was part of the student’s journey to get them to this point. Whether it was supporting their transition to university in residence, serving their morning double-double before class every day or ensuring their course materials were available throughout the year, our division’s staff members support them every step of the way.
What separates the Western rez experience from other universities?
While we have outstanding facilities and amenities that are the envy of many other institutions, our staff are the ‘special sauce’ that make the residence experience exemplary. Regular housekeeping establishes a familiar presence on each residence floor, with students getting to know their floor caretakers very well. Western-operated dining halls encourage our Hospitality staff to build relationships with our students – getting to know their daily coffee order or favourite condiment at the deli. Our 24/7 front desks ensure our reception staff recognize and engage students regularly when entering our buildings.
These daily touchpoints with staff and services make Western unique – it moves our team past seeing students as “just a number” and builds a culture of caring amongst our staff, who want to support and see our students succeed.