Campus meets challenge to support students

Steve Anderson // Special to Western News

Editor’s note: Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

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Students remain at the heart of the university community – even as that community has spread across the globe in recent weeks.

“If we were on campus, we would be coming together to as a community to celebrate, support each other, and have fun. Western does that so well,” said Jennifer Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience). It feels awful not to be able to do that.”

So, her team did the next best thing and moved quickly to bring the campus together – virtually. This week, they launched Thrive Online, a new student-centred site where students can share their own stories in their own words in a virtual campus environment.

“Our students are so good at connecting with each other and that is what defines the Western community. Our strength is our togetherness,” Massey continued.

“It was important that we make space for that in this time – even as we’re apart.”

The loss of physical proximity has not diminished the campus community’s connections with students. From one-on-one acts of simple kindness to sweeping university-wide programs, Western has continued to develop creative ways to connect with and support students during unprecedented times.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for each of us,” said Western President Alan Shepard. “From its earliest days, our first thoughts have been for our students and how we could support them. They have shown amazing resilience in the face of pressures in the present and an uncertainty about the future.”

On March 18, Western cancelled in-person classes and moved students to online learning. Since then, the university has been engaged in a cross-campus effort to maintain support for and connection with students, even as operations moved to an essential services model with the vast majority of staff working from home.

“We understand that the current situation is challenging for our students. We are supporting them on a host of issues to help ease their stress and anxiety,” Shepard said, noting how university and student leaders are working closely to address students’ immediate financial and academic challenges.

“What our community is accomplishing together has been remarkable.”

Numerous efforts to connect and support students have arisen in recent weeks, including:

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

  • Student Relief Fund provides critical resources to students with urgent expenses related to travel, technology, health and wellness, and other unforeseen circumstances.
  • Graduate student summer bursaries provide one-time, needs-based help to full-time PhD students and full-time research master’s students continue their research programs without disruption.
  • Current funding commitments maintained for graduate students regardless of if they can progress in their scholarly activities and/or duties.
  • Some ancillary fees have been eliminated for undergraduate and graduate students for the summer term.
  • A $13.5-million student support fund to take the form of scholarships, bursaries, work-study, summer research opportunities and residence accommodation subsidies with some funds available as early as this summer.
  • International Reimbursement Fund established with $100,000 to assist students who incurred expenses while abroad and have unexpectedly had to return home.
  • International Student Emergency Bursary and Loan Funds available as part the university’s ongoing, regular processes.
  • Summer housing provided for any students at a cost of approximately $600 per month or approximately $150 per week.
  • Due date for graduate summer term tuition extended to June 1. Deadlines for the preliminary thesis submission for Thesis Defense Only (TDO) status in the Summer Term extended to May 29.

INTERNSHIP & JOB OPPORTUNITIES

  • Western Undergraduate Summer Research Internship program creates 220 16-week summer internships open to Main Campus undergraduate students in any faculty, with each faculty receiving an allocation of internships based on its undergraduate enrolment. Initiative helps undergraduates gain experience and secure summer employment.
  • Any summer work study positions that can be located remotely is being maintained in order to ensure as many students as possible have paid employment through the summer. This applies to International Student Work Study program, as well as domestic students.

CONNECTIONS

  • Thrive Online creates a virtual community space for Western students to tell their own stories in their own words.
  • Career Services offerings maintained in full.
  • Digital Student Experience provides a centralized spot for Student Experience programs and supports, as well as those available across the university.

HEALTH AND WELLNESS

As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, so does Western’s response. Visit the university’s official COVID-19 website for the latest updates.