Western’s new registrar, Marisa Modeski, has seen the campus come alive over the last few weeks as students return to class, her first back-to-school season since joining the university on May 1. Western News spoke to Modeski about her vision for the university and her approach to recruitment, education and support for students.
Western News: You recently experienced your first Orientation Week at Western – what struck you the most?
Marisa Modeski: What I have noticed, especially having had the opportunity to volunteer at a Care Hub and other orientation programming, is the strong sense of community. There is a focus on setting students up for success. Seeing the wonderful programming we put on for students, seeing senior students mentoring incoming students and really making sure our students are able to hit the ground running, that’s been pretty special.
WN: Considering your extensive experience in higher education, what’s your perspective on the value of a university education, particularly at a university like Western?
Modeski: At Western, students are coming to a world-class institution, taught by world-class faculty. They are immersed in an environment where there is that diversity of thought and innovation.
Given we’re now in a virtual economy, we have the opportunity to connect with likeminded researchers and world-class thinkers across the globe. Those critical thinking skills are paramount; they are fundamental to us continuing to solve real-world problems. Western really provides an infrastructure and ethos to support that, and constantly wants to grow and do better – that’s inspiring, I think, for students. We approach education from both a ‘how’ and a ‘why’ perspective. Theory is grounded in an opportunity to take what you’re learning in the classroom and apply it through case studies, research with faculty or internships, advancing those critical thinking and communication skills.
WN: What do you see as some of your priorities as registrar?
Modeski: We have the unique opportunity to connect with a student through their entire academic career, from that first point of contact when they might be in Grade 10 or 11, to admitting them to Western, to awarding them scholarships and providing financial supports through bursaries, all the way through to watching them walk across the stage at convocation. It’s so important to find opportunities to connect with students. I want to hear why they chose Western, exciting things they’re looking forward to, and any opportunities for us to make sure their experience is a positive one. It’s also a priority to learn more about how we can reduce barriers for students. I want to make sure we’re creating those chances to connect for one-on-one conversations or group chats.
WN: What are your hopes for incoming and returning students?
Modeski: I think it’s really important that students take the skills and knowledge they’re acquiring on campus to be catalysts of change. They need to have experiential opportunities, whether volunteering with student groups or with organizations off campus or starting a work-integrated learning opportunity.
I want students to be introduced to diversity of thought and perspective; it’s a core value at Western. Working with others from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and genders provides incredible opportunities for innovation.
Coming to university is an exciting opportunity. It can also be very overwhelming, so it’s important for students to be proactive in leveraging the plethora of resources we have to support their mental health, emotional and physical wellbeing and academic success.
WN: Considering Western’s plans for growth in our student body, tell us about your approach to recruitment.
Modeski: At Western, we are recruiting for retention. That’s key. We’re not just looking to recruit a first-year class, we’re looking at recruiting students who are going to be successful and have exceptional experiences. We also have a commitment to making sure students are active and thriving in the classroom and ensuring their (future) financial success. We also pay attention to whether students have the ability to fail fast (pivoting and remaining resilient when encountering challenges), if they’re persistent and have strong communication skills.
It’s really important Western has the infrastructure and supports in place that are curated and personalized to meet student needs. These supports also must be very diversified, because Western is not a homogenous campus.
WN: In light of our new global engagement plan, how will you approach international recruitment?
Modeski: We work closely with faculty, subject-matter experts and leadership at Western International and Student Experience to talk about how we are creating a welcoming campus for international students.
As far as tactics and strategies are concerned, Western has an active, global presence on the ground in multiple countries this fall – we have expanded our footprint tremendously and are entering many new markets for the first time. It takes time, as well, to build those relationships with schools, counsellors and trade commissioners.
A key value proposition of Western is our campus, so whenever possible, we want prospective students to connect with us in person – to speak with faculty, current students and staff, tour our facilities and residences. All of these touch points are critical in helping a student determine if we are good fit for them. In concert with that, we also have a very strong digital strategy, allowing students to connect with us any time of day to ask questions.
WN: How do you intend to embed the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within recruitment?
Modeski: It’s definitely a journey, without necessarily a finish line. EDI principles cannot be actioned in a silo. It’s about infusing those principles into everything we do. From the admissions lens, it’s about acknowledging students all begin from very different starting lines in life. We have a responsibility to make sure we’re looking at success from multiple angles – academics is certainly one, but also lived experiences, which can be a wonderful predictor of success.
WN: What are we doing to apply and advance this approach so far?
Modeski: There are programs that, in addition to looking at grades, will look at additional criteria – that could be through the form of an essay or a competency-based assessment.
It’s about having active conversations and welcoming our partners to campus. We’ve been working closely with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion about how we can bring teachers, school board leaders and different communities to campus to have active conversations on what we could be doing better.
WN: What’s the most rewarding part of being Western’s registrar?
Modeski: I come onto a spectacular campus every day – it’s such a beautiful place – and work with incredibly smart people, very talented individuals who all share the values of higher education: people who are really curious, and who have the student experience always top of mind. I absolutely love it. Also, it’s the executive team here. They’re extraordinary leaders, they’re inspiring leaders, and the opportunity to stretch, learn and grow within this ecosystem is really inspiring.
This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.