So what does the VPA even do? - A look at the year ahead and a description of the VPA portfolio

Emerson Csorba - Fri Sep 09, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the year has started: students are back in full force, Orientation is over and Week of Welcome is well underway. Classes have begun and nervous students collect their syllabi from professors. University is in full swing and SUB is perpetually busy. The fact that the semester has begun has yet to hit me.

For first-years reading this entry, I recommend that you venture lower down the page and check out the other executives’ entries. Moreover, as you find your way between classes, I hope that you sign up for student groups and start to make the most of your time on campus.

I’ll begin this post by explaining exactly what the Vice-President (Academic) does. It’s a good question, and one that I’m asked often.

Out of all of the executive portfolios, the VPA has the most internal university focus. By “internal,” I mean that the VPA works with the university administration, which is highlighted by representation on dozens of committees. These committees are groups of students, professors and administrators that discuss and sometimes make decisions about issues related to academics. For example, the Committee on the Learning Environment works on things such as teaching evaluations (which you fill out near the end of a course) and undergraduate research opportunities that exist on campus.

Simply put, the VPA portfolio is very wide open: the word “academic” is general, which provides the VPA with considerable leeway in the selection of priorities for each year.

For the upcoming year, there are three points that I believe are very important: student engagement, graduate student attributes and undergraduate research. I’ll describe each goal individually:

1. Student engagement: It’s possible that you’ve heard this term before, and it’s possible you’ve stopped listening, just as other buzzwords lose their resonance.

My reason for running for VPA in the first place was because some of my peers have demonstrated leadership that has changed my university experience, so I believe that it is my duty to do the same. In this case, I’ve set out to improve students’ academic experience on campus. That is why this job does not feel like work; when tasks pile up, this philosophy keeps me going.

In terms of engagement, I feel that it is critical to involve faculty associations as much as possible. For Orientation 2011, ALES, ISSS, CBAS, ESS, NUA and PERCS all held sessions that engaged first-year students. As the year progresses, I want to shoot for similar initiatives. This means delegating some Students’ Union committees to other students, so that others have a chance to advocate to the university on important issues. I also want to build a solid “AcaDream Team,” expanding the SU corporate team, and promoting professor and student interaction in undergraduate research.

2. Graduate student attributes: This is probably my biggest goal for the year. The university would like to select a small set of qualities that they believe they can help all students work toward while pursuing their degrees. Some examples could be global citizenship or critical thinking. Chances are that these attributes will become part of marketing campaigns for the university, but more importantly, they need to be integrated into coursework.

I’m one of the university members leading this initiative on campus, and am in the process of interviewing Students’ Council members, faculty association representatives and students at-large to gauge opinions on how to make this worthwhile and valuable for students, and not just a public relations strategy for the U of A.

3. Undergraduate Research: The SU will be holding its first-ever undergraduate research symposium in November, and I hope to see it attract over 100 undergraduate researchers. Participants will engage in a poster competition and share their findings about their topics. A 30-person team of professors and students is hard at work organizing workshops and other activities to occur during the symposium.

Finally, the symposium cannot be an end in itself; it has to open doors to more awareness and opportunities to pursue undergraduate research. The symposium is simply one component of a much larger undergraduate research vision for students in all faculties.

So that’s it in terms of the introduction to the VPA portfolio! You now have a snippet of my goals for the year. If you ever have questions, my door is open. Venture up to SUB 2-900 or give me a call at 780.492.4236, and we’ll talk.