Strategic What?

A well-rounded university experience involves both academic programming and student life, something many argue is lacking at UW, which is probably why it’s in the strategic plan.

A vibrant student experience is one of the eight strategic plan themes, and Chris Read, the associate provost of students, is leading it.

The goal of the theme is to “enrich” student experience by expanding services, programs, and experiences to aid students in building a stronger “community connection” while at UW. Read’s job involves being an advocate for student involvement and input at the senior administrative level.

“There is a feeling and there’s certainly a perception that the student experience, however people want to define that, is something that we can improve ... on our campus,” Read said, referring to the popular idea that UW lacks the traditional spirit and community found on other university campuses.

“We’re known for our academic rigor and our professional experiential learning with co-op and all that kind of stuff, but when it comes down to the pure experience that students have on campus, there’s opportunity to improve it,” Read said.

A major component of improving the student experience is integrating student services, according to Read.

UW has grown in such a way that a new service was created every time a need was realized and the results are disconnected services, Read said. 

“Students often have this feeling on our campus that they just go from one spot to the next,” Read said about students utilizing services.

The disjointed experience is not limited to services, and Read also said there is a fractured approach to student leadership across campus. There are student societies, Feds, clubs, and many other volunteer opportunities, but there is little that connects them and connects students to them. The disconnect also comes into student leadership in the community.

“There’s a mental wall around Ring Road, I think. Lots of stuff happens on campus … students can get most of what they need on campus, but that really limits the opportunities that they have. The opportunity to experience the larger community is something that we really have to work on,” Read said.

A short-term priority of the theme involves space on campus.

“A lot of the student experience could be better if we had good space to facilitate it,” Read said. He added that a full analysis of space is needed to know where the gaps are and what the university needs to do to improve them.

A lot of students may relate a vibrant experience to school spirit, which many students argue UW lacks.

“I think the starting point for me is understanding that the students we attract and the students that we have on our campus are unique and different from most other campuses,” Read said. He added that everyone has a different definition of school spirit and what it looks like.

“The school spirit that you feel is not going to be reflected in the typical ways that you see at other universities,” Read said, using examples like selling out tickets to a Chris Hadfield lecture or Velocity workshop instead of a hockey game.

“We’re trying to make everything we can here to make the experience as good as it can be for students,” Read said.

There will be a mini townhall in September about the student experience theme.

<em>In this seven-part series, </em>Imprint<em> sits down with the leaders of each theme of UW&rsquo;s strategic plan to learn what the university is working on and why students should pay attention.</em>


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