In 2015 a number of students presented the OCAD University Senate and Board of Governors with a series of serious concerns about the student experience. We agreed – students, administration, and governance — to work together to make tangible changes would immediately improve your daily lives here. Behold: the Student Experience Working Group (SEWG or “sewage” as it is commonly known.)
Student Union took the lead in developing, through round table discussions, survey data and research into OCADSU’s historical records, a list of very concrete, implementable projects. The Working Group includes OCADSU representatives and other students, administrative leaders such as our Chief Information Officer, Associate Deans, Studio Management, Communications, Facilities Management, myself as the Vice-Provost, Students, and guest representatives as needed.
The projects are varied, but broadly break down into four major categories: improvements to Resources; more opportunity for Community Building; Policy Change; and improved Community Affiliations.
In the short time the SEWG has been meeting, I’m pleased to say we’ve been able to address nearly all items on the list to some degree. Some projects are being integrated into our longer-term developments, while others have been addressed already, or will be significantly improved in the very near future. So what are they?
- Digitize ‘OCAD U Money’: Very soon, we’ll roll out a new materials purchasing system that will eliminate the need for those little paper tickets. You’ll be able to load your account with funds and the studios will have a digitized point-of-sale system that will deduct your purchases. We anticipate being ready to launch the system after the Fall Reading Week. Stay tuned for updates, and be gentle with us as we work out the kinks.
- More options for International Student Fee Payment: Yes! International Students can now pay their fees through wire transfer using WU GlobalPay.
- Interactive Wayfinding: We now have a touch-screen digital kiosk that we are testing out in the lobby of the main building at 100 McCaul Street to help with way finding. We’re exploring more ideas to continue to make improvements in this area.
- Project Storage: Our Studio Management Team is always looking for solutions to help you store your projects and are always willing to talk to you about accommodating your specific needs. This item is among many to be addressed more dramatically through the Creative City Campus (CCC) capital project. The RFP for CCC was issued on August 8; the design consultant will be announced by December 2016. Remember, this is a major capital development project that will take several years to complete, but facilities and studio renewal is a big part of it, so you can be sure student project storage will be a key factor informing the design.
- Centralized Material Store: An extension of digitizing OCAD U money, the plan to centralize material sales into one shop is aimed at improving operating hours, access to materials and health and safety. The centralized store will be addressed through the CCC process.
- Awareness of events, speakers, services: This project seeks to centralize communications to students about events and speakers at OCAD U, and also enquires into a system of digital screens across campus and an interactive app for students. There are several initiatives underway to generally improve student communications. I’ve recently added a Manager of Student Communications to my team, Sarah Mulholland, who is working on the development of my.OCADU.ca as a centralized communications and services portal, and an interactive app that will extend the portal into your mobile device. Sarah is conducting research into how OCAD U communicates with students, and how students want to be communicated with. She’s also working to understand and address the complex challenge of how to improve your student email experience (watch for her this fall inviting you to respond to her survey — she’ll have goodies and prizes!). Last but not least, Sarah also takes care of — and will be building new — student-facing social media channels, another area for improvement suggested by the SEWG. You are always welcome to get in touch with Sarah with your feedback and ideas at email@example.com.
- Student Clubs to enhance community building: This project seeks to promote community by increasing the number of clubs that attract students from all programs, a notable example of which is the ceramics Throwing Club. Procedures for developing a student group that’s officially recognized by OCAD U and OCADSU are outlined on our website, and there are no deadlines for submitting your group for consideration.
- Student Lounge & Cafe, Furniture and the Great Hall: This project has both a longer-term period of development and has had some more immediate wins. More collaborative workspace and a Student Commons are major focuses of the CCC project. But other improvements include the addition of seating to the Great Hall when the space isn’t being used for exhibitions. One of our big challenges at OCAD U is that when furniture gets moved to facilitate an exhibition or event, sometimes that furniture “migrates” around campus and doesn’t immediately find it’s way back to where it belongs. This is partly due to a lack of storage for when furniture needs to be out of the way. Again, this is a challenge our Facilities Management Team is always working on. Another win in this area was the 2014 takeover of the cafe area behind the Great Hall, which used to be privately managed. Now known as Union Cafe, the cafe is entirely student-run, and managed by OCADSU. This arrangement has exceeded all expectations and we’re very proud of the partnership. The cafe is now a vibrant hub of activity with an exceptional selection of treats that respond to a wide range of student needs. Our staff continue to try to respond to the need for additional casual seating pockets across the campus that are not delineated by specific program areas.
- Hour Access Policy Change: We began offering 24/7 access to 100 McCaul Street non-workshop spaces during the Fall/Winter academic terms in 2015. This access will extend to 115 McCaul Street in 2016.
- Fitness Centre: Students repeatedly tell us we need a gym, and while we have heard you on this, OCAD U has more urgent space needs: bigger/more studio space, better thesis spaces, more class space, more workspace, more student lounge space — the list goes on. The many fitness centres located nearby do offer OCAD U students preferred rates (for example, Grange Fitness at University Settlement offers OCAD U students an incredible $24/month rate). We have developed other recreational programs to help fill the gap as well, including intramural sports at the Michener Institute and yoga classes on campus. This is an area we’ll continue to work on.
- Social Gathering Space: This project seeks for OCAD U to develop more affiliations with nearby galleries, and to develop a campus pub and restaurant affiliation. Arguably, for staff and faculty anyway, the Village Idiot, Sin & Redemption, the Queen Mother, the Rex and the Fifth have become default, unofficial campus restaurants and pubs. Several other restaurants, cafés and gallery/cafés offer student discounts, and are listed on our website. I’ll be the first to admit I’d love a set of craft beer taps in the Great Hall, but we have to face the fact that an on-campus pub ranks low among our other urgent space requirements. So I don’t think this one’s going to move forward very soon. But the Student Union will, as always, be hosting gatherings in various locations on and off campus, including Xpace, their amazing gallery.
- Student Housing: This project asks OCAD U to build relationships with developers and student residence corporations. In our experience, student residence developers seek out opportunities where there is significant demand. Typically this would be near schools with student populations the size of Ryerson, York or UofT. These corporations don’t usually see the OCAD U student body as large enough to support such a development, especially in the highly competitive downtown Toronto real estate market. A further challenge to these developments is the surplus of available rentals and condos in the downtown core. That said, when they do come to us, we are responsive to their inquiries. Fortunately, we’re close enough to Ryerson and UofT to be able to tap into some of the independent student residence options these schools attract, and you can check them out on our website.
The Student Experience Working Group meets every couple of months, and is seeking more student representation. If you’re interested in joining, please contact OCADSU at firstname.lastname@example.org.