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Incoming UTSC students get head start on university life

UTSC's Get Started program offers incoming students important academic information and guidance from undergraduate mentors as well as career advice. (Photo by Ken Jones)

When incoming U of T Scarborough students arrive for Orientation Week in August, more than two-thirds of them will already feel at home on campus after participating in the Get Started academic orientation program.

Get Started is an initiative designed by the Academic Advising & Career Centre to smooth the academic transition from high school to university.  On 19 days this June, July and August, groups of students are taking part in this day-long program that acquaints them with the university experience.

“Get Started is designed to foster student success and engagement,” said Jennifer Bramer, director, Academic Advising & Career Centre. “It solidifies their decision to join the UTSC community and gets them excited for September.”

It’s not only incoming students who are invited to Get Started; there is a parallel program for their parents and other members of their support systems. By separating the two groups, facilitators can focus on the specific needs of each audience.

“Parents can be a bit nervous, so we want them to feel comfortable in knowing their student is well supported,” said Mariam Aslam, a UTSC academic success strategist. “We encourage independence and give the students the opportunity to meet their peers.”

Upper-year students and recent alumni serve as coaches for the students, who are split into groups of 10 in order to get to know each other better.

“It creates a more intimate and interactive environment within the larger context,” said Bramer, while Aslam said that research indicates that information about university experiences offered by a peer generally seems “much more real and has the potential to reach them at a heartfelt level.”

While the students are busy learning about balancing time commitments, the requirements for majors and minors and the keys to university success, their parents are absorbing information about financial aid and about the challenges this transition period poses for the entire family.

“There are a lot of things I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t come, things like the structure of their days and key dates,” said Wayne Yearwood of Brampton, Ont., whose son will be attending UTSC in the fall.

The two groups come together for an informal pizza lunch and a campus fair that encourages students to explore some of the academic and social supports available to them and to learn about opportunities for getting involved in programs such as mentorship and student government.

“If students stay engaged, the likelihood of them completing their degree is increased,” noted Aslam.

Although academics are the day’s main focus, the program also begins a career conversation that continues through their final years of university.

“The career information is very important, too,” said Winnie Dong of Markham, Ont., whose daughter will be studying biochemistry at UTSC this fall. “I want to lead her into the field and see how to apply what she has learned in the real world.”

For students, the day also includes a lesson on the ins and outs of online course selection, which begins mid-July.

“This was useful,” said Ashkan Kyomarsi, an incoming computer science student from Richmond Hill, Ont. “I learned a lot about course selection and the mandatory courses, so it will make the process easier.”

At the close of the sessions, the students head off to get their student cards.

“Now, they can say, ‘I’m really a UTSC student,’ ” said Jennifer Tigno, UTSC manager of advising and learning skills services. “It makes things easier for September, and it’s just a huge boon to their confidence.”

Professor Rick Halpern, the dean and vice-principal (Academic), is proud that Get Started’s participation rate continues to grow.

"The program allows incoming students to assuage their anxieties about transitioning from high school to university,” said Halpern.  “It provides them with both specific skills and a broad sense of our expectations of them.  It also allows them to meet many of their classmates and, thus, begin settling into a new and exciting setting."


© University of Toronto Scarborough