2014-2015 was a dynamic year for the Student Learning and Transitions department at Nipissing University. Using the momentum gained from the previous year, we set out to accomplish great things and serve as leaders for our colleagues within the division, across the institution, and beyond. Between the end of 2013-2014 and the beginning of 2014-2015, we established our mission, vision, values, set our thematic roadmap, and articulated our commitment to each other to be better! This came with a significant undertaking – increased accountability, reporting on data and KPI, and presence in our professional communities. Despite the potential for great setbacks resulting from the institution’s restructuring process, we maintained a focus on our motivation for the work we do and the impact we have on our students and alumni. What we have found from looking at the information we’ve collected in various formats has reaffirmed our commitment to live our mission, vision, and values.
The department’s mission statement and core values have guided everything from our staff selection processes (student and professional) to our projects, programs, initiatives, and services. In order to live our mission, we needed to know what our common goal was across the three functional areas (academic support, career education, and student experience). To accomplish this, we undertook a full-day process to determine our thematic roadmap.
Here, you will see that our goal was clear and we knew how we wanted to accomplish it. Each week in our tactical team meeting, we dedicated time to reporting on what we had done individually to meet our defining objectives, discussed strategies for continued growth, and brainstormed how we could overcome any obstacles we had experienced.
After working diligently all year to increase our profile amongst students, staff, faculty, and administrators, it seemed to make logical sense that the traditional ways of reporting would not appropriately honour our commitment nor our impact. As a result, we undertook a unique approach to our annual reports which would focus on embracing our vulnerability and telling our stories. What followed was a two-month exercise in which the team was challenged to create an elevator speech for their role and a five-minute story in unit partners. These would be presented first to our team for initial feedback and support, then to the larger SDS division in May, and then the five-minute stories would be recorded to be shared on this very site.
The elevator speeches were harder than folks imagined. One team member remarked during their presentation that “Sterling kept saying I don’t care what you do, I care why it matters. What would you want the President of the University to know if you were in the elevator with him? That’s what we need to hear.” The exercise was so beneficial for the team – many of whom no longer will be working with us moving forward. It was an exercise in recognizing that no job description is prescriptive; it’s a living, breathing document that changes with our target consumers and partners – students, stakeholders, and alumni. This begged the obvious question: if that’s the case, how do we make meaning of our role? The answer is simple: in knowing it’s impact.
Once we had mastered the elevator speeches, it was on to the five-minute stories. The stories our team put together blew me away. We had many discussions about team members’ fear and anxiety about doing something so different. We shared examples of how other institutions had approached similar presentations, we talked about what made a good story, and what to steer clear from. We discussed how focusing too much on an individual student (while NU’s modus operandi) could be interpreted by outside eyes as having a greater depth of impact on a smaller community than a significant impact on the larger community. As we ironed out the kinks I could see the team getting more comfortable with the concept and really engaging with their accomplishments from the past year. More so than with a written report with a couple of graphs and notes on students who they felt really benefited from their support, we now had dynamic characters, stories of motivation for change and development, and we had the bigger picture. I left our first run-through with the feeling that we could take on the world. These feelings were cemented yesterday after witnessing the team’s presentation to their peers.
Beginning next week, I will be sharing these recordings. The five-minute stories are brief snapshots into the impact that SLT team members had on the NU Lakers’ community. On Friday, I will bring the series together with a blog post highlighting the impact of the department as a whole and outlining our next steps.
We hope you enjoy our next series of posts and we look forward to sharing more as we continue to strive to improve and honour our stories.