Archive for Tom Henheffer
Ambitious grads find big rewards—in between toys and housewares
Loblaw, Wal-Mart, L’Oréal and Abercrombie & Fitch are lacing up their gloves and pounding banks, hotels and financial service firms in the perennial grudge match to entice the world’s top graduates. They’re the scrappy underdogs going up against the established heavyweight champions, but now they’re employing the same secret weapon that’s been up the sleeves of the other industries for years—manager-in-training programs.
“In an environment where Loblaw is competing with Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Shoppers Drug Mart and, soon, Target, there’s no room for complacency. It’s a ruthlessly competitive landscape,” says Jeff Muzzerall, director of the Corporate Connections Centre at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “Now is a wonderful opportunity for retail to showcase itself.”
Alix Carter never expected her dream HR job to involve walking the aisles of a grocery store or asking a group of colleagues huddled between rows of frozen pizza and granola bars trivia about the founding of the company. But now, she says, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of people might see retail and get scared away,” she says. Grad@Loblaw “showcased an industry that is overlooked by a lot of graduates.”
Shipwrecked students survived on rainwater—and Disney songs
Carrying a fluffy pink blanket and wearing a gigantic smile, Shelley Piller was up long before dawn, waiting on an empty concourse at Toronto’s Pearson airport for her daughter Elysha to return home.
“I’m going to cover her in this blanket and I’m going to take her home, and give her a bath and feed her as much as I can possibly feed her.”
Elysha was one of 48 students on the S.V. Concordia, a sailing ship that doubled as a travelling high school and university. A microburst, a sudden massive gust of wind, toppled the three-masted boat off the coast of Brazil late last Thursday evening. It sank in minutes, leaving every soul on board to fight for survival in leaky life rafts for two days and nights.
“We’re just so happy that they’re all okay. It’s a miracle,” says Piller.
After pulling each other from flooded classrooms and cutting the life rafts free, the students and crew were forced to bail constantly to keep shin-deep water from sinking their small boats. As they fought to collect rainwater and survive on rations, many became sick from dehydration, but they managed to keep their spirits high by singing Disney songs.
“There were low points and high points,” says Mark Sinker, the ship’s history and English teacher. “When there was water in the rafts and people were shivering, morale was very low. But overall I think people kept their spirits up.”
Piller, her husband Tony, and three sons, Lucas, Sam and Trevor, stood waiting, wearing their scarves and winter coats, with sleepy grins and hands in their pockets. A few other families were scattered around the airport, holding coffee and sitting at shops with metal gates still drawn shut.
Brent Tripp waited for his brother Jamie, a world traveller who was working as a crewman on the Concordia. Early Friday morning Brent got a call from his mother—at first all he could make out was the word “sink.” He was always afraid something would happen to Jamie, and thought the worst might have finally happened. Eventually his mother told him everything was okay, and his brother called Sunday morning.
“I pick up the phone and there was a quick delay, then ‘hey brother’ came across” says Tripp, his voice quivering slightly. “Both of us had a huge little breakdown.” He added that although he knew his brother was safe physically, it was worrisome to think what psychological toll the accident might have taken. “The next thing we went into was Olympic men’s hockey. So it was kind of nice to know that my brother, the guy that I love so much, he was still there.”
He said he plans to take it easy once they’re reunited.
“I would just like nothing more then to cram in the back seat of our little four door car and just take him to a little restaurant, buy him some lunch and have a beer.”
As the minutes ticked by the concourse started to become a hub of activity. Alumni from previous voyages arrived, holding bristol board signs declaring “Welcome Home Floaties” and “S.V. Concordia Forever.” Dozens of reporters began rushing back and forth. The families were ushered into a secure area, and a mob of camera’s surrounded the door. Cheering could be heard from inside. Emboldened with the spirit their travelling school was meant to instill, the alumni sat in front of reporters, forcing them to back up about 10 steps so they would have room to greet their friends.
In the end, the parents and children decided not to meet with the media, and went out through side gates. But Nigel McCarthy, CEO of the Class Afloat program, did eventually address the crowd.
“Today is a day of celebration,” he said. “There’s been lots of tears and there’s been lots of joy. There have been children jumping up into their parents’ arms. It’s a beautiful day.”
A student survey helps universities target areas for improvement.
Anne Celine Hansen, a fourth-year bachelor of management student at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, used to find herself stuck between classes killing time. “I wouldn’t really know what to do with myself,” she says. Hansen, who lives about a 20-minute walk from campus, could study at the library or sit in the cafeteria, but it was hard to connect with other people. Like many students living off-campus, she felt disconnected from the pulse of her university. “Students would take the bus up to campus, go to class and then take the bus back home,” says Hansen.
In 2006, UBC started administering the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a U.S.-based survey that indirectly measures educational quality by analyzing what students do with their time on campus. NSSE measures a university’s performance based on five key benchmarks—including student-faculty interaction, level of academic challenge and supportive campus environment—providing data for comparison across time and between institutions. Research has shown that higher levels of engagement can lead to greater student success. UBC’s results pointed to the disengagement that Hansen and others at Okanagan were feeling, so in 2008, the school decided to correct the problem. “We wanted to make sure that our commuter students had exactly the same campus life experience as the residence students, the same level of TLC,” says Ian Cull, associate vice-president of students at the Okanagan campus.
The school set up what it calls “collegia”—on-campus lounges providing space for commuter students to sit and do homework, talk, or just watch TV. They’re staffed by senior students, called collegia assistants, who answer questions, provide information about the university and set up social events. Hansen has been working as a collegia assistant since the program started. Students “are always coming in and talking to people, meeting people,” she says. “It becomes a big group.”
The issue of student engagement is becoming increasingly important for universities, especially since NSSE arrived at 11 Canadian schools in 2004. The survey has now been conducted at 64 institutions across Canada, with 11 more universities and one college set to participate for the first time this year. And as the years of data accumulate, schools are using the insight NSSE provides to create programs tailored to improving the quality of their students’ education.
Administrators at the University of New Brunswick had little cash to spend on new programs, but they didn’t want to waste their NSSE data. So Tony Secco, UNB’s vice-president, academic, had the information broken down by faculty and distributed to the deans. Deciding to concentrate primarily on one benchmark—student-faculty interaction—they pooled ideas and came up with several low-cost ways to better connect professors with their pupils. The administration hosted student-faculty mixers, held faculty workshops on student engagement, asked professors to spend more time mentoring after class, and converted unused space on campus into common and student services rooms where faculty and students can meet. While there are no hard data yet on how well the initiatives are working, the response from students and teachers has been positive. “Engagement in any exercise is very strongly linked to the fulfillment that is sensed by the individual,” says Secco. For his part, UNB president Eddy Campbell observes: “NSSE is a good instrument for measuring that engagement. And it allows us a good look at the places where we need to do better.”
But NSSE isn’t just supposed to be used internally. Its results are meant to be shared across schools, and are most effective when broken down into faculties and student groups. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy process. “There’s no formal mechanism for sharing information across institutions,” says Chris Conway, principal investigator for the NSSE intervention project—a group, funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, that examines NSSE’s effectiveness. He says Canada needs “a more systematic data sharing and analysis exercise” that breaks down information by school and then by faculty, making cross-institutional comparisons easy. Conway and a committee of educators from around the country are working to create a national data-sharing initiative that will do exactly that. So far, 44 universities have signed on to the project, and Conway is hoping to release preliminary results within four months.
Conway is cautious, however, not to draw conclusions prematurely, noting that although NSSE has built a good foundation of knowledge in Canada, the programs it’s helped to create are still in their infancy, and universities won’t know how effective they are without a few more years of data. “I don’t think we’re at the point now where we can say a given type of experience gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of quality improvement,” he says.
Still, Jillian Kinzie, the NSSE institute’s associate director, is optimistic, pointing out that Canadian schools are continually improving their scores and bettering their educational programs. “The thing that impresses me the most is the commitment to action,” she says. “Digging in and really spending time thinking about what these results tell us about the quality of students’ educational experiences, that’s the most important part—converting the results into some sort of action to improve the educational experience.”
What you need to know if university life gets you in trouble
Campus life can be a beautiful thing. Living on your own means meeting friends, discovering the wonders of beer, and eating pizza at least seven or eight times a week. It’s a freeing experience. But there’s more to worry about than the dreaded freshman 15. The lifestyle of university, even if you don’t embrace it à la Animal House, can lead you into confrontations with the law—which, for anyone on his or her own for the first time, and newly of legal age, can be a downright scared-straight experience.
So here’s a guide to living in residence, bumming around campus, and dealing with the repercussions that can come with partying a little bit too hard.
Q: Do I have to sacrifice rights by living on campus?
A: Yes. When you move in to residence, you’ll have to sign a lease, and you’re bound to that agreement. That means you have to follow the rules about drinking, about quiet hours, about guests, and about pretty much anything else the university chooses to restrict.
Q: My friends and I decided to light some strong smelling “incense” and now a couple of residence advisers are banging on my door. Do I have to let them in?
A: The short answer is no, you don’t. Your room is technically your private property for the duration of your lease, which means residence staff can’t legally enter it without your permission. If they ask to come in, you can say no, and there’s not much they can do aside from issuing a warning and maybe requiring you to meet with the residence supervisor or house don.
But tempting fate is a bad idea. There are certain situations where people can enter your room without permission. Residence staff can come in during an emergency. The smell of smoke, even if it is a bit funky, would generally constitute an emergency at most universities. Staff may also be able to enter your room if you aren’t there (a power they normally use when someone has left their alarm on). And staff can call the police, who can certainly come inside if they smell smoke or drugs.
Q: We stashed everything and opened the door. Can they search my room?
A: No. Neither residence staff nor campus security can search your room. Normally, only police officers have that power, and only if they have a warrant or reasonable grounds to suspect you’re hiding something illegal. However, whatever is in plain sight is fair game.
Next: What happens if they see something?
The good news: more med students are choosing family practice. The bad? It’s still not enough.
You have to be crazy to become a family doctor in Canada, right? Everyone knows they’re overworked and underpaid, and there aren’t nearly enough of them. So how come more and more medical students are shouldering their huge debts and going into family practice residencies—at rates not seen since the early ’90s? “I want to be a family doctor,” says Simon Moore, a fourth-year med student at the University of British Columbia, “because it entirely blew away my expectations.”
Moore originally planned to specialize in emergency medicine. He wanted the thrill and immediacy of saving lives in an ER. “My original impression of family medicine as a specialty was that you work in an office from 9 to 5 and you see warts and rashes and sore throats,” he recalls. But his opinion changed during his third year in med school, which he spent at a practice in Chilliwack, a city of 80,000 in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. He realized that as a single doctor serving a large community of patients, his opportunities went far beyond booster shots and blisters. “You can spend time in the office if you want, but other than that you can catch babies, you can do maternity, you can do emergency medicine, you can do surgical assists—the spectrum is much broader.”
Lately, more medical students are agreeing with Moore: nearly a third now choose family practice, up from less than a quarter just six years ago. That’s still fewer than the 48 per cent who chose family practice residencies before 1994. But the situation is far better than it was earlier in the decade, when lack of student interest in family medicine threatened a full-blown health care crisis.
In 2001, family practice was the first choice of only 28.2 per cent of grads; by 2003, that number had dropped to 24.9 per cent. “The shine had definitely worn off family medicine,” says Dr. Tom Freeman, chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, where in 2004 only 25 per cent of students chose to become GPs. Long hours and difficult work made family practice unattractive, Freeman says, and “the remuneration issue was a major problem in most provinces.”
Medical students often graduate with massive debt, sometimes exceeding $100,000. According to a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, GPs made an average of $202,481 in 2004 and 2005 (the latest years for which data are available); medical specialists earned $248,694 and surgical specialists made $334,012. The problem wasn’t just low pay, but the method of payment. In most provinces, doctors are paid primarily through a fee-for-service system. Under this model, MDs are paid for each service—such as office visits or tests—they provide. Because it rewards physicians for the number of patients they see in-office, fee-for-service can discourage after-hours and clinical work, as well as preventative medicine. That encourages a narrowing of the family practice area, which cuts out much of the variety that attracts med students to family practice in the first place.