Your plan as a student at Western
Summary: Western’s recruitment materials highlight many of the ways in which individual
students can enhance their experience at this university, with work experience, communityengaged
learning, internships, high impact practices, the co-curricular record, international
exchanges. The opportunities for this kind of engagement range from full years spent abroad to
the Alternative Spring Break experiences elsewhere in North America to courses that take you to
downtown locations for tours or to prepare business cases. In this unit I will provide some of the
links to these opportunities so that you can explore them for yourself at this point in your
university career. You should also go back to the “Academic Calendar” unit and think about
your modules and your plans to engage in your academic program as well. The assessment for
this unit will be an infographic laying out your own university plan through each of your years
here, indicating exactly what your courses will be, your outside options with clubs or sports, your
co-curricular plans, your international or work experience plans, and generally plotting out your
personal path through Western.
The Role of a Student:
According to the current numbers, Western has 33,754 students, of whom 23,782 are full-time
undergraduates. Including the affiliated colleges, the total number of students in 2019-2020 is
40,155. Your slot in the bigger picture is probably as a full-time undergraduate. Have a look at
the five-year enrolment comparison found here:
This will tell you how many students are registered in your faculty, and give you some idea as to
whether those numbers are trending upwards or downwards or staying fairly stable. The
budgeting and planning process at Western begins with these numbers, and deans propose the
budgets for their faculties based on whether they forecast those numbers as expanding or
contracting. The provincial government currently has all Ontario universities in what is called
“corridor funding” which means that universities receive the full Ontario government payment
only if they keep their student numbers in a set corridor, which has a maximum and a minimum
number of students. The specific location of each university in that corridor is negotiated
through the Strategic Mandate Agreements. Here, for example, is the Strategic Mandate
Agreement in force for Western from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020:
If you look closely at the SMA you will notice that it spends a considerable amount of space on
career development, active learning, experiential learning, and high impact learning practices
here at Western. These are priorities for the institution.
You will also notice the catch-phrase for Western, which is that it aims to provide “the best
student experience at a research-intensive university.” Another unit will take up the question of
research at Western, but here you have the question of the student experience. Many students,
perhaps most students, say during their university years that they learned more outside the
classroom than inside. (This kind of statement generally makes faculty members deeply
unhappy, although some argue that the same held for their own undergraduate degrees and they
only realized how much learning excited them when they embarked on graduate programs.) The
real issue here is how to define the term “learning.” We all know that leaving home and living in
a residence offers a real opportunity for learning, and could be called an education in itself. So
could Orientation Week with its opportunities to meet fellow students and to engage in
community activities and turn purple for a week. A lot of socialization seems to happen during
the first year at university. Students also get involved in clubs, athletics, and (at Western)
fraternities and sororities, with options to get involved in residence life and student politics as
well. Just handling your own finances can be a huge learning curve. So, too, can be figuring out
your own wellness issues and determining what options will work best for you: intramural
athletic teams, meditation, volunteering, and so forth. You will also have to learn to navigate the
wellness portals to access counselling services, accommodations for examinations if you have the
relevant documentation, peer counselling support, and–critically, just before exams begin–the
therapy dogs. These options can take up a lot of time and effort. They are important for your
well-being, but all that should be said here is to make sure that you learn about these options for
yourself. There will be lots of chatter here and there about what to do and what not to do, and
how to navigate the academic counselling system if you have to miss a midterm through illness,
but your best guide through this process is the regulations in the academic calendar or on the
Western website. A lot of lore builds up, and not all of it is accurate. You are responsible for
your own path through these processes.
On this issue of forging your own path through the many curricular and co-curricular options at
Western, there is help. First, the co-curricular record is a relatively recent initiative at Western,
and it is worth some of your time. Start here:
Next, you will want to maximize your opportunities to engage in practical learning. Let me just
note here as an aside that, as a humanist, I think of everything you learn in my classroom as
practical learning. However, parents through the ages want their children to take something that
leads them instantly to a well-paying job, so they will be pushing for practical learning. Maybe
that has already happened and you are in a program with what your parents consider a nearcertain
job opportunity, but they–and you–will still want more. The framework for these
opportunities is built and functioning well in some faculties, and not quite so well in others. See,
for example, the internship program available in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities:
The website that has links to all work-integrated-learning options at Western is here:
The general website for community-engaged-learning is here:
This one looks very pretty but you’ll have to let me know if it’s been useful.
There are further opportunities for engagement in practical learning at Western. If you are
eligible for work/study opportunities, then you can search that website and see if something
posted by a department or a faculty member or a support unit interests you. The introductory
information is here:
The work/study website itself is a secure site, accessed here:
There is also some useful information in this manual, intended for potential supervisors, but it
provides some of the basics about how the work/study terms work (fall/winter, and a separate
summer term, but bear in mind you have to be studying to be working):
Let me give you one brief example as to how work/study can be useful. Some years ago I edited
a journal, and hired a number of work/study undergraduate students over the eight years that I
was involved in receiving papers, vetting them, copy-editing them, doing the formatting and
layout in the professional program I used then, printing and shipping them internationally and
nationally, and setting up a website with digital access to past issues. Students I hired during
those years found out if publishing was the field they wanted to get into, and the students who
worked on the website figured out if website development was their field or not. In a couple of
cases I was able to write strong letters of reference that helped students into excellent programs
in the fields they wanted. In this case, I agree that the work/study, putting to work the skills that
students had developed in their courses and learning how to publish a learned journal, did
provide very useful job skills.
What else? You should plan your life as an athlete or in your chosen clubs, both so that you can
make a useful contribution to those entities and so that your contribution will appear as part of
your own resume. Nobody particularly likes the person who turns up only to pad the resume, so
make sure you are really contributing. But, also make sure that your contribution is not
unnoticed, and that you can make a fair claim to have done something useful.
You should also plan for possible failures. What if you do not get the proper grade on a
prerequisite course for your chosen program? It happens, much more than you might wish.
What alternate routes are available to you? What are the alternate programs you could take?
How can you avoid losing a year because you missed a course or got ill at the wrong time? Can
you pick up a course in the summer or in intersession? Would online learning be a useful option
for you–many students make some room in their schedules for one online course, sadly because
this allows for more flexibility if you have to work a part-time job in order to keep body and soul
You should also plan for changes in your own thinking. What happens if you discover that your
favourite course in your first year is Anthropology and not Computer Science? Can you do a
major module in one and a minor in the other? Yes, probably, but you need to think a bit about
which faculty you should be registered in (both faculties will want you and will tell you that you
should be with them in order to have advantages during course registrations). Or do you miss
taking French and feel that the language you learned during French immersion school is leaching
away? Should you take a certificate or a module in French Studies, or perhaps think about
learning a new language so that if you want to move into business you could work
internationally? Does the thought of that required second-year course in Psychology make you
feel so stressed that you cannot face it, so you might want to transfer into a different program?
Do some thinking about these possibilities, so that you can make intelligent decisions. Bear in
mind that many students (rising on fifty per cent at last study) take five years to complete their
four-year degree; if you are having a lot of trouble with your work/life balance or your courses
are too demanding, think about what solution would be right for you. If you drop one course,
you can often finish four successfully. These are not unusual situations to find yourself in,
though they might feel unusual to you.
Assignment: Your assignment for this unit is to prepare an infographic mapping out your course
through Western. Do this thoughtfully and carefully. If you just slap together the basic
requirements of your program and then bash in a bunch of unrelated clubs with no explanation as
to why a particular opportunity interests you, and then add on several high-impact practices that
you could not possibly have time for, and that do not coordinate with each other from year to
year, then you will not have done yourself justice in this assignment. Feel free to use CANVA,
which is apparently the free software that helps with infographics, but you can feel equally free to
do your infographic by hand and scan it for submission as a pdf. I’m not too fussy about that.
Do try to colour-coordinate the various elements of your university plan. If you have family
obligations, put them in one colour and indicate their importance to your plan. If you will have
to work in the summers and holidays, take that into account as you will have less flexibility for
some of the work-integrated opportunities. If you already have work opportunities set up for
yourself, put them in and explain them well enough in a footnote or sidenote that they clearly
contribute to your plan. Do include your academic plans, preferably at the centre of your plan so
that I can fondly imagine that you see your trajectory through Western as including your
academic education.

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