Executive Blog

Support for Students in Light of Recent Local Headlines

Robyn Paches - Mon Aug 15, 2016

In the past week, there have been reports of assaults and sexual violence taking place near campus or in connection to venues popular with students. Student safety is obviously a priority for the University of Alberta and the Students’ Union. In light of these incidents, we’d like to take a moment to remind students about some of the services available to them if they are concerned about their safety or have been the victim of an assault:

The Sexual Assault Centre in the Students’ Union Building provides drop-in, telephone or email support for anyone who has experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking or intimate violence. If you have been impacted by either of the recent incidents, the Sexual Assault Centre is a safe and confidential place to talk about it. For after-hours crisis support, you can also contact the 24-hour Sexual Assault Crisis Line operated by the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at 780-423-4121.

Safewalk will resume operations in September. You can call Safewalk at 780-4-WALKME and a two-person team will be dispatched to accompany you to any destination within their boundaries.

For other services offered by the University of Alberta, access their public release here.

For more information about alleged incidents and Edmonton Police Service’s response, please see the EPS media releases here and here.

Mental health: When everyone is “taking a lead on it”.

Francesca Ghossein - Wed Jun 22, 2016

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University students face a host of unique challenges when it comes to mental health concerns. It’s estimated that three quarters of mental illnesses develop by age 24, and many people who struggle with depression or anxiety will be diagnosed during their university years. Students experience high levels of stress due to the challenges of managing their academic, financial and interpersonal responsibilities, which can be a struggle even for students without pre-existing mental health conditions.

Accessing mental health services can be challenging for a number of reasons. For many people, stigma and fear can make it difficult to ask for help. But what I've realized since taking office is that for many students, one of the main barriers is simply not knowing where to go when they’re struggling. It’s not that there’s a lack of resources – the U of A’s central campus has a host of programs, events and tools meant to assist students affected by either mental illness or overwhelming stress. But there are so many options that students often aren't sure where to turn. As an institution, we are lacking stability and consistency, not only in terms of funding, but also in communicating and coordinating efforts and activities. Increasingly, the institution seems to be looking at the issue of mental health in a holistic way, echoing the approach highlighted in the provincial government review of mental health care - looking at the relationship between housing and mental health and so on.

As it is now, in order for students to find a certain resource, they would have to know which unit operates the service that they are looking to use. Many students are unaware that the Peer Support Centre is a service offered by the Students’ Union and that the University Health Centre, for example, is administered by the office of the Dean of Students. Such distinctions can be a source of confusion for students and constitute an additional barrier to them reaching out for help.

There is an enormous need for a centralized place that allows students to learn about the various services offered on and around campus and how to access them. One of my goals for the coming year will be to champion the creation of a centralized platform – either a website, an app, a physical space or some combination of the above – that helps connect students with the right resources.

I am exploring the different possibilities and options that we have to make this happen, and in the meantime, here are two resources that I find many students are not aware of and that I wanted to share with you:

  1. The Peer Support Centre Helpline
    780 492 4357 (during opening hours)

  2. If you have the student health and dental plan offered through the Students’ Union,, you’re covered for 80% of the cost of a session with one of the counsellors in our network, up to $600 per year, with additional coverage for confidential online sessions! Check out http://ihaveaplan.ca/mentalhealth/ for more information!

A Busy Month

Fahim Rahman - Mon Jun 06, 2016

A month has passed since my fellow executives and I stepped into our roles, and it’s been a busy one. It takes a lot of work to turn a campaign promise into an actual plan, and summer is when we lay most the groundwork for our priorities over the course of the year.

While each of the executives sets their own priorities for the years, we also work as a team to establish a general set of principals to guide those priorities. This year, we’ve selected three major pillars:

• Respecting student agency and autonomy;

• Building foundations for success; and

• Aligning with student needs

Just as the executives work together, the Students’ Union as a whole works with a variety of stakeholders and partners as we make our plans for the coming year. We’re already in communication with the President's office as we prepare for the coming year, and will be working on a variety of projects with them, including the creation of the new Residence Life Task Force. We’re also working closely with our provincial and federal lobby groups, CAUS and CASA, respectively.

CAUS advocates directly to the provincial government, who tends to govern over post-secondary issues more so than the federal government. Our new provincial government committed to an Adult Learning Review as post-secondary hasn’t been examined in a very long time, and most of our provincial priorities tie into that review. In particular, we will be seeking support on student financial aid, expanding student employment programs and mental health funding.

CASA, the federal advocacy group, is also focusing on student financial aid. The other area of focus for CASA is looking to be campus sexual assault policies. Quality processes here seem to be lacking across many campuses. It’s very reassuring to know that we’re not the only ones tackling issues like affordability, quality and safety for students at our university.

It’s very reassuring to know that we’re not the only ones tackling issues like affordability and quality for students at our university. This year all our counterparts provincially and federally agree financial aid will be a focus for students.

Student Unions are very peculiar beasts, I’ve found. They revolve around the concept of giving the organization’s executive one year to work on all of their goals, helping them make the most of their qualifications and experience, and then kicking them out to restart the cycle and welcome a new team. I’m very grateful to be with the Students’ Union for another year, and have the chance to make headway on items that resonate with you as a student on our campuses.

What are “market modifiers” and what does this process mean for students?

Navneet Khinda - Mon Aug 25, 2014

A Quick Summary
Market modifiers are tuition increases applied differentially to a respective faculty. The attempt to justify their use is based on perceived market anomalies. They go around the legislated tuition cap, thereby highlighting loopholes in Alberta’s legislation.

The Students’ Union believes that students know what is best for them, but we also believe in good process. A referendum or a plebiscite is the best, if not only, way of gauging student opinion on such an important issue, in the clearest manner. This is an important part of process that ensures our tuition and fees are not increased without appropriate consultation and sound reasoning.

However, University administrations (currently the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary) and the Government of Alberta (Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education) are changing the deadlines for the submission of a market modifier proposal, making it impossible for students to be consulted. This ultimately disregards process that ensures fairness and trust between all stakeholders.

There are many questions about what’s going on at the University of Alberta regarding a proposed market modifier for the Faculty of Law. In order to have a better understanding of what’s going on at the U of A, it’s important to look at the larger provincial context. I’ll begin with some background and then explain what’s happening locally.

Context – Provincial Legislation and SU Bylaws
In Alberta, an official group representing students must exist according to law (The Post Secondary Learning Act). Therefore, we have a Students’ Union (SU) acting as the official representative of students at a given institution. So, when someone asks the question, “what do students think?” or when negotiations must be held on behalf of students, the SU is the official voice.

Faculty Associations (FAs), such as the Law Students’ Association or the Interdepartmental Science Student Association (ISSS), also represent students in their respective faculties, but in a more narrow scope. They are extremely important since they are the closest representatives to their constituency. Their representative authority is delegated from the Students’ Union due to a combination of Provincial legislation and SU bylaw.

The power of an FA is delegated from us and not directly from legislation, so FAs “shall not advocate on issues in contradiction to Students’ Union political policy, unless they have first presented to and received approval from Students’ Council”. This means that FAs and the SU must work together. However, the SU sincerely understands that different faculties have different needs and can’t always have a uniform stance. Thus, we are open to differing points of view when it comes to issues such as tuition. Nevertheless, this means that at the bare minimum, students must be consulted properly and thoroughly. That is the minimum standard that must be met if an FA is going to differ from SU policy. It is simply good process.

(Un)Regulated Tuition in Alberta
In the media, we have explained that the introduction of market modifiers is surprising, worrisome, and has blindsided us. I’ll explain why this is so:

In 2006, the government tied tuition increases to the rate of inflation. This policy has provided a good measure of predictability for students and families throughout the last decade.

Market modifiers were then introduced in 2010 as a way to correct any perceived anomalies as a result of tuition caps and freezes. Thus, institutions were allowed to apply for a one-time increase.

Note the phrase “one-time”.

These modifiers are essentially differential tuition increases. They effectively go around the regulations set in place to cap tuition. Similarly, loopholes exist in the PSLA Tuition & Fees Regulation, which allow for additional fees, known as mandatory non-instructional fees (MNIFs), to be put in place. Combining the cost of fees and tuition, Alberta has some of the highest costs of education in the country.

The current Provincial Context
Premier Hancock, also the Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education (IAE), said he is in favour of accepting new proposals for market modifiers. Over the summer, I’ve been working with the Department of IAE discussing items related to tuition and fees and providing feedback. “Market modifiers” were never on the table until mid-July when the Premier decided he would start accepting proposals. This is “blindsiding” us since the decision came out of the blue -- it is unacceptable that a consultative route established for this very purpose was being sidestepped.

Second, The deadlines now appear to be different. We were initially informed that proposals would only be accepted in mid-October. Even though market modifiers are not acceptable, at the very least this would give us time to consult students. Now, the U of A Faculty of Law is being pressured to have their proposal completed by the end of August.

University of Alberta – the Law Students’ Association
We have been in close contact with the LSA over the last week or so, since we are all trying to navigate what is happening.

In order to understand why the timeline was shortened, the SU executives had a meeting with the Dean of Law and the LSA Executive where we learned about the planned process. We also had one meeting with the Provost at the Tuition and Budget Advisory Committee (TBAC). Here, we were notified that the market modifier proposals were being written; the actual proposal was not available at either meeting, including the meeting of Students’ Council where the Dean made a presentation.

It is not enough to say that the LSA executives saw the proposal and agreed to it (a letter of support was sent from the LSA to the Provost). We need to make sure that students who are affected by the tuition increase actually have a say. Since school doesn’t start until September, that is very difficult to do.

There has been some confusion about why the SU wants to slow this process down if the respective FA truly “knows what’s best”. For the most part, elected student representatives do know what students need. Yet, when it comes to massive changes, especially those including tuition increases of upwards of thousands of dollars, it’s disingenuous to say we know all students’ opinions.

Consider this: the SU knows that students generally approve paying for a U-Pass. However, if the service providers said we had to start charging students $1000 for a U-Pass, we cannot just assume that all students would still want the service. This is why we run a referendum. Process is important.

Good consultation means there must be substantial evidence, not of the anecdotal version, that students agree or disagree with a given proposal. The most effective way to do this is to have a plebiscite or a referendum.

As the Vice President External, it is my job to ensure that students’ voices are heard and respected. If law students believe a tuition hike is the right thing for them, then they should follow sound process. After all, this issue is not limited to the LSA and its faculty; what happens in this situation will affect others.

Potential Ramifications
This isn’t just about the U of A. The University of Calgary is facing something very similar. If the administrations of our institutions and the Ministry of IAE accept this standard of consultation as appropriate, we run the risk of it becoming the norm.

Despite prior conversations about increasing law tuition, the fact of the matter remains that this current proposal for a 58% increase was written this week. The general student body in the Faculty of Law has not had a chance to adequately reflect on the proposal or debate its conditions. It is a new proposal and that demands there be renewed consultation.

Furthermore, in 2010, a number of U of A faculties were hit with a market modifier: Bachelor of Commerce, Engineering, Graduate Studies, and Pharmacy. Students at that time were also promised a number of conditions that would improve their experience, yet there was little follow-through on the part of the institution to demonstrate this. We’re worried the same thing will happen again.

At the end of the day, the Students’ Union believes the Government of Alberta should not go around legislation and increase tuition beyond the rate of inflation. We believe that loopholes which allow for this to happen should be closed.

In the interim, I think a reasonable solution is to ensure good process is followed – that the time is taken to actively and adequately consult any students who will be affected by a tuition increase. We stand by the principles of predictability, accountability, affordability, and accessibility. We expect our institutions and the Provincial government to do the same.


Navneet Khinda Vice President External, University of Alberta Students’ Union
Chair, Council of Alberta University Students

For more information, take a look at some of the following media stories:

The Edmonton Journal
The Calgary Herald
The Gateway
Metro Edmonton

Day 53 - SU Staff Picnic - July 13, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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We drove back to Edmonton in time for the SU Staff Picnic. I really enjoyed spending time with the staff in an informal setting. I especially enjoyed meeting staff from the food and beverage area of the SU because I don't get to see them often and it's important to recognize and appreciate their contribution to the SU. The picnic was a great venue to to thank staff for their commitment and service to the Students' Union. I'm carrying the conversation forward and making a point to take care of our staff as best as I can.

Top/bottom: Croquet was the sport/activity of choice after the food. The battle was fierce.. After splitting 1st and 2nd place throughout the whole game, Kathryn showed up and took the 1st prize away from us. It was absolutely well-deserved, and I hope to win it back one day!

Day 51 - Bylaw 1100: the Executive Committee and the role of the VPOF - July 11, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

Day 51 - Bylaw 1100: the Executive Committee and the role of the VPOF - July 11, 2013

I got my first opportunity to chair an Executive Committee meeting today! Petros was on vacation today, so I took the reins. I'm able to do this because of our bylaws (Bylaw 1100, to be specific)

Top: Students' Union bylaws are directives perpetually requiring and/or prohibiting action on the part of the Students’ Union. They are the primary legislation of the Students' Union and set out the basic legal structure and operational parameters of the Students' Union. The bylaws cover major governance issues such as the structure of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the Students' Union as well as its finances. Elections, referenda, faculty associations and access to information are additional areas in which Council has legislated

Bottom-left: Bylaw 1100 covers the role of the Executive Committee.

Bottom-right: Bylaw 1100 Section 4.4 outlines that I become the Executive Committee chair in the absence of the President. And that's the story behind how I came to chair the Executive Committee.

Day 50 - The University of Alberta Integrated Planning & Budget Process by Philip Stack - July 10, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Philip Stack, Associate VP Risk Management Services, presented on the U of A's Integrated Planning & Budget Process. I picked out a few slides so you can read the content for your interest and understanding. Big picture, the University budget is created over a year through many operational and governance processes, the Alberta government cuts were a shock to the system, and the U of A is now at a crucial point in determining the future of the U of A by their response to the cuts. As previously mentioned, the scope of my role as VPOF doesn't deal much with the University budgeting process, so I appreciate the primer. Petros, Dustin, and Adam work more closely with the University governance roles that affect the budget.

Day 52 - Council of Alberta University Students trip to the University of Calgary - July 12, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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The UASU Exec went on a trip down to Calgary for a meeting with the other member organizations of the Council of Alberta University Students: the University of Calgary Students' Union and the University of Lethbridge Students' Union. CAUS is a provincial advocacy organization that advocates on post-secondary issues to the provincial government. The UASU is also part of another advocacy organization, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), which is a national advocacy organization. This CAUS trip in Calgary was mainly intended for the monthly CAUS meeting that the Presidents and VP Externals attend, but an added bonus this time was to include all of the Execs from each portfolio to meet and connect. I really enjoyed touring around the U of C, meeting the other SU Execs across the province, and connecting with my fellow VPOFs from Calgary and Lethbridge. This is photo represents the CAUS Executive Director and the membership, the Exec from the U of A, U of C, U of L Students' Unions.

Day 49 - SU Art Collection: Stained Glass - July 9, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: Campus got to take part in celebrating the 100 year birthday of the Edmonton Public Library through their eplGO branch in Cameron library. There was a free barbecue, beautiful weather, and great company. Campus in the summer is great!

Bottom: Another development in the SUB Renovations is a meeting with the Chaplains' Association about the SU stained glass art collection in the Interfaith Chapel. The challenge: How to get 7, 8-10' x 3', stained glass up the 3rd floor of SUB. Solution: TBD. Fun fact, there used to be 8 stained glass panels, but one of them broke many years ago. The photo shows 8 just for the symmetry, but you'll notice the first and last ones repeat.

Day 48 - Golden Bear and Panda Legacy Fund and tidying the office - July 8, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: The discussion regarding the Golden Bear and Panda Legacy Fund continues, but I feel like we're gaining good traction for a positive solution. This is an interesting scenario because the SU seldom holds the chips when dealing with a University group. Notwithstanding the previous statement, it's important for Athletics to exist on campus and it's a matter of how students will contribute to their excellence through the Legacy Fund.

Bottom: Cleaned the office. Clear office, clear mind. I'll get to decorating the walls and personalizing the office soon.

Day 47 - "Work, Learn, Earn" the [Business] Co-op Experience and To do lists/Goals document - July 5, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

Day 47 - "Work, Learn, Earn" the [Business] Co-op Experience and To do lists/Goals document - July 5, 2013

Top: I'm a student at the Alberta School of Business. I'm almost done my course load butI have two Co-op terms left. I talked to the Business Co-op Office as I was preparing for my elections back in February and it turns out the VPOF position is eligible for Co-op. I'm now using my role as VPOF for Co-op. There are a variety of course and project requirements associated with Co-op, so I'm excited to further apply my academic knowledge into the role. The Co-op office is starting a new video series, called “Work, Learn, Earn – The Co-op Experience” which will allow students to talk about the value they find in doing Co-op, and any great experiences or opportunities from their work terms. Kirsten, a fellow BCom who's doing her Co-op at the Business Co-op Office, came to film a 2-3 minute video at my office in SUB 2-900, so keep an eye out for it!

Bottom: I'm learning to effectively task out my day, and one method that's working for me is the ever-trusty to-do list! There's something very satisfying about crossing off a completed task, and I'd recommend them if you don't use them already. One of my biggest tasks is completing my Goals Document for the year. The document is currently my Everest. It's quite a task planning and simplifying everything you want to complete in one year (10 month, at this point), so I'm going slowly with the hope of creating a comprehensive document that is both ambitious and realistic. I look forward to crossing off this document from the list and adding more tasks to cross off from my Goals Document.

Day 46 - Meeting with the Augustana Students' Association, Sending off a Senior Manager, and Running with the President by the Registrar's Office - July 4, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top-left: The Augustana Students' Association came for a meet and greet with the SU Exec. The ASA is a Campus Association, which separate them from a normal Faculty Association because they represent an entire campus (Augustana in Camros).

Day 45 - SUB Coffee Shop construction begins, signing a VERY BIG cheque, wearing U of A colours proudly - July 3, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top left: The Java Jive space is cleared out and ready for the new coffee shop to begin construction!

Top-right/Bottom-left: Today was another moment in how lucrative my job gets. I got to sign a $1.7 million dollar cheque to pay the insurance premiums for our Health and Dental plan. My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw this cheque during my weekly cheque run. I set aside this cheque briefly to confirm the details surrounding the amount. I had to calm myself down when I got around to sign the cheque. The moment of signing went by in an instant and there was a moment of silence. I was waiting for triumphant music to fill the silence and commemorate the moment, but there was no music. My words after signing the cheque were "Well, there goes $1.7 million," and then I went back to work.

Bottom-right: The SU Exec received a gift from the Alumni Association. Each Exec either got a tie or a bow tie in the official U of A tartan. I'm excited to wear the colours proudly when the opportunity arises. The bow tie is a self-tie bow tie. I'm glad I still remember how to properly form the bow tie. Stay tuned to seeing it in use!

Day 43 - Gifts from SUBphoto, the money tree rises, and helping in research - June 28, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Left: One of our long time tenants, SUBphoto, regularly bring up flowers to 2-900. They use fresh flowers as one of their grad photo props and bring the flowers up once they've filled their purpose. At first, I thought someone in the office had a very generous admirer, but it's just a nice gift from Michael and Becky. U of A Grad Photos - SUB Photo

Top-right: I brought old chopsticks from home to help lift my money tree plant up. It was looking a bit sad and limp, so it's now standing tall and proud.

Bottom-right: I took time to participate in a research study for a Pulmonary Physiologist PhD candidate. It was an eye-opening experience on medical research and I'm glad I got to participate. The experiment itself was demanding because it included exercising while getting blood samples drawn while my getting my heart analyzed through a probe of sorts. I'd encourage everyone to participate as a research subject to help in all the research on campus.

Day 42 - SUB Renovation construction contracts, what's inside the U of A Project Management Office, Colour Board for the SUB Coffee Shop - June 27, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: The Canadian Construction Documents Committee (CCDC) is a national joint committee responsible for the development, production and review of standard Canadian construction contracts, forms and guides. The CCDC 2 is a standard prime contract between Owner (SU) and prime Contractor (Carlson Construction) to perform the required work for a single, pre-determined fixed price or lump sum, regardless of the Contractor's actual costs (Source ccdc.org)

Bottom-left: I went into the U of A Project Management Office beside the Butterdome and University field for the first time. I never really bothered to think about what's inside these temporary structures. It turns out they are portable office spaces for Clark Construction (who working on the PAW Centre). We had a meeting with the construction manager from Clark Construction for the PAW Centre to discuss details about updating the 89 Avenue utilities. Long story short, it's useful to have direct contact with the point people and there are some details you can't sort until they happen.

Bottom-right: The colour board for the new coffee shop is complete! Colours aren't entirely accurate through the photo, but it should give an idea of what to expect.

Day 41 - Students' Union retail businesses - June 26, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013


I set out part of my day to meet some of the SU business managers. Today was focused on the retail operations of the SU: SUBmart, SUBtitles, and the Postal Outlet. I've gained a deeper appreciation for the world of retail after my previous Co-op position at Walmart last summer. There are many good features about our retail operations, but there's still a lot of opportunity to grow and succeed. This will be a perfect area for the Business Advisory Group to analyze case studies to help the managers excel at growing the business. The Terms of Reference of BAG will be developed soon. Stay tuned if you want to be involved here or with other SU Businesses.One fun fact from each retail operation:

  • SUBmart is my ultimate source of candy and snacks in SUB. It offers custom order merchandise for groups as well as embroidery and screen-printing! Maybe I'll make some more Josh Le Mug mugs here?

  • SUBtitles consigns textbooks whereby the consignor receives 85% of the consignment price and SUBtitles levies a 15% commission. This is a great alternative provided by the Students' Union for book buy back options on campus. SUBtitles is the main reason why the U of A Bookstore started selling used textbooks.

  • This Postal Outlet is the most profitable Postal Outlet in Northern Alberta and among the highest in Western Canada.

Day 39 - Crowd sourcing ideas via Facebook, tea time in the office, and lunch with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, the UASU, and the GSA - June 24, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: There was a lot of discussion back and forth in 2-900 about what name to choose for the new coffee shop. I wanted to get an outside perspective, so I enlisted my friends to help out on choosing a popular name. I posed the question on Facebook and I was overwhelmed by 51 responses on the status/thread. This was a cool exercise in hearing feedback from the "public" (my Facebook friend network). In case you were wondering, the most popular name was "the Daily Grind."

Bottom-left: There are some magical moments in the office when a bunch of us head to the kitchen to prepare mid-afternoon tea. I don't think it was planned, but we all came out around the same time and chatted around the electric kettle for hot water. Tea time in the office - I like the sound of that.

Bottom-right: The SU and Graduate Students' Association (GSA) met with Dean Kerry Mummery, Director of Athletics Ian Reade, and Director, Operations Cheryl Harwardt from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the Faculty Club for our annual meet and greet. FPER is a leader across North America and one of the few integrated Phys Ed and Rec faculties that combines Academics, Athletics, Recreation Services, and Operations under one faculty. I was seriously impressed by what FPER offers and I'm inspired to check out more of their work. I'm making a point to attend more Golden Bear and Panda games this year and I want to get a tour of the GO Centre. I might have the number wrong, but Cheryl is responsible for $160 million worth of facilities and operations - she makes my job sound much easier.

Day 44 - Longest Council meeting so far this year, budget breparation presentation before meeting acting Provost, HUB Infolink contract signed, and African peanut soup from L'Express - July 2, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: Students' Council lasted 4.3 hours today. It was an interesting meeting with mostly fruitful discussion. Petros, Adam, and Dustin prepared Council for our upcoming meeting with interim Provost, Dr Martin Ferguson-Pell. Other

Bottom-left: HUB is officially going to house Student Connect, a joint initiative between the SU's Infolink and the University's ONEcard office. The contract is signed, construction is already underway, and the new service will be ready to go by the end of the month.

Bottom-right: I recently discovered that L'Express makes delicious soups. Today's soup was too good that I had to share it: African peanut soup. You gotta try it.

Day 40 - Meeting a legend, Peter Meekison, and Cram Dunk coffee now avaialble at L'Express - June 25, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: The Exec ran into Peter Meekison after he and Petros met in 2-900. It was a cool moment at the end of the day to hear stories from his time in University Governance wearing many different hats (Associate Dean at the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research , VP Academic of the U of A, and more). You can learn more about him here: http://www.ualbertacentennial.ca/cgi-bin/people/displaybio.php?bio_id=830.

Bottom: The coffee from Cram Dunk is now temporarily located in L'Express until the new SUB coffee shop is built. The SU promises to always have coffee available in SUB, so this is the solution for now. It's neat having the food and beverages all under one roof. Oh, the possibilities.

Notables: William and I met with Ian Reade, Director of Athletics, and Vang, Associate Athletic Director, Sport Development to discuss the Golden Bear and Panda Legacy Fund. This meeting stems from an issue surrounding a Dedicated Fee Unit, the Golden Bear and Panda Legacy Fund, and how the field hockey team was cut two years ago. We're looking to a fair solution, but it's requiring a bit more work from both ends to make that happen. One thing I highly appreciate are the vast archives containing documents from long ago. It takes a bit of digging to learn what happened in the past, but we have good records showing us what happened long ago.

Day 38: Stand Up For Edmonton: The University of Alberta's Place in Edmonton - June 22, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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I attended a one-day conference started by former VP Academic Emerson Csorba about the University of Alberta's place in Edmonton. I wasn't able to make the first part, but the panels I attended were very thought-provoking. The conference left me with 4 thoughts: 1) How did the U of A end up in a situation where the City of Edmonton doesn't see its full value? 2) What role does the individual student have in partnering with the University to enhance its public image 3) What should the UASU's role be in helping the U of A shape its presence in Edmonton 4) Where do we go from here?

Here's an excerpt from the event description: On June 22, students, professors, business, political and non-profit leaders are gathering at the Stanley A. Milner Library for Stand Up For Edmonton: the University of Alberta's Place in Edmonton. This conference highlights the University of Alberta's contributions to Edmonton's social, cultural and economic vitality. The distinguished speakers in attendance, such as City Councillor Don Iveson and Edmonton Economic Development Corporation CEO Brad Ferguson, will share ways in which the University of Alberta can play a stronger role in Edmonton. Mayor Stephen Mandel will provide the closing keynote in the afternoon, where he will share his thoughts about the university's role in Edmonton. The event is free and open to the public, though tickets are limited.

Stand Up For Edmonton takes place in the aftermath of the Alberta post-secondary budget cuts. The University of Alberta's contributions to Alberta's prosperity have been placed under intense scrutiny, thus forcing the university to defend its role both within Edmonton and the province as a whole, and discover areas for additional benefit to the public.

Seven separate panels will focus on topics such as "innovation, disruption and student entrepreneurship in Edmonton," "the University of Alberta's economic impact in Alberta," and "the University of Alberta's contributions to Edmonton's communities and identity." Among the notable speakers in attendance are Shawna Pandya, co-founder of CiviGuard and SingularityU; Lesley Cormack, Dean of the Faculty of Arts; Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons; Deputy CEO of Edmonton Public Libraries, Pilar Martinez, and University of Alberta VP Advancement, O'Neil Outar.

Day 37: Sneak peak at the studentcare mobile app and closing Cram Dunk and Juicy - June 21, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013


Left: The SU will be a founding partner in the pilot project launching the mobile app by student care, the SU's Health and Dental plan consultant and administrator. The U of A will be the first University in Western Canada to give plan members access to a fully-secure comprehensive platform to submit their claims via their smartphones or iOS devices. We got a sneak peak of the app and it's looking very user friendly and useful. studentcare developed the app themselves in response to feedback received from students. Students will be able to verify coverage, show personalized PDC to the Pharmacist, have travel insurance info easily accessible, file a claim, and review their claim history. The app will be available for iOS devices on iTunes by the end of the month, and development is already underway to expand this to Android and other platforms in the near future.

Right: Two SU business units, Cram Dunk and Juicy, will be closed temporarily. The two operations will combine and occupy the recently vacated Java Jive space beside L'Express. Cram Dunk will be replaced by an OPA! Souvlaki and Juicy will be decant space for the SUB Renos. Cram Dunk and/or Juicy may return in the lower level after the SUB Renovations are complete, but that will depend on the new SUB Coffee Shop.

Day 36: New Coffee Place and SU Handbook Message - June 20, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: The SU Exec discussed the SU Coffee Shop during our Exec Committee meeting. Using the nifty smart projectors, we widdled down the list on the left to the few on the right. At this point, we're looking at "Beans and Blends" or "the (Daily) Grind." A few Exec liked "Cool Beans," but it was vetoed for being too cheesy and generational.

Bottom: I get to welcome students back from the the Spring/Summer break or to the U of A for the first time as an SU Exec through the SU Handbook. Each Exec gets to write a message and I wrote my message as Josh Le, VP (Operations & Finance). It's hard to be succinct when there's so much that can be said. I settled on introducing myself, my portfolio, how my portfolio is relevant to them, and some words of encouragement. I realize the value and limitations of the handbook message with it being a first impression but only one static message. I plan for my future communications with students to be more of a dialogue than a mini speech.

Day 32: RATT closed for renovations and the SU Casino Fundraiser - June 14, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top and bottom-left: The SU celebrated the last day of RATT's operations before it closed its doors for kitchen renovations. A good bunch of us spent time in RATT during the week and today to cherish the last bit of delicious food and amazing views from the 7th floor of SUB. I'm really excited to see RATT stronger than ever when it reopens on August 6th.

Bottom: The SU volunteers at the casino once every 18 months to fundraise to replenish our Casino Fund. In general, the Casino Fund funds equipment, promotional activity, special program support, and more. The fund cannot be used to purchase or fund equipment or supplies that are intended to produce income. I volunteered for the 9:45PM - 2:45AM shift on Friday night as a count room supervisor to count the day's cash with the count room team. I have very little experience or insight in the casino scene, but I learned quite a bit from the contractor working with our group. Although it was a late night, I had good bonding time with SU staff and some of their family members.

Day 30 - Last meeting in SUB 6-06 and SU umbrella vs. tornado warning - June 12, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: SUB 6-06 is one of the better boardrooms with a nice space, sweet chairs, and a great view. I was part of the last group to use the room for a SUB Renovation meeting. Renovations start on the 6th floor tomorrow for the new Governance Centre, and it's going to be great. It'll be nice to have a dedicated space for those all those involved in Governance roles. The details are still coming together, but it's going to be very functional and beautiful.

Bottom: You appreciate rain protection so much more on days like these. Thankfully, we have some sturdy SU umbrellas to shield us from rain, hail, and whatever else nature throws our way. Oddly enough, the rain and wind all stopped whenever I needed to go outside and use the umbrella. Better safe than sorry, eh?

Day 35: U-Pass Advisory Group Meeting and Lunch with DRPA- June 19, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Left: The SU's Department of Research and Political Affairs took the SU Exec out for lunch. The DRPA is a secret but not-so-secret weapon of the SU to help with our advocacy efforts, conduct research for political SU projects, and brief Exec before important meetings. Overall, they are key, like so many other arms of the SU, to the success of the SU. Traditionally, the DRPA and the VPOF don't work together much because the DRPA deals with mostly political affairs, but one of my goals this year is to maximize our collaboration on projects since they're such an invaluable resource. One of the most exciting project we'll work together one is surrounding the creation of the Business Advisory Group. This may change, but my goal for the BAG to act as consultants and business analysts for the VPOF and SU business managers to research and develop realistic recommendations to improve SU businesses.

Right: The U-Pass Advisory Board met for the first time of this term. It was more of an introductory meeting to introduce the different stakeholders to each other and discuss some light agenda items. It was good to learn from different PSE institutions in Edmonton on their U-Pass programs. Two highlights among the agenda items is the proposed U-Pass design and learning that Sherwood Park is getting double-decker buses in the upcoming months. One funny side note is after all the carpet selecting from the SUB Renovations, I can't help but look at the carpet everywhere I go. This is in the lower level board room of Scotia Place.

Day 34: CUPE Negotiations Complete and Understanding the SUB Renovation Utilities - June 18, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: The negotiations are complete! My rough estimations say we spent ~10-12 hours in the negotiation room, not including the time spent preparing and caucusing between meetings. Both parties compromised on their initial proposal, but I feel like the end result is very reasonable for both sides. In the end, we even agreed to take a photo marking the completion of negotiations!

Bottom: One challenging area of the SUB Renovation is coordinating the construction details for the utilities underneath 89 Avenue (between SUB and the future PAW Centre). We met with the U of A, Utilities team to understand the issues with relocating various lines. You can see the different colors representing different utilities, roads, and such. It's in these meetings when I especially appreciate the technical expertise of different disciplines. I can wrap my head around the big picture issues here, but there's no way (without investing too much time) to do the fine detail work. It was a fruitful meeting. I also discovered a bunch of buildings between Lister and the Edmonton Clinic/ECHA that I never knew existed (Heating Plant, Cooling Plant, Materials Management) - they're interesting buildings and they're worth exploring!

Day 33: Venture Mentoring Service and CUPE negotiations - June 17, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: Petros and I met with VP (Advancement) O'Neil Outar and Associate VP, Alumni Affairs about a potential program in the works called the Venture Mentoring Service. They're hiring a manager to shape and direct this program. Here's the job posting (http://www.careers.ualberta.ca/Competition/A113120488/) and an except about the position. Be sure to check it out and share it with anyone who would be a great fit:

The Office of Advancement’s Venture Mentoring Service will establish a formal mentoring program to support initiatives at the University of Alberta that enhance and diversify the University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Venture Mentoring Service will complement the various courses and areas of specialization in entrepreneurship across campus, and will support entrepreneurs to achieve success with their ventures. It will provide University of Alberta students and alumni with the supports needed to launch new ventures, incorporating experienced mentors from the alumni community.

Bottom: It's been 3 days of negotiations with the local CUPE chapter and we're at the finish line! Again, I'm very grateful for the General Manager, Senior Managers, and Personnel Manager for doing such a great job in the negotiations. I couldn't have done it without them, and I appreciate all the expertise they brought to the table.

Day 31: School of Business Convocation and Senior Managers Retreat - June 13, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

Day 31: School of Business Convocation and Senior Managers Retreat - June 13, 2013

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Top: I joined my home faculty's big day at the last convocation of the Spring Convocation schedule. We had a great speech by Jim Prentice, the honourary degree recipient (video: http://new.livestream.com/aict/Convocation2013/videos/21416671) and our interim dean, Joseph Doucet. It was great to see so many friends complete their academic journey (or this leg of the journey) and walk the stage. As before, it was a great honour to congratulate my friends and peers after crossing the stage. The only awkward part is I didn't know the protocol to congratulate my friends. I was told to move to the side of the stage 3 people before your person gets called up so you don't make too much of a disruption. That worked well for my brother's convocation last week when I didn't know as many people. The tricky part was seeing so many people you wanted to congratulate consecutively and moving in and out of my seat. The solution I found towards the end was to just stand at the side of the stage and hug and shake hands of those you know instead of going in and out of your seat.

Bottom: The SU managers had an all-day retreat today. The Exec got to present our goals to the GM, Senior Managers, and Services Managers. Petros presented our collective Exec goals before we got the floor to present our individual portfolio goals.

Day 28: If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you are (James Burke) - June 10, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Today's been the quietest day in the office for me with my weekly meeting with Petros and a biweekly meeting with Exec Committee. I took this opportunity to sit down and dig through the archives to learn and read about the work of previous VP Operations and Finances. The photo is a snippet of the VPOF archives. I only scratched the surface with my reading, but I'll go through the most relevant portions as the days and weeks go on. If anything, the most useful part is familiarizing myself with the past so I know where to look for the future.

Day 29: Physical Acitivity and Wellness (PAW) Centre and Administration Assistants - June 11, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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Top: The PAW Steering Committee meets every 6 weeks to review the activity and progress of the project. It's amazing that I'll be part of two major capital projects that will leave a lasting mark on campus. The PAW project costs $60 million in total and students are paying $30 million of the project. Students won't pay until the building is complete and funcitonal and that's slated for September 2014. I'm looking forward to a tour of the site sometime mid-July.

Bottom: One thing I'm not entirely use to, but I'm learning to appreciate is having an Admin Assistant helping with administrative duties. Among other things, the AA books meetings, files away documents, prints/photocopies/scans documents, and more for the Exec. I still do a good number of those tasks, but it's useful as my schedule gets busier and when I need to be more selective with my time.

Day 27: The SU joins the University community at the Edmonton Pride Parade - June 8, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

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I joined Petros, former President Colten Yamagishi, and Councillors Cory Hodgson and Chloe Speakman at the Edmonton Pride Parade to represent the SU's support for the LGBTQ community. It was a neat experience at the Pride Parade because there was a lot to take in. Some highlights were the sheer number of people walking in the parade and even more that were watching the parade. Some elements of the Pride Parade put me outside of my comfort zone, but I'm still reflecting on the reasons to the discomfort. I was initially unsure whether to attend or not, but I decided to attend at the 11th hour. The tipping point for me to go was the reminder to "love your neighbour as yourself." I'd be interested to engage in more discussion, if anyone's up for it.

Josh Le - Fri Oct 04, 2013

Day 26: Celebrating the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry Convocation - June 7, 2013

Josh Le - Fri Jun 07, 2013

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I came into my office on the first day of work to find a letter inviting me to attend the 2013 Spring Convocations. I was surprised because I don't sit on the Board of Governors or the Senate - the President and VP External are ex officio members, respectively. I signed up to join the Ceremonial Procession for two convocations after confirming that I was indeed invited.

Fast forward a month and it's the day for the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry's convocation. It was an interesting and humbling experience joining the Ceremonial Procession. The humbling part was being surrounded by so many accomplished and successful members of the University family with their colourful regalia (AKA academic bling) while I just wore a robe because I don't have my degree yet. The interesting part was the order in which we lined up for the Ceremonial Procession because I expected to be the very last person in the line since I have no academic weight, but I got placed in the middle after the Board of Governors, Senate, high-ranking University and Faculty members, the Graduate Students' Association and before many highly-accomplished professors as a Students' Union representative. At the end fo the day, it was a neat realization that the SU has a seat at the table because we represent all undergraduate students. I enjoyed celebrating and participating in the convocation especially because I got the opportunity to congratulate my brother, Christopher Le?, as he walked the stage for completing Medical school. Congrats, brother!

Top: This is my view from the stage at the Jubilee. The ceremony was very well done with speeches from President Indira Samarasekera, Honourary Degree recipient Dr. Lincoln Chen, and Dean Douglas Miller.

Bottom-left: The Mace is carried before the Chancellor, or Vice-Chancellor, in procession and rests on its stand in full view of the assembly during Convocation. Centuries ago the Mace was a symbol of authority over life and death. Today it represents power - but the power of knowledge and the importance of the University in the community (Source: http://www.ualberta.ca/~senate/mace.html).

Bottom-right: Here I am rocking a robe sans gown. I'm more inspired to complete my degree after seeing the convocation, but I have a few more goals to complete first.

Day 25: Meeting with the Office of University Relations and my first Gateway interview (in office) - June 6, 2013

Josh Le - Thu Jun 06, 2013

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Top: The Exec (minus Adam because he's on vacation) met with Dr. Debra Pozega Osbourn (VP University Relations), Deb Hammacher (Associate VP University Relations), and Alexis Pepin (Director, Government & Corporate Relations) to chat about grassroots advocacy, a charity run, and graduate attributes. The mission of University Relations is to formulate strategies and undertake initiatives that will help to position the University of Alberta as an institution that is admired, respected, and trusted by our stakeholders. These stakeholders include students and their parents, faculty, donors and alumni, all orders of government, institutional partners, and the communities we serve (Source: http://www.ur.ualberta.ca/)

Bottom: I got my first interview in office by Andrea Ross from the Gateway about the SUB Renovations. I'll update the link when it's up. I'm showing off the mini model made by DIALOG many months ago. It's a bit dated, but it still packs a visual punch.

Other notables: - The Grant Allocation Committee met to learn about the Access Fund and Students' Union Awards by the manager and assistant managers from the Student Financial Aid Information Centre. Learn more about SFAIC here: http://www.su.ualberta.ca/services/sfaic/.

Day 24: Dress for success and the University Budget - June 5, 2013

Josh Le - Wed Jun 05, 2013

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Top: I've always appreciated Petros' sense of style. Talking about men's clothing with another person in-the-know is a relative rarity, so I always appreciate the chats. We independently picked up double monk strap dress shoes (affectionately known as "double monks") earlier this year. Shoes make or break the outfit, so make sure to get a good foundation.

Bottom: We learn about the University budget and more as a continuation to GOV 599. The text should be legible in full screen mode. Many people wondered why it was tough for the University to adjust their budgets after the Provincial Government released their budget on March 7th (other than the cuts itself) and it's because a year-long process was reduced into a one month. I'll explain further: the summer consists of planning and informal consultation with deans; and then there are preliminary forecasts, fee proposal consultation, and the budget draft is developed and brought through governance channels for fee proposal approval in the Fall; and then the budget is finalized in the Winter semester with a month period for adjustment between the province's budget and the University's final budget to reflect the actual allocations from the province.

Day 23 - New toys, Execs with General Faculties Council, and Students' Council - June 4, 2013

Josh Le - Tue Jun 04, 2013

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Top: An EPSON and Inland AV rep came in to show off the Epson BrightLink Pro for SUB and some of the new conference rooms. Some notable features: the interactivity is done through an infrared pen so you can project the picture on a regular whiteboard (or any surface) and use it as a smart board, it has an ultra short throw design allowing it to project up to 100" from a 4-6" distance from a wall, and it works without a PC connected to it because it has an internal hard drive in the projector. In short, it was neat. I tested out the sensitivity of the pen on a friendly game of Minesweeper. Unfortunately, the mines won that round.

Bottom-left: We continued our GOV 599 sessions to further understand our governance roles in the scope of the province, University, and SU structures. Here's a snippet of representation of the Exec in GFC, BoG, and its committees. I've counted about ~15 regular committees that the VPOF sit on. I haven't confirmed with the other Execs, but I know Dustin (VP Academic) sits on >40 committees. I have a lot of respect for his committee work demands, the countless meetings, and a wealth of knowledge needed to get the job done well. On top of that, most of his work is behind the scenes. I'll follow up on the other Execs in a future post.

Bottom-right: Students' Council meets every second Tuesday (yes, even through its the summer). Our temporary location is in ECHA 1-490. As previously mentioned, Students' Council is the ultimate authority in the Students' Union. It consists of 40 members ranging from the Speaker, Exec, the GM, and Councillors proportionately representing the undergraduate Faculty population. Together, these individuals are responsible for fulfilling the mandate of the Students' Union. This mandate comes from the Post Secondary Learning Act (Source: su.ualberta.ca/governance/council). It always amazes me how much responsibility each Councillor is given to represent the voice of their Faculty's constituents. That's representative democracy for you.

Other notables: - The Exec Committee is getting into a good groove with our Exec Committee meetings. - Marc Dumouchel gave a solid presentation on the SUB Renovation to Council. - I had a fruitful chat with Justin, our Director of Research and Political Affairs, about using his department for research to accomplish my Exec goals.

Day 22: Lower Level Concept Development, Construction Underway, and the Birth of the "After Fives" - June 3, 2013

Josh Le - Mon Jun 03, 2013

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Top: We met with DIALOG at their office to see their concept ideas for the lower level of SUB. This is the first page of the presentation with some of their inspirations and themes for the lower level. Some details need more refining, but it's exciting to see the puzzle pieces of the project coming together.

Bottom-left: Construction is officially underway in the SUB towers! The 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors are the first pieces in Phase One to get the makeover. The blueprint and designs look great. I'm most excited for the 6th floor! I'll release some more teasers as the project proceeds.

Bottom-right: What are the "After Fives?" Stay tuned. ;)

Other notables: - The Exec continues an internal session called GOV 599 to learn about Governance. - The Exec goals were presented at the Senior Managers Meeting.

Day 21: iChat and SU Book Club - May 31, 2013

Josh Le - Fri May 31, 2013

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And that pretty much wraps up Month #1! I'm going to refine the process of these posts within the next few weeks.

Top: The schedule was a bit lighter on Friday since I was preparing to head out for a retreat this weekend. That's retreat #3 for me in the month of May, so I made sure to keep it light. I discovered one neat feature of the Mac system iChat! The video conferencing system works relatively seamlessly. This is a fun photo from our chat.

Bottom: The SU Book Club met for the first time this summer to discuss Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. We had so many people that we had to split into two groups. Bonus: The weather was nice so we staked a spot at the picnic tables in Quad. We went through the first two chapters: (Ch1) The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way and (Ch2) THe Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions. The discussion was fun and enlightening, and I look forward to reading through the rest of the book.

Other notables: First time ending my day at 3:30PM! I was busy tying up some loose ends before my retreat, but I'll count it as a personal victory.

Day 20: Students' Council Reports and office birthday cake - May 30, 2013

Josh Le - Thu May 30, 2013

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Top: The Executive Commitee (President + the 4 VPs) reports to Students' Council every two weeks on our work. I'm responsible for preparing a report every second week summarizing the VPOF portfolio's work to keep myself accountable to the highest governing body of the SU - Students' Council. Here's the link to my reports to Council: http://su.ualberta.ca/governance/executives/vpfinance/bio/. You're able to email written questions and put it on the agenda if you ever want me to respond to any questions in writing to Students' Council. Email Craig Turner, the Council Speaker at speaker@su.ualberta.ca.

Bottom: More cake! I'm noticing a trend with the SU culture. We have cake every month to celebrate the birthdays from the previous month. One great part about the cake is inviting the Services staff to join us in the celebration. The office staff is on the second floor while the Services are generally in the lower-level of SUB, so it's easy to go through all of our day without seeing them. It's these intentional efforts which work to bridge that gap. Unity!

Other notables: - I got to meet a few other VP Finances across the country through a conference call. The VP Operations and/or Finances don't get to meet as often as the Presidents or VP Externals since our national portfolios don't overlap as much, so I enjoyed meeting my colleagues across the country.

Day 19: Diversity training, bowling night, and celebration cake - May 29, 2013

Josh Le - Wed May 29, 2013

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Top: The SU Exec, Services Managers, and Services Directors attended a Diversity Training Session about the important work of inclusivity and understanding the intersections of oppressions that affect the SU and our interpersonal relationships. We had sessions on anti-oppression by APIRG (Alberta Public Interest Research Group), Safe Spaces training by iSMSS (Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services), and gender-based violence, power, and community accountability by the SU's GBVPP (Gender Based Violence Prevention Project). To say the least, it was very thought-provoking in how we act daily and it forced me to think about social norms we've developed. Here are some links I requested to share for those interested in learning more:

  • http://microaggressions.tumblr.com/
  • http://www.trainingforchange.org/
  • http://zinelibrary.info/files/Frye.pdf

Bottom-left: The SU Staff Wellness Program went 5 pin bowling at Bonnie Doon. It was great to hangout with the staff and join in a friendly competition of bowling. Kim had the highest score of 123 to earn the crown!

Bottom-right: There always seems to be a celebration in the office. The Programming and Venues department brought some delicious ice cream cake to celebrate the end of a big chapter in their season.

Other notables: - The Gateway Student Journalism Society voted to outsource their ad sales to FREE Media. - I got an SU branded umbrella to protect myself from the random Edmonton rain storms.

Day 18: Think bigger – May 28

Josh Le - Tue May 28, 2013

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It's almost the end of the month and I can't believe how quickly it's gone. Today's photo represents a vivid learning point from my management internship at Walmart last year for Coop. I learned about the perspective needed as a manager/leader. The analogy is between an associate and a manager and comparing the perspectives to working in the trenches and being in a helicopter. Being a leader requires you to see the bigger picture and not getting caught up in the details. Being a leader requires you to have and see the goal and lead those to complete the day-to-day activities. It's a bit frustrating to get caught up in the details and not put the time to vision cast, but I'm reordering it to be higher on my priority list. I've only got 11 month to complete my goals and make an impact at the UASU. Time's ticking, so it's time to spend more time in the helicopter.

Top: A view of campus from RATT from "the helicopter."

Bottom: A ground-level ("the trenches") view of Pembina Hall.

Day 17: Granting Committee and walking the talk – May 27

Josh Le - Mon May 27, 2013

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Top: One committee where I get to work alongside one of my fellow execs, William, is the Student Group Granting Committee. The aim of the Student Group Granting Committee is to support student group granting activity on campus. Its goal is to provide funding for student groups that strive to benefit the wider campus community and contribute to student engagement. This initial meeting is setting the foundational values we want for this committee to carry moving forward. It's exciting to enable and support groups all around campus to fulfill their mandates, so I look forward to reviewing the applicants this year.

Bottom: The SU Staff Wellness Program continues on with the Walk with Val (our Personnel Manager) walk around campus, visiting the campus Water Features. We picked up a few people along the way to join our walk. It was nice to chat with staff around the SU and get to know them in a more personal way.

Day 16: New friendships – May 26

Josh Le - Sun May 26, 2013

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Top: We got one more group photo before we boarded the bus. We were all running pretty low on sleep, but I'm sure the new friendships were a source of our smiles.

Bottom-left: One of the must-dos at Pigeon Lake is checking out the lake, so a bunch of us took in the sights.

Bottom-right: My non-academic highlight of the trip was playing Werewolves. We played late into the morning, so it technically counts as Sunday! It was an interesting exercise in learning about people's bluffing and negotiation skills. Werewolves (AKA Mafia) is a card game modelling a battle between an informed minority (the werewolves) and an uninformed majority (the villagers). Players are secretly assigned roles: either werewolves, who know each other; or villagers, who know only the number of werewolves amongst them. In the game's night phase the werewolves covertly "murder" a villagers. During the day phase, all of the surviving players debate the identities of the werewolves and vote to eliminate a suspect. Play continues until all of the werewolves have been eliminated, or until the werewolves outnumber the villagers. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mafia_(party_game))

Day 15: Let's learn about governance, goal setting, and the group photo – May 25

Josh Le - Sat May 25, 2013

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Top: I really wish more student reps came out to GovCamp because I learned so much from the day's sessions. I learned more than I could have imagined at the retreat despite serving two terms as Councillor and starting my role as a SU Exec. Our returning execs, Petros and Dustin, gave great insight from their areas of expertise along with our other presenters. A brief list of the topics: advocacy training, conflict management, diversity training, goal setting, the history of the SU, and more. I have no doubt in my mind that the fruit from this retreat will be evident throughout the delegates' organizations this year.

Bottom-left: The Council Speaker, Craig Turner, and our President, Petros Kusmu, led Council in a great goal and visioning session. We broke up into three groups to write ideas on sticky notes, add sticky tabs to highlight which goals we value the most, and passed it around to the other groups to add their own sticky tabs. The other side was a simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of Council. It was beneficial and useful for Council to understand their governance role and to plan ahead on the direction of the U of A Students' Union.

Bottom-right: This photo was technically taken the night before, but it's best put here. Look at how good we look! I feel this will be iconic somehow in the future as the first GovCamp.

Day 14: Decisions, new friendships, and teamwork – May 24

Josh Le - Fri May 24, 2013

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Top-left: Leftovers and snacks always seem to be in abundance in 2-900 (our office is 2-900 SUB) from meetings or gatherings. I always welcome the snacks, but one of the constant battles is to choose the healthy or not-as-healthy option. Today, I mostly chose healthy! It's the small victories that add up to win the war.

Top-right: ~30 student representatives from Students' Council and the Council of Faculty Associations hit the road to Camp Maskepetoon for GovCamp. I'm excited beause there are many new faces on the bus! That means new people are stepping up to the governance plate and there are new friendships to form. It's exciting and comforting to gather with so many student representatives because there's a shared understanding of experiences as an elected official that you can't fully understand otherwise. I'm looking forward to their unique perspectives to build on this common ground.

Bottom: We brought a lot of food and gear to GovCamp, so that meant we had to unload a lot of food and gear from the bus. A lightbulb turn on in my head after scurrying back and forth and noting inefficiencies in our method. I drew upon my many years of participating in the famous Orientation Muffin Line to get the product from the bus to the kitchen in the fastest and funnest way. Needless to say, I was proud.

Day 12: A great lunch, the team reunites, and work-life balance.

Joshua Le - Thu May 23, 2013

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Top: We had a delightful lunch with University Governance staff at the Faculty Club. It was my first time eating there since it's reserved for Faculty members and their guests. Marion Haggarty-France, University Secretary; Deborah Holloway, Board Secretary & Manager of Board Services; and Garry Bodnar, Director, GFC Services and Secretary to GFC were the gracious hosts to the SU Exec. For those curious, it's a nice buffet-style meal. The highlight for me was hearing the insight, wisdom, and observations around University governance between Dustin, Kyle and Marion Haggarty-France. I couldn't contribute much to the conversation, but I had a blast just listening and enjoying my meal. Dustin and Kyle do a lot of great work for the SU that never gets public appreciation and praise (Dustin attends ~3x more meetings than I do in a given week), so be sure to tip your hat to them for all they do.

Bottom-left: The Exec Committee reunited after a week long separation with Petros and Adam being away at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations conference. We meet twice a week normally, but it's been impossible with their transition conferences in May. Welcome home, Adam and Petros! This is temporary "welcome home" because we're going on a retreat this weekend called GovCamp with Students' Council and the Council of Faculty Associations to teach and orient new student representatives about student governance. There will be time to set out visions and goals for the upcoming year. We'll be sure to add in a healthy dose of bonding and social time too. It'll be great to collaborate and meet other U of A student leaders since we all play a role in representing students. We seldom get to meet as such a large group, so it'll be extra special.

Bottom-right: It's Thursday and the end of the month, so I get plenty of paperwork to sort through. For reference, there's my trusty Josh Le Mug mug beside the pile of documents. Thursday is cheque-run day, so I sign off on a bunch of cheques before it goes to the recipient. The cheques and their supporting documentation takes up half of that pile. The other half represents the end-of-month duties which consist of reviewing and following through on profit and loss statements, variance reports, trial balances, and performance assessments. It might sound nerdy, but I'm excited to go through all these reports to further my understanding of the SU operations. I'm still in learning mode, so I can't possibility know everything, but I'm doing my best to take it all in. In general, you can tell what an organization or person values by tracking where they spend their money. Other than the above reason, I successfully left the office before 5PM for the first time! In an effort to strike a work-life balance, I made the judgment call that it can wait for tomorrow if it's not an emergency to complete today. Needless to say, it felt good.

Other notables: I attended the Old Scona Academic convocation to support and celebrate a friend's big milestone. I had a blast and it was great to see and feel the excitement and good feelings around finishing such a big chapter of their lives. I'm excited for what this next wave of leaders and superstars will do for the world.

Day 12: Happy birthday, Dustin! – May 22

Josh Le - Wed May 22, 2013

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Top-left: William got Dustin U of A balloons from the Bookstore as a birthday gift. What a thoughtful guy, eh? Dustin was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, we all had long days in the office, so the celebration will be another day.

Top-right: I joined the SU book club today and our book this summer is Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. I've read a few chapters before, but I didn't get to finish the book. One motivation for joining the book club is prioritizing learning and personal growth while on the job. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities, but it's important for me to take time to develop myself into a better person every day.

Bottom-left: I visited the Centre for Student Development to the warm reception of Tim and some of the Orientation crew: Corbett, Scott, Sherwin, and Josh. They artfully crafted some sick volleyball shirts for high mobility. Go Sand Badgers!

Bottom-right: This is a continuation of the SU Staff Wellness Program where we played Ultimate Frisbee and Soccer. Other than being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I had a blast playing organized sports with a great group of people. It's great to start getting active again. I'm feeling healthier and stronger each time I hit the gym and/or play sports. It's nice to have a lot of people to keep us accountable for our health and wellness. That, and the Fitocracy community! :D

Other notables:

I signed my biggest cheque so far this term. It's a sobering reminder how much responsibility I have on the job, so it motivates me to continue to do my best for the students, the SU, and myself.

I got an overview of the Financial Aid Office with some of their services (Access Fund and Awards) from a great manager. We had a fruitful discussion about opportunities to lighten the financial burden of post-secondary education for students. I'm looking forward to working with the FAO team this year through the Grant Allocation Committee.

The SUB Renovation Committee meets every Wednesday and progress is going well. We're hoping to finalize some details soon to get Phase One of the project underway.

Hi-Chews are a hit in the office. I might need to get some more soon. 'Til next time!

Day 11: Settling in and becoming more productive. – May 21

Josh Le - Tue May 21, 2013

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Top left: I've decided to track the stats on how many times I sign documents over the term. I want to make a cool infographic showing how many hours I spend signing stuff. Below the written tracking card is the pen Andy Cheema gave me as a VPOF gift, and I've designated it as my official signing pen. It also features a laser pointer and mini flash light!

Top-right: I've stepped up my office candy game since William and Dustin both got some fudge and chocolates for their office. Hi-Chew is like the Japanese Starburst, but kicked up a notch. If you haven't tried them yet, swing by my office for a chat or go hunt down some for yourself.

Bottom-left: I ran into some great Safewalk volunteers on my way home and they offered to escort me from campus to my car at the LRT. Safewalk provides a safe alternative to walking alone at night around the campus community and beyond. Thanks for the walk and chat, Vincent, Jacqueline, and Susan!

Bottom-right: There is a Students' Council meeting every two weeks. Students' Council is the highest governing body of the SU. The Execs and I sit on Council and they keep us accountable for our actions. Among other duties as an Exec on Council, we provide Council with an update and summary of the two-week period. This can be an alternative to these daily posts, so check out the main agenda under "Josh Le, VP Operations and Finance - Report." http://su.ualberta.ca/media/uploads/assets/CouncilOrderPapers/Agenda-2013-02-May21.pdf

Other notables: I had my first big meeting with two senior VPs and an AVP about the UPass. It'll be interesting to work with U of A admin over the year.

Day 10: PAW means Physical, Activity, and Wellness Centre. – May 17

Josh Le - Fri May 17, 2013

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Top: The other big project going on this term is the PAW Centre. You've probably noticed Van Vliet and the Butterdome's been under construction since October and it's slated to be completed by September 2014. The project is estimated to cost $60 million and the SU is contributing $30 million of that sum. Among other things, William and I are working together to determine the direction of the community kitchen. The space is already allocated for the kitchen, but it's the SU's role to outfit the kitchen and determine its identity and function. Any suggestions?

Bottom-left: I'm not graduating this semester, but I get to attend convocation. It seems like I get certain privileges as an SU Exec. I won't divulge any details, but look out for amusing updates during the June updates.

Bottom-right: I learned about the SU's social media strategies this morning from our superstar Senior Manager Marketing & Communications and our Digital Media Coordinator. I'm looking forward to collaborating with the Marketing team for a successful communications strategy. TIL (Today I Learned) the quote "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish," didn't originate from Steve Jobs! Steve Jobs quoted it from Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog's final edition farewell message. The Whole Earth Catalog was like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along. Our Senior Manager Marketing and Communications likes to collect quotes and I really enjoyed going through his collection in his office.

Day 9: Fall Reading Week - a dream or reality? – May 16

Josh Le - Thu May 16, 2013

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Left: Another monster (not in a bad way, but in scope) of a subject this year is whether the Fall Reading Week will become a reality. This topic's been in the works for the past 4 years and a lot of hours have been dedicated to the cause. The main issue is whether we can get all the stakeholders to agree on a modified schedule that works for everyone. The research and cases supporting the FRW are interesting and compelling, but the logistics of implementing a whole week off are up for debate. Every day is one day closer to the reality of a Fall Reading Week, but for now it remains a dream.

Right: We're one step closer to figuring out the carpet! This is the front runner, but the decision is cost-dependent. To clarify, I do more work than just choose carpet all day, but I think it's an amusing story line to follow. We met with DIALOG, our architects, to discuss the SUB Tower renovations (3rd, 4th, and 6th floors, as the first phase) and the topic of air temperature control in the towers. We've come across interesting and unique challenges regarding the age and condition of the building, but I'm confident our team will get the job done well.

Other stuff: I got to chair my first Grant Allocation Committee, a committee of Students' Council, as chairperson. GAC is arguably one of the more complicated Council committees because it deals with allocating over $3 million to many different groups. This will be an interesting learning experience since we deal with many stakeholders ranging from the Dean of Students, Financial Aid Office, Student Group Services, and more.

Day 8: We're standing on the shoulders of giants – May 15

Josh Le - Wed May 15, 2013

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Left: This is William and I at our first interview in office with CJSR 88.5FM. We received media training earlier that morning and we got to test our skills right away in a casual interview regarding this upcoming term. A quick shout out to Matt Hirji for interviewing us and Simon Yackulic for the media training.

Right: "We're standing on the shoulders of giants." This is a common theme mentioned during Exec retreat when talking about the history of the SU. Many great people have taken office over the years and it's humbling to join the ranks of all these SU greats. The tradition is to write your name on the wall after completing your term. Despite all the activity that comes with the job, it's reassuring to remember that so many have come before us, sat in the same spots, and survived their terms. I look forward to continuing this tradition when my term ends. I hope to do as good a job or better than those before me.

Other things learned today: more negotiation skills, how much I enjoy Exec Committee meetings (we don't get to see each other as often as you'd think), and appreciating team work, in general.

Day 7: First week in the office – May 14

Josh Le - Tue May 14, 2013

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Left: Here's a continuation of the interior designer hat I get to wear. This is one of the tile options virtually installed in four different methods. I don't think they're too clear in this collage, but the installation styles are quarter turn, monolithic, ashlar, and brick. Any thoughts?

Right: I got to play Santa Clause today by dropping off Staff Appreciation Cards to our awesome SU staff. The SU employs anywhere between 200-300 staff and it's great to recognize them for their service.

Other things done today is the sharpening of my BS detector, developing SUB Reno financing strategies, and meeting one of the lead brains behind RATT.

Day 6: Forming new habits – May 13

Josh Le - Mon May 13, 2013

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Left: It feels good to get back in the gym. Here's a small shout out to Harry Pang for reminding me to get in the gym. I'm easing myself into the workouts, so expect each workout to produce more points. No need to spam here, so join the Fitocracy community for the fun and support.

Top-right: It took me about 5 minutes to remember my locker combination after my workout. Let's hope this is the last time I forget it. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, but this study suggests not: http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/09/how-long-to-form-a-habit.php.

Bottom-right: One of the highlights from today is learning about Diigo in the office. Diigo is two services in one -- it's a research and collaborative research tool on the one hand, and a knowledge-sharing community and social content site on the other. The UASU uses it as a "you-should-read-this" tool to curate good content relating to post-secondary education. Look out for the ones I find interesting through the @uasuvpfinance Twitter handle.

Day 5: First weekend in the office – May 12

Josh Le - Sun May 12, 2013

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Left: I went to the office very briefly on Sunday to water the VPOF office plant. I realized in a panic on Saturday night that I haven't watered it since my term started, so I came in (I was in the area!) for my first weekend to save the plant. Apparently, this plant's been around since the Zach Fentiman and Andy Cheema days. I have no clue what the plant species is, but I'll keep it alive for the next VPOF.

Top-right: The UASU started a Staff Wellness Program to encourage all the staff to maintain their health and wellness. We played a fun match of volleyball where my team ended up victorious! Friends are welcome, so come out to Ultimate Frisbee at 5:15PM on May 22nd.

Bottom-left: A few of us went out for refreshments at Booster Juice to chill and catch up. Among the chatter, I got them to join me on Fitocracy to keep us all accountable with our workouts. It'll be great to compete and support each other. Fitocracy name is "joshyle" if anyone wants to join along.

Day 4: I'm a PC - not a Mac. – May 10

Josh Le - Fri May 10, 2013

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Half the day was taken up with the continuation of the meetings from yesterday, which turned out fairly positive. I've started the job a bit backwards with more doing than learning, but I'll prioritize pure learning once things settle down a bit more.

On a related note, I can't say I'm in love with these big and shiny Apple products. I have a big shiny iMac in my office with all the bells and whistles, but I'm not blown away by product. It's not as user friendly and intuitive as I thought it'd be. What's up with the wonky Mail and iCal systems? Why won't iCal sync up with Google calendar? Alas, I need more time to get used to it, but I thought it'd work like a charm. Any tips on becoming a Mac power user?

It's the end of the week and I'm excited for the rest of the year! I knew it was going to be tough work, but I didn't realize how much work it'd take. The days fly by in an instant, so I'm making sure to take time to pause, reflect, and grow from this great opportunity. How do I want to shape the SU in the short and long term? Time will tell.

Day 3: It shouldn't work, but it works! – May 9

Josh Le - Thu May 09, 2013


Top: I spent half the day in important meetings. I would've taken a photo during the meeting, but that'd be largely inappropriate. While I can't talk about the meetings themselves, it clicked midway during the meetings how amazing and important the UASU managers, staff, and employees are. The UASU is an organization that annually turns over its executive, but it survives largely due to all the work the GM, Senior Managers, DRPA, and their staff. Without going through much detail, remember the 200-300 staff that keep the UASU alive and thriving.

Bottom-left: I'm starting a new workout program as a commitment to my health and some form of a work/life balance. I'm excited to get back into the gym. Biggest obstacle: How do I manage all my hair during the workout?

Bottom-left: Here's the new ONEcard compared the old one. Looks like I've changed a bit since my 1st year, eh?

Day 2: Second day in the office and it's looking to get tougher and tougher – May 8

Josh Le - Wed May 08, 2013

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Top: The SUB Renovation architects, DIALOG, created a mock-up of the renovated SUB a few months back. The design has changed a bit, but this mock-up captures the essence of it. This is an aerial view from the southeast.

Bottom-left: After a long meeting hammering out details about glass casings, I got to play interior designer for a bit. These are carpet tile samples for the 6th floor and lower-level. The blond birch wood samples are for the door.

Bottom-right: This is the sun setting at 9PM as I left campus via the LRT (with my new Spring/Summer uPass!). Second day in the office and my second 12 hour day. This was my first challenge to a work-life balance where I had to make a split second decision about an important meeting that I found out about in the 11th hour. I had to choose the well-being of the SU over a very important dinner. Unimpressed and feeling terrible about missing the dinner, but the result from the meeting was positive. It's a rude awakening and a scary foreshadow for the year, but I signed up for the job. Let's hope I make better decisions going forward. "I am not here for me."

Day 1: First day at the office. – May 7

Josh Le - Tue May 07, 2013

alt text Top: Andy Cheema swung by and gave me the last part of his VPOF transition gifts - a mug of myself. I'll bring this mug into the toughest meetings this year to lighten the mood. Thanks for the gift! Bottom-left: Petros Well-Put Kusmu gave us, his VPs, photos for our offices. The photos are from the The Gateway's election results special edition. My photo caption: Campus gets Le'd. Bottom-right: I got my name tag, name plate, and business cards for the year. Feeling like a big boy now.


. - Thu Dec 20, 2012


VPSL Video Blog: Oh, the places you'll go

Saadiq Sumar - Wed Sep 26, 2012

Although I wrote this speech to welcome new students to university during Orientation, I decided that it would be important to post this as well. Too often we forget the opportunity we have been given to further our education.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Dustin Chelen - Thu Sep 13, 2012

As the Fall 2012 semester gets underway, you’re probably becoming increasingly aware of all the complex rules at the University of Alberta. For example, I’m sure you have already seen the statement regarding cheating and plagiarism on every one of your syllabi — ever wonder why that’s required for each and every class?

The University of Alberta has amassed a ton of rules during its 104 years of existence. Rules surrounding credit transfer, building hours, scholarships, study abroad, program changes, student groups, grading, appeals… The list goes on. In many cases, rules have their place: to protect students and help them graduate on time. In others cases, however, rules are outdated and bureaucratic and only result in a mountain of paperwork and time spent walking from office to office around campus — as if students weren’t already pressed for time.

Three years ago, the Provost struck the Academic Policy and Process Review Task Force (APPRTF) to look at these rules. Since then, they’ve reviewed 46 rules and processes that just don’t make sense. Some of the biggest changes include an updated grading policy, better communication on transfer credits, a review of the Withdrawal deadline, the removal of deferred exam fees, and better oversight over certificate programs.

Have you ever been frustrated by a rule or a process on campus? Do you think that a university degree could be easier to navigate?

The Students’ Union is looking for 3 students to sit as members of the APPRTF. The committee meets every month for 2 hours, and includes important university figures such as the Provost, the Dean of Students, the Registrar, Deans, Department Chairs, and others. If you’re interested in helping to change these rules, or want to put a really long acronym on your resume, consider applying! Check out the application package here.

Applications are due on September 20th.

Looking forward to fighting bureaucracy together!

Dustin Chelen

VPSL Video Blog

Saadiq Sumar - Fri Jul 20, 2012

University of Alberta Students' Union Vice-President (Student Life) Saadiq Sumar talks about the programming, services and advocacy that the VPSL portfolio handles. Sumar also explains his ideas for a Campus Musical and Campus Music Festival, along with some of his other plans for the upcoming year.

Small Actions, Big Changes

Dustin Chelen - Thu Jul 05, 2012

Hello there readers! My name’s Dustin, and I will be your Vice President Academic for the 2012-2013 school year. I’m not much of an avid blogger, but I want to share some important stories with you over the course of the year.

The University of Alberta is big. How big? 31,000 undergraduates big. If you stacked them end-to-end, they’d probably be able to reach the top of the empire state building, but those on the bottom would be hurting pretty bad.

It’s easy to feel small and powerless at such a big institution. After all, who’s going to listen to just one student?

Don’t despair. The fact is, there are lots of people at the U of A who not only will listen to you, but they actively want to hear from you!

In particular, University of Alberta administrators like the Provost, Vice Provosts, Dean of Students, Deans, and Department Chairs. These people chair committees and hold focus groups that involve undergraduate students. And what they hear from you could really end up making a huge difference. After all, who knows what the University’s biggest clientele needs better than current students?

Way back in 2009, the SU Vice President Academic invited me to a meeting with the Dean of Students and Deputy Provost on the Institutional Access Plan. Back then, I didn’t know what most of those words meant, but I humbly accepted. I read through a 200 page document the night before (little did I know that that made me part of an exclusive [and woefully lonely] handful of people on campus who had done the same). And at that meeting, I talked about confusing rules and processes that cause runaround for students. You know, sign that form here, deliver it there, wait for three weeks…

Three years later, the “Academic Policy and Process Review Task Force” has a list of 40 silly rules or procedures, with nearly half of them crossed off as being investigated and fixed. My little suggestion added 15 words to a confusing document, which spawned a committee with a horribly long name, which is now spearheading tangible change to things that affect me and my friends.

Sometimes, through all of the acronyms and talk, it might seem like no one is listening to students on campus. But I can tell you that isn’t true. The University of Alberta values the student voice, and makes decisions based on student feedback.

Young people have an incredible view of the world that deserves to be heard. They have a certain naivety that addresses the underlying problem, and will not accept excuses. I am so proud to be part of an organization focused on empowering and responding to the student voice, and to be at a University that values it.

As a university student, I know you have thoughts about how to make the world better, starting with the university and your student experience. Why not share those thoughts? I encourage you to talk to your Departmental Association, Faculty Association, or SU Councillor. And you can always share your thoughts with me at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca.

Even better, you can get your feet wet like I did! Participate in an advisory committee. The Academic Relations Group consists of 8 students who get to give feedback to University Administrators. You’ll learn more about how the University works, grow your advocacy skills, and meet some very interesting people. And who knows, maybe what you say will change the way this campus works in a year or two!

My Thoughts on Quebec

Petros Kusmu - Thu May 31, 2012

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Wow. So in case you've been living in a cave for the past 100 days or so, post-secondary education (PSE) issues and student issues are now in the national spotlight. Why? Well yes, the global Occupy movement has surely contributed to it. But an even larger catalyst has been the massive protests in Quebec which have been going on for over a 100 days and have recently gotten up to 400,000 people taking to the streets.

However, this recent "Maple" Spring has definitely got people debating intensely about the issue. In my case, the majority of the media interviews I have given so far in my role as Vice President (External) have been related to the Quebec protests. With this in mind, I figured that I should inaugurate my very first blog post with this very popular and important topic.

I sympathize with the students in Quebec. Yes, our tuition in Alberta is nearly double that in Quebec. And yes, out-of-province students in Quebec are charged higher tuition — but that’s another issue. Rather than employing the "THEY GOT IT GOOD, STOP WHINING" argument, I figured that I should take the time to break down this scenario a little bit more and relate it back to us students in Alberta. I’ll start off by explaining the Students’ Union (SU) and our lobby groups’ stances on things like tuition and fees. From there, I’ll try to draw some parallels between our stances and our advocacy history to the current situation in Quebec

Here at the SU and at the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS–our provincial lobby group), our advocacy principles in regards to the cost of PSE stress accessibility, affordability, and predictability. Now whilst the first two principles are pretty well publicized, the latter point is something that's often forgotten. For those in high-school or for those parents with children considering PSE who will be contributing to their child's education, being able to plan for PSE costs ahead of time is crucial. After years of solid advocacy efforts, campaigns, and protests, the SU and CAUS broke ground for students when the government decided to limit tuition increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in 2004.

However, with this in mind, we still have a lot of issues ahead of us — the two of them being the unfairly implemented mandatory non-instructional fees (MNIFs) and market modifiers. For starters, despite tuition being capped by CPI, universities across Alberta have been able to get away with levying MNIFs on students. Normally, students vote on whether we should pay a MNIF or not, the U-Pass being one example, funding for Student Legal Services being another. Contrary to what some think, when fee proposals have demonstrated a real benefit to students, students have tended to vote in favour of them; in fact the fees pass 76% of the time for CAUS member schools. Students are okay with fees, if WE see value in them and if WE have the final say. In addition to the most recent U of A MNIF — which is pretty much tuition by another name — Market Modifiers are extremely worrisome. Despite tuition’s regulation, the provincial government can allow for certain programs to increase their tuition to levels that are comparable across the country, which has resulted in a couple of professional programs having tuition increases of up to 70 percent. Looking at the challenges students are facing in Quebec, our recent history with regards to PSE in Alberta helps me to sympathize with their challenges. For starters, if our tuition increased by 75% over five years, people would rightfully be angry — imagine if you’re a student or parent planning to pay for a post secondary education. Higher tuition — which is in addition to the living expenses one is saddled with while attending university — can be detrimental to those with rural and lower socio-economic backgrounds.

It should also be noted that these protests are about more than just tuition hikes, but about how much debt students need to take on in order to complete their education and how our society needs to prioritize education. Just like the policy approach of the SU's federal lobby group, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), I truly think that most people believe students should not have to accumulate an unreasonable amount of debt in the pursuit of PSE. However, the average student debt upon graduation in Alberta is approximately $25,000, which is having a permanent effect on our generation. Think about it — students with debt this high are significantly less likely to purchase a home, establish a family or establish savings ten years out of graduation than their peers. Generally speaking this is going to make this generation of students less able to take the risks necessary to jumpstart their careers as compared to the generations before us.

Higher education is the vehicle through which social mobility is possible. If we don’t take a stand to ensure that society prioritizes PSE, those currently underrepresented and not in the system will continue to be shut out. That’s what this debate is about, not about entitlement nor laziness. Students work HARD and we want to work even harder to advance our careers and aspirations. Plenty of us work one or sometimes two part-time jobs, volunteer like there’s no tomorrow, and still shoot for excellent grades. Ensuring that tuition is reasonable doesn’t mean that students are going to work less, it just gives us the opportunity to work harder at our primary job–the pursuit of knowledge. And this mantra is true regardless if you study in Alberta or Quebec, making the fight for education a battle worth having.

Signing off,
Petros Kusmu

Summer Kick Off

Colten Yamagishi - Tue May 29, 2012

Hello readers, welcome to the first Students’ Union Executive blog post of the year!

My name is Colten Yamagishi, SU president for 2012 —2013. I am extremely excited to be kicking off the year and I hope that you are all enjoying the first bits of this incredible summer.

With each blog post I will tell you more about the latest SU initiatives, interesting student facts, how you can get involved, and pretty much whatever comes to my head at the time.

I would like to start by answering the most basic question…what does the SU do?

The Students’ Union is founded upon four pillars; Advocacy, Building, Businesses, and Services. Let me break these down a little further:

Advocacy: We represent the voice of students to the university and the government on issues spanning from tuition costs to food quality on campus. Our five executive members (President, VP Academic, VP Student Life, VP Operations and Finance, and VP External) sit on a combined total of over one hundred committees to ensure that your voice is always heard at the decision making table. We also support Faculty Associations, Residence Associations, and other student groups to help foster good governance and develop student leaders.

Building and Businesses: We run the basic operations of the Students’ Union Building (SUB) and ensure that it provides a comfortable space to meet a wide range of student needs, from providing delicious food to great entertainment. We have a number of spaces in SUB to meet the needs of our student groups, including the common lounge, the study area, the Alumni Room, and the silent lounge — commonly referred as the “nap room.” We operate a number of retail outlets including SUBmart, SUBtitles, SUBprint, and the Canada Post Outlet. We also manage a number of food services, including Juicy, Cram Dunk, L’Express & Catering, Dewey’s, and Room at the Top. Lastly, we facilitate a number of events from our venues including SUBstage, the Myer Horowitz Theatre, and the Dinwoodie Lounge. You can expect great shows here throughout the year!

Services: It would take me about 10 blogs to explain all of the amazing work that our services do, so for now I have elected to just list them here. You can check out each of our services’ profiles individually on our website. Our nine services include the following: Safewalk, Infolink, Student Group Services, the Centre for Student Development (they run Orientation, After-U, and more), SUSTAINSU, the Student Financial Aid and Information Centre, the Student Ombudservice, the Peer Support Centre, and the Health and Dental Plan (operated by studentcare.net/works). We also provide support to the Campus Food Bank.

An additional and extremely valuable service that we provide is all of the amazing events hosted by our Programming and Venues department. The P+V department works year round to put on huge events like Week of Welcome, Antifreeze, and the Campus Cup Dodgeball Tournament. Programming also hosts reoccurring events including movie nights and student concerts.

As you can see, the SU is an extremely lively organization with a lot going on year-round. Sound like a lot of work? You bet it is, but we have amazing staff and volunteers that continually go above and beyond and run these operations smoothly to serve us — the students.

I hope this introduction has been helpful! Please feel free to contact me at president@su.ualberta.ca if you have any questions, concerns, ideas, or just want to chat. You can look forward to frequent blog updates this year, and a return of the video blog in the near future.


-Colten Yamagishi

Reflecting on the year that was – 10 incredible lessons

Emerson Csorba - Tue Apr 17, 2012

And just like that, the year is over. Well, there are still 13 days left before May 1 hits… but you get what I mean! I have a smile on my face as I write this, because it’s hard to believe how fast time passes. But it’s also hard to believe just how much one year can bring, in terms of learning. The last year has been so much fun, but it’s also been humbling. It’s brought some great moments, but a fair share of failure as well. I could probably come up with 100+ things that I’ve learned this year, but here are ten of them!

  1. Learn to laugh at things: Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the absurdities in the world, to lose sleep over things that might not go your way, and so on. Humour is one of the best ways to move forward. A good laugh can ease anxiety, put a smile on your face, and make you think, “You know what, that issue that I thought was really bad is actually pretty minor!” And 95% of what we think is significant, is actually pretty minor…

  2. Long hours do not always equal more success: You gotta work hard, but you also need to find what works best for you! Building a solid routine every morning, getting work done right when it hits your desk, and making change quickly rather than following extended periods of thought, all add up to what I like to call, “making things happen.” As the Nike slogan goes, “Just do it!”

  3. Stay active: Playing sports and running consistently have provided so much energy throughout the year. There’s nothing worse than long meetings, and sitting down all day. If you want to feel energetic, start by being energetic. Get up, get moving, and you’ll find yourself feeling better in no time.

  4. Most meetings have little to no value: Not too long ago, I watched a TEDx Talk, where the speaker encouraged everyone in the audience to cancel their meetings for that week. At first, I was like, “No way… This guy is so wrong.” Actually, was I ever wrong! Going from meeting to meeting = little time for thinking in between = a jumbled day = low productivity = tiredness. I encourage you all to cut back on meetings, and do stuff that you truly enjoy.

  5. Failure is great: I knew this from beforehand, from my time growing up as a pitcher in baseball (sometimes a bad games makes you refocus). Too many good days in a row can lead to a feeling of comfort, which is not always such a positive thing. Some of the best days are the ones that absolutely suck, where something hits you out of leftfield. You might be shocked for a little bit, but that’s a good thing. The Japanese proverb “Failure teaches success” couldn’t be more true.

  6. Write, write, write: So much of this job has been writing reports, briefs, more reports, e-mails and so on. When you finish that English 113 class, I hope that you don’t say, “No more essays for me,” because there might just be more essays in store.

  7. Read, read, read: Some of the people, that I’ve been very fortunate to work with, are voracious readers. They read a few books per week, they’re on the Edmonton Journal and the Globe and Mail each morning, and much more. The printed word is such a beautiful thing (it still blows my mind, thinking that we can transfer what we’re thinking in our minds onto a piece of paper). We don’t live forever, and we might not always have the chance to travel to Paris or Venice. But we can read about those cities whenever we want. Become a voracious reader, and never stop learning.

  8. Don’t overthink things: Sometimes, in months like September (where it is very busy), people will be in a rush, stressed, etc. If someone says something that sounds sort of rude, try not to react too sharply. You know why? Because that person might just be having a tough day. Or maybe you’re having a tough day, and misinterpreted what the person said. Take a nap, have a bite to eat, and chances are you’ll forget about it.

  9. Build the right team, and it can do amazing things: This year, I’ve had the pleasure to work with an incredible and inspiring team of execs. The work that they have put in cannot be described. But the SU is WAYYY more than a team of execs. The leadership provided by Justin, Kyle and Jon in Advocacy is unbelievable. Amanda and Giselle in the Student Governance Office have been stellar week in and week out. The SU Services bring so much energy to the organization, and create memories for students that they will never forget. Programming has put together some events, from this year alone, that I won’t soon forget (dodgeball and AntiFreeze!). I don’t have enough space to name everyone, but you all know who you are.

  10. I could never do it without family: In my first two years at the U of A, I would often be gone from 7 am until 10 pm, and spend little time with those that matter most to me. It’s pretty ironic, thinking about that… But this year, things definitely changed for the better. Family provides love, support, consistency, and that little force that keeps you level. (There’s nothing like losing in FIFA 2012 on the XBOX 360 to keep your ego in check!) For every person, family might mean something different. But whatever that family is, keep them close, because whether times are good or bad, they’ll be there with you.

Thank you to everyone for an outstanding year. It’s been a pleasure since day one, and nearly 365 days later, things haven’t changed.



Tuning up for the year ahead

Emerson Csorba - Thu Mar 22, 2012

On March 15, 2012, the University of Alberta was lucky to have a unique opportunity; several international delegates from the European Commission-funded Tuning Project came to the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy to present on “student attributes.” As many of you might be aware, I’ve been working consistently this year on developing a Student Attributes Plan, which outlines four sets of qualities that, if all goes well, will become staples of a University of Alberta undergraduate education. Over the last decade, there has been a worldwide movement to see universities establish clearer benchmarks for quality undergraduate educations.

But what do I mean, when I talk about “attributes” and “clearer benchmarks”? Simply put, as universities begin to compete more intensely to both attract and produce the best undergraduate students possible, it is important that we stand out from the rest of the crowd. For instance, what makes a U of A alumni better than a U of T or UBC alumni? What is it that makes the U of A unique, compared to other universities in Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia, China and so on? These are big questions, and they certainly affect our opportunities for employment in the future.

Therefore, when I talk about “attributes,” I really mean qualities of U of A students that make us stand out in society from our friends (or rivals, if you’re competing for jobs against them) at Dalhousie, McGill, Calgary, and so on. But what are these qualities? Is there really something that separates U of A students from the rest of the pack? What makes us better? Over the last year, I’ve interviewed nearly every member of Students’ Council, spoken with most student faculty associations (the ISSS, NSSA, etc.) and reviewed responses to an attributes-related question posed to all U of A students on our annual SU Student Survey (we received around 5,000 responses to this question). The results? U of A students feel passionate about four attributes in particular: Engaged Citizenship; Global Awareness; Resilience and Adaptability; Creativity and Imagination.

So now what? We have four attributes, but where do we go? This is partly where the Tuning Project comes in. One thing that Tuning does is work with universities to aid them in creating authentic undergraduate educations. Furthermore, Tuning views professors as being integral to making these student attributes work. Professors are the major piece of the puzzle in terms of ensuring that students become better people through their university courses. Professors design and teach those Biology 499, Anglais 328 and Community Service Learning 100 courses that have the potential to alter the way that you and I think and act.

There is much left to go with this student attributes project, but with VPA-elect Dustin Chelen at the helm next year, the future is bright. As the Student Attributes Plan goes public, I intend on taking this to every student faculty association for another round of consultations. Moreover, it is paramount that U of A professors provide meaningful input into the Plan. Without a doubt, I’m ecstatic about the progress made on this project over the last twelve months. There is a long road ahead, no doubt shaped by winding turns, gradual climbs and the odd speed bump. But one thing is certain: there are miles and miles of freeway.

Final day of campaigning and voting

Emerson Csorba - Thu Mar 08, 2012

First of all, if you haven't voted yet, do so here right now!

There is no doubt that 2012 ranks as one of the most intense years of SU executive elections in recent memory. In nearly every race, we’ve seen up to four candidates battling to become your representative in 2012-2013. The Students’ Union Building has until recently been filled with campaign volunteers manning candidates’ tables, and banners still hang from the roof. Quad is a gauntlet of posters. Buildings such as CAB are plastered with candidates’ faces and campaign slogans.

Over the last two weeks, the candidates and campaign managers have been putting in non-stop days on end, with little time to rest and re-energize for classroom talks, one-on-ones with students and forums anywhere from Myer Horowitz Theatre to Campus Saint-Jean and even Augustana. With campaigning set to finish in a matter of hours, candidates are digging deep to gain any edge that could put them over the top.

At 8 pm tonight, we will know which of our peers come out on top of this year’s SU executive elections. Although winning is certainly important, and disappointment will come for those that are not successful, every candidate should be applauded for the tremendous work that they have put in. Forums can be intimidating for some, and preparation that goes in emotionally and mentally for a campaign is significant. Candidates often miss numerous classes, spend countless hours learning about the different positions and the major issues, and simultaneously attempt to maintain some degree of sanity in their lives. It’s a demanding process.

From personal experience, the SU executive elections are both a marathon and a sprint. In the grand scheme of things, two weeks of campaigning is very little. Consequently, you have to dedicate a lot of energy every day and maintain strong drive. But if you don’t pace yourself by taking breaks and developing a solid routine for each day of campaigning, you will hit the wall.

Congrats once again to the candidates in this year’s elections. You have taken the plunge into unknown waters, and have made for an interesting, entertaining and inspirational election.



VPA Elections Predictions

Emerson Csorba - Tue Feb 28, 2012

There is no doubt that 2012 marks a major turnaround in SU elections.

Last year, all but one of the executive positions were uncontested. And many contested races of past years featured only two candidates. While some might argue that this year’s large crop of candidates is a matter of chance, I would disagree.

My take on this year’s election is that we are seeing so many candidates due to the emphasis on better communication with students. To be more specific, I think that this year’s executive has focused on spending more time outside of the office working with our peers, improving relationships with faculty associations and using media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Now that we are seeing an intense and highly contested election, I will offer a few more tangible predictions for election season:

  1. 30% turnout in the current SU election. Although turnout generally hovers around 15-20%, I think that we will see a 10% jump this year. I might be mistaken, but I can feel something big coming.

  2. Packed Myer Horowitz forum. When Myer rolls around next week, I think that we’ll see a full house and an audience buzzing with energy.

  3. Every single position contested in the Students’ Council elections. Simply put, the mid-March Council elections will see just as high of a turnout as the executive elections.

These are bold predictions, but I feel confident that you will see them fulfilled.


The race begins…

Emerson Csorba - Mon Feb 27, 2012

The 2012-13 SU election campaign has officially begun as of 9 a.m. this morning! I would like to once again commend the many candidates for putting their names forward. The election is an energy-depleting, but highly rewarding experience, and I am sure that each candidate will come away with many positive life lessons. We have up to four candidates running in some races, which will make for a competitive two weeks.

For the 30,000 or so undergraduate students on campus, I encourage you to participate as much as possible in the elections. Take a look at candidates’ websites and platform points (candidate bios on the left of this page), pose questions at the many forums, pack Myer Horowitz on March 7 at noon for the final speeches and debates, and VOTE.

We have one of the most impressive groups of candidates in recent memory, and that should make for excellent debates and a fierce election.

I would be pleased to see 30% or higher voter turnout this year, which would double our numbers from last year. We can definitely hit that number, but that means that YOU need to spread the word and become a part of the action.

On top of that, I recommend that you strongly consider putting your name in the ring for the upcoming Students’ Council elections. Being a part of Council is a great experience, and I am always open to talking about it whenever you want to sit down over coffee.

See you at the forums, at Myer, and at the eventual elections wrap-up night on March 9!


Your Grade Point Average is Overrated

Emerson Csorba - Wed Feb 22, 2012

When I first came to the University of Alberta, my approach to academic courses was “3.7 GPA or die.” Following a few weeks of courses, I upped the ante: “4.0 GPA or die.” You can probably imagine the pressure that I put on myself. And although that first year was for all intents and purposes a success, I came away forgetting so much of what was learned in class. Out of all the classes that I took, only a handful stuck with me. In fact, two and a half years into classes at the U of A, there is very little that I actually retain from my lectures. I remember everything from my Anglais 113, 328 and 429 courses, only because the professor in the first course was an outstanding educator and stand-up comedian, and the two latter courses were made up of just three students and an inspiring professor.

Don’t get me wrong, your grade point average is important, and you should do your absolute best to excel in your classes. Moreover, I am a strong proponent for the U of A to revise its assessment and grading system, so that it focuses on providing early and consistent assessment to students, and encourages professors to grade students based on their own professional judgment, rather than grade distributions recommended for each level of class (100, 200, 300, etc.). The main point of this post, is that I feel that one’s GPA is overrated.

Students with high GPAs, which to me is 3.5 and above, are often smart, and they tend to have a strong work ethic (this assessment is only based on my personal experiences.) This is completely anecdotal, but out of the many students with 3.5s and above that I know, they are usually adept at studying material, memorizing it and regurgitating it onto a piece of paper. These students also do well under pressure, which is to say, during exam and paper writing. These are important skills to have. As an employer, I might assume that a student with a high GPA possesses a certain level of self-confidence, and an ability to succeed under pressure, but I wouldn’t necessarily put too much emphasis on these traits.

That is because, from my experience, some of the most gifted, open-minded and creative people do not have 3.5+ GPAs. In fact, I would go as far as to say that most do not. I’ve known many students that fail miserably in their first year. University can be a big adjustment, and that first year can bring some tough marks along with it. But many of those students gradually rebound, and they peak near the end of their degree, in the third or fourth year. Not all high schools are the same in terms of university preparation. Although it is important to be consistent throughout one’s entire university career, I’d put more weight on success near the end of one’s degree, when students have had a few years to settle in, classes are small (relative to first-year lectures) and discussion is more intense.

Despite everything written above, my major point is this: I strongly feel that you will learn more by volunteering or working in the Students’ Union for Orientation, investigating as a journalist for the Gateway, serving as a leader in your faculty association, or even meeting consistently for coffee with different friends, than you will in most of your classes.

In my experience, there is absolutely nothing that compares to working in complex and challenging situations as a Vice-President within the Students’ Union. For instance, while organizing the Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials, I read countless articles on the textbook and digital books industry – and learned a LOT. But as an organizer of a conference, you have to be knowledgeable in the content of the conference and work well with conference delegates. And that doesn’t even include recruiting speakers from across Canada. Not easy… As a student journalist, you might have to decide what content does and does not make its way into an article. Thirty-minute interviews are whittled down to two quotations. Moreover, you might ask the following questions: Are there legal implications to what I write? What counts as libel? Am I asking the right questions during an interview? These examples all require a person to think critically, and combine knowledge about a particular subject matter with soft skills.

There is no question that a student in the Faculty of Engineering has to be a competent Engineer. Similarly, if you are my doctor, then I hope that you aced those anatomy exams! We could both go on with many more examples. Nevertheless, my major argument is that your GPA only means so much. When I become an employer, I can guarantee that one’s GPA will be an important factor in hiring decisions, but it will be far from the most important. As a student at the U of A, I am impressed the most by my peers that show imagination and creativity in their thinking, and who are life-long learners. There is also no substitute for hands-on learning. Whether it is with the SU, the Gateway, as an undergraduate researcher or student in a co-op class, that is where you put theory to the test. Simply put, I will take a student with a 3.0 GPA and tremendous experience working creatively in challenging, hands-on environments over a 4.0 GPA with no practical and engaging experiences.

No matter what year you are in, I encourage you to make the most out of your short time on campus. Use these years to experiment, try new things and move out of your comfort zone. Study hard, ask questions, and shoot for a strong GPA, but make sure that you get out and volunteer as well. It is through your work with others, and in your failure and success within challenging and complex environments, that you will experience personal growth and leave university as a better person than when you started.


Two month mark: What is left?

Emerson Csorba - Fri Feb 17, 2012

It's hard to believe that only two months remain in the term. It has been a successful year thus far, and I am proud of the accomplishments of our executive. From the work done on mandatory non-instructional fees, to the World Record for dodgeball, extensive research into a fall reading week, the success of both the Undergraduate Research Symposium and Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials, and the revamped menu and food quality at SU businesses, there have been many high points. Although many of our major goals have been accomplished, there is still a lot left to do. These final ten weeks are going to be full tilt, and I will do everything possible to squeeze every last drop out of them. Here are some of the things to look forward to over this period:

  1. I am working on completing the Student Attributes Plan. Once this is all said and done, I will take it to every department chair individually, which is a tall task. There are dozens upon dozens of department chairs across the university, but this is what much of March will be for.

  2. Seeing a highly contested election was one of my goals, even during the March 2011 election prior to even becoming Vice-President (Academic). I have said on numerous occasions that if at least three students do not run for VPA, then I take that as a failure on my part to create enough awareness and interest amongst the student body. If, however, three or more students run, that is simply how things should be.

  3. The AcaDream Team is up and running strong, and we have a handful of initiatives that will be undertaken over the next two months.

  4. Today marks the beginning of an intensive two-month period of building up an International Students' Association. It is hard to believe that we have student faculty associations, but no association that represents international students in particular.

  5. One of the major takeaways from CRAM is that we will now be meeting on a monthly to bimonthly basis with many of Canada's major publishing companies. This dialogue, along with the renewed Bookstore Advisory Group, will provide advocacy opportunities that previously did not exist.

  6. Starting on February 22, the Students' Union is starting up a once-per-week Fitness for Lunch program. I'm really looking forward to this.

  7. Transition is vital. Whoever is the next VPA will have an intensive two months of transition. I'm already 4000 words into a transition document for the next VPA, and I'm creating a dynamic program that will allow the next VPA to hit the ground running come May.

  8. As Chair of the Council of Faculty Associations Strategic Planning Committee, we are working away at crafting a new strategic plan, to be tabled at the March 31 CoFA retreat.

  9. Following a successful Lobby Training last week, I'm thinking about hosting a second edition of Lobby Training for the incoming Students' Council members, faculty association leaders, GFC student representatives and members of other student groups.

  10. Lastly, I'll be working with the SU’s Marketing Department to create an Undergraduate Research Symposium Final Report to be distributed to community members across the University of Alberta campuses.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca. Talk soon, and enjoy a relaxing reading break!



We broke the record!

Emerson Csorba - Fri Feb 03, 2012

Good try, Irvine.

Way back in September, we circled February 3 on our calendar. UC Irvine had broken the world record for the largest dodgeball game, and we decided that they could enjoy it for a few months. But as the clock ticked down to noon on February 3, their time as the world record holders was coming to an end.

Thanks to the non-stop, sleep-deprived efforts of the SU Programming Department, Vice-President (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi and dozens of volunteers, we now hold the dodgeball world record, at 4,979. Some students patiently stood in line for a couple hours only to be eliminated from the game within the first few minutes. They might be questioning their strategy, but certainly not the wait. Very seldom do we get to experience such spirited, energizing events. It takes a lot of work to make something of this magnitude happen, but in the end, we did it.

The SU’s Programming Department puts in countless hours to make this happen. Colten did four class talks every hour, ever day of the week, and showed little sign of slowing down as we approached game time. The same goes for David McBean and the several other students going full tilt on the talks.

Thankfully, a few brilliant U of A students (each with an excellent sense of humour) released a bunch of U of A memes on Facebook this week. I have been crying in laughter in my office as I look at the new ones. With a lot of built-up excitement, tension and anxiety in SUB 2-900 over today’s dodgeball game – and the continued planning for CRAM 2012 on my end – the memes are a welcome addition to our day.

On behalf of the SU, thank you to the U of A meme creators.

It’s hard to believe February is here already. Next week does not feature a record-breaking event, but the momentum is not letting up. On February 9, the provincial budget comes out. On February 9 and 10, I’ll be leading the Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials, a national conference bringing together leaders in the textbook and digital books industry. The planning for that is almost good to go.

This weekend, I hope that Colten, the Programming staff and the many SU volunteers catch up on some much-needed sleep. And next time, rather than dream about 5000, let’s double that.

If you have any questions about the Students’ Union or about your academic experiences (why do deferred exam fees exist, what does the U of A do to ensure quality teaching, why are my classes curved), don’t hesitate to give me a shout at 780.492.4236 or send off an e-mail at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca.


VPA & VPSL: Getting involved

Colten Yamagishi & Emerson Csorba - Fri Jan 20, 2012

Vice-President (Academic) Emerson Csorba and Vice-President (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi talk about the big dodgeball game coming up, all the other ways students can get involved on campus, and how they became involved in the campus community themselves.

Cooling down after AntiFreeze

Emerson Csorba - Mon Jan 16, 2012

The first week back from the break was one of the most unique ones of the year. Along with a close friend and former Orientation TF, Michael Schlegelmilch, I co-captained a team in AntiFreeze. Our ten-person team was, in my opinion, the team with the most personality (and the best hair) in the entire competition. Although we started off very slowly in the first three days of the competition, our last two days marked a major comeback. In the span of forty-eight hours, we climbed from 21st to 12th, then to 8th and finished 5th.

You might wonder why the VPA participated in AntiFreeze: isn't it way too much of a commitment, and aren't there better things to do? Well, it is certainly a big commitment, but I would say no to the latter question. I think that we're starting to see a shift in the way that SU execs communicate with students. In the past, I've seen many SU execs spend inordinate amounts of time in their office. That's not good. The way I see things is that SU execs now need to be more energetic than ever. If you sit in your office all day, you become lethargic and lose touch with your peers. By doing AntiFreeze, I met tons of incredible students and had so much fun throughout the week.

AntiFreeze is one of the SU's premier events, and we owe a huge thank you to Jenn Wanke, Brennan Murphy, Arlo Grundberg, David McBean, Butters and the many volunteers that organized the event. They work tirelessly behind the scenes, and many of us take their efforts for granted. We have the luxury of showing up to events and competing. They have to create schedules, organize judges, update the standings, referee events and so on. Having done the Undergraduate Research Symposium, I definitely know how fast-paced these events can be. The SU Programming definitely did an outstanding job this week.

On a related note, I was delighted to see the Bears and Pandas enter a team in the competition. They placed 4th overall, and maintained a top 5 position throughout the entire week. On top of this, they won the Spirit Award, and $300 in gift certificates at RATT. Our VP (Student Life), Colten, has started including Varsity results in his VPSL reports, and I'll start doing the same. Varsity sports is a huge part of the University of Alberta’s identity, and we happen to have the best Athletics Department in the nation.

Congrats to everyone in AntiFreeze and I'll see you all in 2013!


VPA & VPSL: Running for Exec

Colten Yamagishi & Emerson Csorba - Tue Jan 10, 2012

University of Alberta Students' Union Vice-President (Academic) Emerson Csorba & Vice-President (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi welcome everyone back for the Winter 2012 term, and encourage students to consider running for an Executive position.

Should you run to become an SU Executive member? Q & A

Emerson Csorba - Tue Jan 03, 2012

Running for the SU executive can be a daunting decision. For me, I did not make up my mind about running for Vice-President (Academic) until early February. With the late-February and early-March election, the turnaround had to be quick. Now that we are in January, you might be thinking “What does each position do?” or “What is being an exec like?” Maybe you are concerned about the effect that being an SU exec will have on your life: “Will I maintain my friendships? Will I be able to see my family? How much time per week should an exec work? Can I make time for other extra-curricular activities on the side?” Maybe you’re wondering just what goes into an election campaign. These are all great questions.

Choosing to run for the exec certainly affects the course that you degree takes. And it does affect your life in a number of different ways. From what I have seen over the last year – and certainly in my case – it is a life-changing experience. Moreover, it can be a healthy one. I feel that if you choose to run for the SU executive, you open yourself to the potential of making meaningful changes to your university in a very positive environment. The intent of this blog post is to provide some personal reflections on the questions posed above, so that you, the potential candidate, make the most informed decision possible.

Will I run myself into the ground as an SU executive?

In the past, I have seen SU executives leave their terms rather bitter and disappointed about the year that was. This can be a reality of working in any high-pressure environment. But from what I have seen, this year has been strong for executives maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and the road only looks smoother in the future. I will make this point clear: you DO NOT need to work 75+ hour weeks. Frankly, if you do that, you are likely inefficient and getting very little done. People that put in those kinds of hours also tend to be boring and tunnel-visioned. As an exec, you will need to work hard; that is beyond question. But when you’re passionate about what you do, work does not feel like work. Going into SUB 2-900 each day is fun. Moreover, when you put boundaries around the job, you do not run yourself dry. My goal for the year has been to be in at work by 7 or 8am and work hard until 5 or 6pm. When 6pm hits, I almost always leave. The only exception was the Undergraduate Research Symposium, where I acknowledged long in advance that the week would require non-stop work.

Basically, you can maintain a 50-60 hour week within the SU and do a bang-up job. It’s not difficult doing this, getting 8 hours of sleep each night and maintaining an active social life. Some of my other rules have been spending quality time at home most nights each week, going for coffee with a different person each day, and running marathons and ultramarathons (which requires about 100 k of running per week). You can do all of this no problem being energetic and positive throughout the year without burning out.

Can I maintain my social life as an SU executive?

This question is closely related to the first one. The answer is yes, but you will have to make some tough decisions. I made sure to keep in close contact with as many people as possible, but at the same time, I fell out of touch with my fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji). In the previous year, I lived at the house and spent a lot of time with my brothers. This year, I have only been to the house on a handful of occasions, and have not met many of the new members. This led to the discontent of many of my brothers, and I feel like some relationships that were strong beforehand have faded over time. I’ve heard of other previous execs that have fallen out of contact with many of their friends. Ultimately, it comes down to your priorities. You can prioritize running and meeting people for one-on-ones, or you could spend a few nights per week with your fraternity or sororities brothers/sisters. I know that I’ll be back full-tilt next year in Fiji and will spend a lot of time with brothers that I have not seen over the last months, so I’m content with the time away from Fiji this year. But it was a difficult decision to make, and you’ll have to make it too. Can I maintain my physical health as an exec?

Yes, without a doubt. There are a lot of meetings, and you have to be careful not to frequent RATT, Subway or any of the other restaurants too much. But it’s no problem choosing to walk/run/bike to work and home each day or training for running competitions, triathlons, soccer, or whatever else it is that you do.

What are elections like?

The SU elections are characterized by high intensity. If you’re considering running, I encourage you to take no more than four courses during the Winter term. I was uncontested last year, but made a point of campaigning as if I were up against the best possible competition. Consequently, I did not go to class for three weeks. If you put everything you have into running, you’ll be up early each morning to do class talks at 8am, and you’ll be at different forums and talking to students throughout the week. By the end of elections, you’ll be tired, but no matter the result, you will have earned an unforgettable experience.

I never served on Students’ Council. Does that mean I shouldn’t run?

Not at all. Being on Students’ Council is a valuable experience, but you do not need to be a Students’ Union “insider” in order to run. As long as you feel passionate about improving the student experience, and comfortable about dedicating one year to achieving the goals that you set out at the beginning of the year, I strongly encourage you to run. The executive transition is strong and the work environment is top-notch. Because of this, you could run for the SU with a vague idea about what exactly it does, and over time become a stellar executive.

OK… so I feel like I’m ready to run, but I want to learn more about the different positions. What should I do?

Speaking for the rest of the executive, we are always open to talking about our experiences at any point. The positions are all similar in that you serve as one of the managers of the Students’ Union, but they are also quite different in many ways. Take a look at some of my blog posts below in order to get a better idea about Vice-President (Academic). But posts only explain so much – we can go for coffee in person if you want to know more.

I hope that sharing some of thoughts has provided more clarity about your decision to run for the SU executive. You should take my comments with a grain of salt, and ask other execs – past and present – about how they see their term. Overall, I think that you should consider running if you are passionate about working to provide life-changing opportunities to other students. There will be ups and downs during your term, and maintaining an active social life and your fitness takes consistent work, but you can definitely do it if you set your mind to it.


VPA & VPSL End-of-semester blog

Colten Yamagishi & Emerson Csorba - Wed Dec 21, 2011

Vice President (Academic) Emerson Csorba and Vice President (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi talk about their plans for the break and the beginning of 2012. Colten also shows off his poetical side.

VPA Video Blog

Emerson Csorba - Thu Dec 15, 2011

Vice President (Academic) Emerson Csorba talks exams and issues a challenge for AntiFreeze 2012.

VPSL Video Blog

Colten Yamagishi - Wed Dec 14, 2011

Vice President (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi addresses everything from AntiFreeze 2012 to the Spring/Summer U-Pass to February's Break the Record.

Send any questions to vp.studentlife@su.ualberta.ca!

Teamwork: how does an exec foster it?

Emerson Csorba - Thu Nov 24, 2011

One of the big things that I have learned in the first six months of being SU Vice-President (Academic) is that the executives must be workhorses. That is expected, and when you love your job, it’s not a problem. But the one thing that has struck me is how individual the VPA portfolio can be. There is only so much “powering through” that one person can do, until this individual burns out. You need a team, and this is something that I learned through the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Growing up, I played baseball and soccer, so I’m familiar with team environments. But up until September, there was very little teamwork within the VPA portfolio. Although the URS Team (the organizers of the symposium) was created in the early summer, we did not really start meeting consistently until September. A few members of that team did not seem happy with the lack of prep for the symposium. So getting a little nervous, I picked up the pace significantly over the next two months. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: without the URS Team members, there is no symposium. Period. They kicked me into gear, and they succeeded in every respect when crucial tasks were delegated to them.

I really have to question whether it is healthy to be an executive that works 75 hours per week and gets most work done without the help of others. In my opinion, that’s unhealthy. It seems to be a common view of SU executives, but I assume that it turns a lot of talented students away from ever running for an executive position.

You need a team around you.

With the symposium, we had the URS Team. Then the SU Marketing Department got going in early September. Then 30 professors jumped in around early October. Then the Office of Advancement and Alumni Affairs entered the equation in mid-October. Over time, we had 100+ people working on the event, and everyone was needed!

The AcaDream Team is getting off the ground in the Winter semester. They will become the new team I rely on. With student attributes, we’re involving every faculty association through consultation. For Students’ Council, I plan on leading a Council Communication Teams project, where Students’ Council divides into four teams that attempt to speak to hundreds of students around campus every month. Although I feel that talking to 100+ students each week myself is attainable, that pales in comparison to what a team of 30 students could do. If each councillor spoke to 100 students every month, that would equate to 3000 students reached every month by all of Council. Multiply that by 5 months, and we've reached 15 000 students. Of course, some of those students might be consulted multiple times, and the discussions might only last two minutes. However, even if just a few thousand are reached, concerns and questions can be heard.

In summation, I can say that the VPA portfolio could use more teamwork. This teamwork seems to have been relatively absent in the past, but I think that the culture is gradually changing. Stronger teams mean increased productivity, more friendships, more fun and a much healthier environment overall.

If you are interested in serving on the AcaDream Team, or would like to know what it is, please contact me at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca!


Reflecting on the symposium, one day later

Emerson Csorba - Sat Nov 19, 2011

It’s been 24 hours since the Undergraduate Research Symposium closing ceremonies. The fact the symposium is over has not really hit me. Overall, the event turned out pretty well, though I have a long list of things to improve in future years. I’m sure that the rest of the URS Team has a list of improvements as well (actually, Saadiq showed me his… and there are at least a half dozen of them). A number of students and professors were impressed with the showing. An Introductory Psychology class spent most of its 50-minute block touring the symposium and taking notes on the posters. That was an awesome surprise. In the future, I think that having more classes tour the symposium is something that we should shoot for. I would also like to get more Faculty of Arts participation from its Roger S. Smith recipients. I was very impressed with the Faculty of Arts submissions, and both Eren and Tori (the recipients of the two Faculty of Arts awards) had excellent projects. By the end of the next week, I think that we’ll have a long list of things that can be better in future editions of the symposium.

Thank you (again) to everyone

I might sound like a broken record by now, but the URS Team (the team of over 20 students and professors that organized the symposium) was integral to the success of the event. They provided the ideas like the theme about sharing stories, the names of potential speakers, the logo design, etc. They did more and more as the symposium approached, with the involvement spiking on November 18. From 8am on Friday morning to 6pm later that day, we had a whole range of students rotating in and out, volunteering on a myriad of activities. Jorden Smith, a student in the School of Library and Information Studies and Nick Adamski, a second year from the Faculty of Engineering, are the two reasons why the judge and student time availabilities were coordinated effectively. Nhu did a great job as volunteer coordinator on Thursday. Chloe, Collin and Jacky volunteered for basically all of Friday and pulled through during crunch time, and Ann and Connie endured a frantic 30 minutes of selecting award recipients. On that note, 2pm-4pm on Friday was one of the most intense time periods of the year. Moreover, Saadiq and Britanny handed out a number of “What do you want to know” ballots to students, and though I don’t yet know the number of entries we receive, there were a lot! Big thank-yous to URS Team members Steven, Flo and Nisha for their contributions on Friday. I hope that it is apparent that the event was successful because of the leadership of those above (and many more… I didn’t even mention judges).

What do we do now???

The symposium is now over, but there are many things left to do. The URS Team will meet on a few different occasions in order to provide constructive criticism about what went well, what didn’t go well and what we will do next year to make things better. At some point over the next few weeks, I plan on creating separate questionnaires for those who attended the dinner, the student presenters and the judges, to see what we can do better next year. Then I plan on sitting down individually with different students and judges to get more personal accounts of their experiences. We will also work with the SU Marketing Department (who deserve a HUGE thank you) to create a wrap-up document that will be sent to current sponsors and future partners in the event.

Now, before I finish this off, I want you all to think about something, and send me your thoughts at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca. For every student in the symposium, we had them write two paragraphs as part of the application package (1. How did you get involved in undergraduate research, and 2. What are the experiences gained/benefits from being involved?). So… we have 130 or so stories from students about how they got involved, and that’s pretty awesome. But the big questions is: how do we use these stories? I want to do something that catches your attention, something that the average student will pay attention to. Here’s a far out example of what I’m thinking about created by Oberlin students and profs. Do we post stories on the SU website each week? Do we post videos? That could be a start, but that doesn’t really draw people to the website. Do we use Facebook? See, the thing is, it’s important that we approach this from a “sky is the limit” point of view; let’s avoid settling for what is comfortable. These 130 stories could have an impact in terms of U of A donors providing more funds for undergraduate research. And the stories can draw more students into UR. When you have an idea about what we could do, send it to me. I’ll make sure I get back to each and every one of your ideas.

So in summary, I’ll close by pulling from Why the Fuck Should I Choose OBerlin?: Send me your fucking ideas about why undergraduate research is the best fucking thing you do at the U of fucking A.


Two days: where has the time gone?

Emerson Csorba - Tue Nov 15, 2011

We are at the two-day mark for the symposium, which kicks off on Thursday with the 6-9pm dinner in Dinwoodie Lounge. Despite the weather, it still feels like September to me, but we’re already midway through November! Things have gone pretty well overall, though there are the standard ups and downs that take place with any big event. The downs have been infrequent, however, and we’ve managed to put out the little fires as they form.

I’ve met with each of the symposium speakers, and they are all outstanding. We’re going to see some very interesting talks and hear some entertaining stories. One of the major themes for the event is sharing stories. A lot of the research in university can be esoteric, appealing to a small audience. By having students and professors talk about their personal experiences related to research, their development from undergraduate to faculty member and the key lessons that they have learned along the way, I think that we open ourselves to a general audience.

The URS “Big Question/What do you want to know?” contest postering also took place yesterday, with a URS Team member, Florence, postering much of campus on her own. Talk about being motivated and driven! Overall, the URS Team has been doing stuff like this over the last month, and I feel that collectively, these efforts will make for a very solid event.

Student engagement is something that the SU talks about all the time, and I think that we’re going to see it in action. Most of these students will be doing something SU-related for the first time. But what is truly important – and in my opinion, one of the most important components of the symposium – is the “Big Question/What do you want to know?” contest. I hope to see at least 500 entries, with the majority of those students being connected afterward to the Undergraduate Research Initiative.

If you have any questions about the symposium, send them off to me at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca. My response rate for symposium-related things is about 30 seconds, so expect something back quickly!


Seven days away

Emerson Csorba - Thu Nov 10, 2011

(While reading the text below, you should play this song. It really conveys the moment I’m in right now.)

We are at the eight day countdown. Everything is coming together and I feel like the foundation for success is in place. One of the big things that I have learned through organizing the symposium is that you can’t do something big without a team behind you. It would not be physically or mentally possible to do something like the symposium, Week of Welcome, Campus Cup or any large-scale event on your own. You could try, but you’d fail.

I’m excited for this: 130 applications, $9000 in awards, tons of judges, a pristine space in CCIS, $1000 “Big Question” contest, an abundance of creativity and passion from the students involved. I hope it will go even better than planned.

November 17 and 18 are the big days. Then it’s a nice, relaxing day off and the true beginning of the second half of the term.


Two weeks remaining: crunch time

Emerson Csorba - Mon Nov 07, 2011

We’ve hit the stretch run with the Undergraduate Research Symposium, and as such last week was a hectic one. Only 10 days remain between now and the night of the symposium dinner and keynote. I'm feeling a bit of stress and pressure building, but that is part of the fun after all.

Just last week, we raised a solid $8000 from many different faculties providing financial support for student research awards. Additionally, the Undergraduate Research Symposium Team has done a stellar job accomplishing a handful of different tasks, from reviewing student abstract submissions (approximately 130 of them overall) to developing a list of awards to be provided by the Students’ Union. We also worked with CAPS to provide a “Certificate of Discovery and Innovation,” which will be provided to the 110-130 or so students participating in the poster competition. The SU Marketing Department has been unbelievable as well. The quality of their work is impeccable.

I feel confident about the work that we have done in only the first year of the symposium, but I realize that there is still plenty of work cut out for us. The goal all along has been to make the first edition of the symposium a great one, and I feel that this is attainable. With the stretch run here, we have the opportunity to see this vision through.


Undergraduate Research Symposium coming together

Emerson Csorba - Wed Nov 02, 2011

Well, I’m writing this in a bit of a rush as we are in the last five minutes before the URS submission deadline and the submissions are flying in. We have about 130 at the moment, but I've lost the exact count. At 5pm on the nose, I will send them off to the Review Committee so we can read through the second half of abstracts (we reviewed the first 60 last Friday). There is the chance that 20-30 submissions will not be accepted, as the cap for the event is around 100 student submissions.

The last three weeks could be described as full tilt. Preparation for the symposium has been non-stop, but a lot of fun. And the Undergraduate Research Symposium Team has stepped up big time, from filming student videos with U of A multimedia to brainstorming for the November 17 dinner set-up. I cannot thank them enough for the work that they have done and will do over the next two weeks.

We have also raised $5000 over the last three days, thanks in large part generous contributions from the following faculties: Science, Campus Saint-Jean, Nursing, Education, Native Studies and Medicine/Dentistry. These funds will go toward student awards at the closing ceremonies. During the February-March 2011 executive elections, I set the goal of raising $10 000 for awards. I plan on hitting that target, hopefully by the end of this week.

It is time to go, because the 5pm deadline has hit and the Review Committee is waiting upstairs in SUB 424. But for now, I can say that the Symposium planning is well on its way. We have so much left to do, but as long as we make every day count from now to November 17, we’ll have a marquee university and SU event ready to go.



Making mental and physical health a lifestyle

Emerson Csorba - Thu Oct 20, 2011

The U of A Students’ Union is a strong advocate for student mental and physical health. This is reflected in the SU striving to establish a Fall Reading Week that would host a “Green and Gold Week/Co-Curricular Week” with a variety of student academic sessions and social events. The same goes with our advocacy for more university councillors, and the building of the Physical Activity and Wellness (PAW) Centre. However, if we are going to advocate for mental and physical health, I think that it’s important to walk the talk. The goal of this post is to share some ideas that I have about mental and physical health, in addition to a handful of actions that I am taking in order to lead a more active life.

One thing that the SU Vice President (Academic) does is attend countless meetings. On some days, there are multiple consecutive meetings. Many of these meetings provide desserts for those in attendance, which means that SU executives could easily pack on the pounds if they are not careful with their eating habits. As much as possible, I am trying to move away from sit-down meetings. Instead, I opt for taking walks with students and faculty where we discuss issues. For those that are up to it, I am starting to do “run” meetings. Overall, I feel that the active meetings are so much more productive than the sedentary ones. I have trouble seeing how sitting down for hours on end is conducive to learning.

On this note, if you want to know more about the Students’ Union and are up to doing something active, I would be more than happy to go for a run or play a sport with you. About two to three times per week, I take morning and evening runs with involved students looking to learn more about the SU. This active lifestyle is starting to become a habit, and I encourage anyone interested to take me up on the offer. Feel free to contact me at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca if you feel like taking a run.

Lastly, while reading through a recent fall edition of “Outside Magazine,” I was struck by an article ranking the most progressive and active businesses in the United States. One of them, the well-known Clif Bar and Company (the producer of the energy foods), organizes an annual “Corporate Challenge,” where Clif challenges local companies to accumulate the most running and cycling kilometers over a set period of time, with the winning team earning a $30,000 cheque for the charity of their choice. I am looking to do something similar within the Students’ Union, where we challenge local organizations to be as active as possible. This would be an extension of the current SU Corporate Team, which gets together about twice per month to play soccer and any other sports that students select.

Overall, one of my big goals this year is to push students to be more active than they thought they could be. This goes for the SU executive, student staff and all students on campus. Indeed, Fall Reading Week, academic sustainability and undergraduate research are all major goals for me this year; however, motivating students to lead a more active lifestyle is just as important.


What makes a good teacher: VPA’s thoughts

Emerson Csorba - Mon Oct 03, 2011

Improving teaching quality is central to being an effective Vice President (Academic). However, I have not yet discussed what I believe constitutes good teaching. The point of this entry is to share my perspective on what makes a quality teacher.

As a student at Campus Saint-Jean, I am fortunate to be in classes of 2 to 30 students, rather than the 200 or even 400-person classes that many Arts and Science students experience. Because of the small class environments, my professors and I can get to know each other. However, no matter the size of the class, I think that the best teachers share certain characteristics in common. Here are some of the qualities that stand out the most to me:

  1. Good teachers push you to be better: In my experiences, the best teachers push me out of my comfort zone. When teachers challenge me, I initially think, “Damn you! You’re making this impossible for me.” But in the long run, these are the teachers that stand out most. They are the ones that turn off the Powerpoint and talk to you. Rather than reply to a class comment with, “Good point,” they ask, “Can you tell me why this is important and why I should listen to you?” In one of my first classes at university, the instructor had students debate 2 vs. 2 regarding a particular aspect of a documentary we viewed in class. This forced students to reflect actively about what they had just viewed. It put the onus on us to prepare an argument and defend it.

  2. Good teachers encourage questions. If a teacher limits questions or gets irritated when you ask them something, that is discouraging. The best teachers that I have had recognize that there are often more answers than questions, even in their own discipline.

  3. Good teachers are passionate about their field of study or research. When you can see that an instructor just loves her or his job, that rubs off on you. Teachers serve as role models for students. If they “go through the motions” each class and do nothing but read off Powerpoint slides, then that enthusiasm just doesn’t come across. The best teachers tell stories, speak without any visual prompts and inject passion into their classes. In first year, I had a Classics prof who would demonstrate physically how the Spartans and Athenians would engage in war. He was dynamic, and students listened.

  4. Good teachers listen to you. There are some teachers that make eye contact with you when you speak and who act in a way that shows that they’re listening. It’s difficult to describe, but you know when someone is listening, versus when a person is multitasking and half-listening to you. One of my best teachers takes each student’s question and responds to it via e-mail, sharing that response with the entire class. It’s not surprising that this teacher recently won a prestigious university teacher award.

  5. Good teachers realize that they are learners too. In second year, one of my professors had students write a paragraph one month into the class about what she could do better as a teacher and what she was doing well. By the second month of the class, you could tell that she had read those paragraphs, because her teaching style had changed. There is nothing about being a professor that guarantees that one is a good teacher. One needs to actively reflect on what can be improved.

These are the important things I advocate for in instructors at the U of A. But chances are you feel I’ve left something out of the equation. Well, you’re right. The list above is not exhaustive, but it is nevertheless an attempt at starting the discussion about what makes a good teacher. Thank you for reading this, and I look forward to talking soon. My door is always open in SUB 2-900 and I encourage you to call at 780.492.4236 or drop an e-mail at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca.

In solidarity,


Summer review and SUB renovations

Andy Cheema - Tue Sep 27, 2011

September is nearing its end, and it is hard to believe that five months have passed so quickly. With the fall semester well underway, I think it's fitting that I provide you with an update of some accomplishments made over the last months.

Following the executive retreat in May, I followed up on a campaign promise: adding additional electrical outlets in SUB. In my Myer Horowitz speech, the audience cheered when promised an improvement to the availability of electrical plug-ins. The number of outlets in SUB was evidently a commonly held concern. I hope that with the newly installed outlets around SUBstage, students find SUB to be a more functional and accommodating space for their studies.

Moreover, food quality is one of my chief concerns. I have been making progress behind the scenes over the summer. We recently hired a chef who is looking into healthier and tastier food options for Students' Union food outlets. Over the upcoming months, keep your eyes open for a revitalized menu in Room At The Top (RATT) and other SU food providers. This is very exciting – I can already taste the improvements.

Lastly, planning for SUB renovations has been a major focus of my attention. In order to produce concepts for renovations to the building, a project manager and architectural firm have been hired, and we have been collaborating closely with them over the last months. It's important to highlight the fact that successful renovations can only happen with thorough student consultation. If you have any ideas for the Students' Union Building, please send them my way at vp.finance@su.ualberta.ca. There is no better time to communicate your vision of a welcoming, lively and effective SUB.

If you ever have any questions, feel free to contact me at the e-mail address above, stop by SUB 2-900 or call at 780.492.4236. I look forward to hearing from you, and I hope that you have a phenomenal year at the University of Alberta!


Andy Cheema

Important dates to remember!

Rory Tighe - Mon Sep 19, 2011

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the 2011/2012 year. There are a number of upcoming deadlines that you should make sure you are aware of:

1) Visit the Health & Dental Plan website before September 20 to decide if you want to change your coverage or opt out of the plan entirely.

2) Decide if you want to add/drop any of your classes before September 20, to register in, or receive a full refund for dropping a Fall Term course.

3) The Last day of payment for Fall Term Fees is September 30. You can make a payment in person at the administration building or online

4) Remember to pick up your U-Pass (transit pass) if you haven’t already from Infolink as soon as possible.

Besides the important deadlines, this is also a great time to think about getting involved in an extra-curricular activity. There are student groups on this campus to meet any interest and are a great way to meet people and develop new skills. There are also some great opportunities to get involved in your faculty association, the Students’ Union or Campus Recreation. Whatever your interests outside of the classroom, now is your time to pursue it, for discover more!

Feel free to visit our website or drop by our office in SUB 2-900 on the second floor of SUB if you ever have any concerns, suggestions, or questions.

Good luck with the coming semester!


So what does the VPA even do? - A look at the year ahead and a description of the VPA portfolio

Emerson Csorba - Fri Sep 09, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the year has started: students are back in full force, Orientation is over and Week of Welcome is well underway. Classes have begun and nervous students collect their syllabi from professors. University is in full swing and SUB is perpetually busy. The fact that the semester has begun has yet to hit me.

For first-years reading this entry, I recommend that you venture lower down the page and check out the other executives’ entries. Moreover, as you find your way between classes, I hope that you sign up for student groups and start to make the most of your time on campus.

I’ll begin this post by explaining exactly what the Vice-President (Academic) does. It’s a good question, and one that I’m asked often.

Out of all of the executive portfolios, the VPA has the most internal university focus. By “internal,” I mean that the VPA works with the university administration, which is highlighted by representation on dozens of committees. These committees are groups of students, professors and administrators that discuss and sometimes make decisions about issues related to academics. For example, the Committee on the Learning Environment works on things such as teaching evaluations (which you fill out near the end of a course) and undergraduate research opportunities that exist on campus.

Simply put, the VPA portfolio is very wide open: the word “academic” is general, which provides the VPA with considerable leeway in the selection of priorities for each year.

For the upcoming year, there are three points that I believe are very important: student engagement, graduate student attributes and undergraduate research. I’ll describe each goal individually:

1. Student engagement: It’s possible that you’ve heard this term before, and it’s possible you’ve stopped listening, just as other buzzwords lose their resonance.

My reason for running for VPA in the first place was because some of my peers have demonstrated leadership that has changed my university experience, so I believe that it is my duty to do the same. In this case, I’ve set out to improve students’ academic experience on campus. That is why this job does not feel like work; when tasks pile up, this philosophy keeps me going.

In terms of engagement, I feel that it is critical to involve faculty associations as much as possible. For Orientation 2011, ALES, ISSS, CBAS, ESS, NUA and PERCS all held sessions that engaged first-year students. As the year progresses, I want to shoot for similar initiatives. This means delegating some Students’ Union committees to other students, so that others have a chance to advocate to the university on important issues. I also want to build a solid “AcaDream Team,” expanding the SU corporate team, and promoting professor and student interaction in undergraduate research.

2. Graduate student attributes: This is probably my biggest goal for the year. The university would like to select a small set of qualities that they believe they can help all students work toward while pursuing their degrees. Some examples could be global citizenship or critical thinking. Chances are that these attributes will become part of marketing campaigns for the university, but more importantly, they need to be integrated into coursework.

I’m one of the university members leading this initiative on campus, and am in the process of interviewing Students’ Council members, faculty association representatives and students at-large to gauge opinions on how to make this worthwhile and valuable for students, and not just a public relations strategy for the U of A.

3. Undergraduate Research: The SU will be holding its first-ever undergraduate research symposium in November, and I hope to see it attract over 100 undergraduate researchers. Participants will engage in a poster competition and share their findings about their topics. A 30-person team of professors and students is hard at work organizing workshops and other activities to occur during the symposium.

Finally, the symposium cannot be an end in itself; it has to open doors to more awareness and opportunities to pursue undergraduate research. The symposium is simply one component of a much larger undergraduate research vision for students in all faculties.

So that’s it in terms of the introduction to the VPA portfolio! You now have a snippet of my goals for the year. If you ever have questions, my door is open. Venture up to SUB 2-900 or give me a call at 780.492.4236, and we’ll talk.



Going Green(er)

Rory Tighe - Wed Aug 31, 2011

Over the past year, the Students’ Union has worked hard to become an organization that supports a culture of sustainability. In fact, in our new Strategic Plan, we explicitly mention the following as one of our key values:

“We value ensuring the ability to serve current and future generations by being socially, environmentally, and economically responsible.”

We still have a long way to go but have made a lot of real progress in a relatively short time.

Over the past year, we have thoroughly reviewed our ‘Sustainability Service’, the Environmental Coordination Office of Students (ECOS). This review produced some great recommendations and, with the hard work of the Director, has come a long way. The Service is now called SUSTAIN SU and will be working hard to support and create sustainability initiatives on campus throughout the year.

In the past month, with support from the university, the Students’ Union also installed two new chilled water-refill stations to replace old water fountains. The hope is that individuals will be encouraged to bring a reusable water bottle with them everywhere on campus and use these stations to fill up.

We have also been wrapping up the final stages of our Sustainability Assessment and will be releasing a summary within the next month. The Assessment provides a ‘snapshot’ of where we are currently at and where we could go from here. Over this year, we can all look forward to some more of the Assessments’ initiatives being implemented. A couple of examples of what is to come include: a Socially Responsible Investment Policy, and the transitioning out of our Styrofoam and non-recyclable/compostable food containers and utensils. We will also be working with our new Product Development Expert to implement some additional sustainability-focused food items into our menus.

If you have any further questions, suggestions, or concerns, please do not hesitate to follow-up with me, either in person at SUB 2-900, by phone at 780-492-4236, or by email at president@su.ualberta.ca.

Ten Tips for Success for First-Year Students

Emerson Csorba - Fri Aug 26, 2011

Stepping onto campus for the first time can be daunting. Only two years ago, I was in the same position. Entering a room in CEB for Students’ Union Orientation, I did not know what to expect, and was frankly nervous when meeting many new students.

However, two years later, it is safe to say that university has been a phenomenal experience. For those beginning their university adventure, here are ten tips:

  1. Get involved: Hit the ground running. Make the most of Orientation by signing up for student groups at Clubs Fair, volunteer for Orientation 2012, write for the Gateway or think about running in the Students’ Union elections. I guarantee that you will learn so much from your volunteer experiences on campus. And the year to start doing this is in year one.

  2. Be active: In my first year, I let the physical activity slip a bit; it’s tough balancing academics with volunteering and maintaining personal fitness. But for the last year, I’ve been training for a marathon and feel much more energetic. You can balance school with volunteering and physical fitness. It takes dedication, but it is so important to put your personal health ahead of anything else.

  3. Get to know your professors: Rather than passively ingesting material you see and listen to in class, challenge your professors. Get to know them, ask them questions and think about pursuing an undergraduate research opportunity during the summer.

  4. Meet new people: University is all about meeting new people. Get to know people that are different than you – maybe someone from a different country, or a person with different political views. By doing so, you’ll allow your perspectives to be challenged, which is both humbling and enlightening. And who knows, you might actually meet life-long friends, or your future husband or wife.

  5. Travel: Whether it is hiking in Jasper or studying abroad in Ghana, make sure that you leave Edmonton every so often. Traveling opens a person up to new ways of thinking and to all types of cultures. Plus you get to know amazing people!

  6. Attend varsity sports games: The University of Alberta has some of the top men’s and women’s varsity sports teams in Canada. Whether it is soccer, football, hockey or any of the other sports, attempt to attend some games. Most games will be played at Clare Drake, the new Go Centre and Foote Field on South Campus.

  7. Stay ahead in courses: With four to five classes per semester and challenging course materials, I recommend that you stay ahead in your classes. By doing so, the semester can be a breeze. It is better to be calm, confident and energetic once midterms and finals hit, than exhausted and unprepared because you waited to complete assignments and other projects at the last minute.

  8. Ask questions: Be inquisitive. Be curious. Respect your peers and professors, but maintain skepticism throughout your learning. The questions that you ask in class, one-on-one with your professor or on your own not only clarify concepts that you might need to understand, they might spark lively discussions and enrich your thinking.

  9. Apply for scholarships: The university and the Students’ Union offer many different scholarships. Apply for as many of them as possible. Spend some time each week perusing the internet looking for scholarships available in Edmonton, Alberta and Canada. Chances are you’ll win some of them. With persistence, scholarships might just pay your way through university.

  10. Take time for yourself: With studying, volunteering and perhaps a part-time job on your plate, it is easy to forget that you need down time. But that relaxation, where you can read, run, spend time with family – or do anything else that you enjoy – is absolutely critical. Make down time a part of every day.

So there you have it: ten tips. I have tried to create a diverse list, but there are many ideas that are not included. If you want to talk one-on-one about university success tips or about the Students’ Union, give me a call at 780.492.4236, come to the office in SUB 2-900 or send me off an e-mail at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca



It’s less than two weeks away…

Colten Yamagishi - Thu Aug 25, 2011

I know that some of you may be grudging coming back to school, but we are getting very close to one of my favourite weeks of the year: Week of Welcome!

This year the WOW theme is Circus. What do we mean by circus? We mean fun sideshow games and activities! A giant beer garden tent in quad! Cotton candy and mini doughnuts! What more could you ask for? How about a hypnotist show, a USS and Dragonette concert, a free movie night showing X-Men First Class in the Myer Horowitz, and our huge mainstage concert on the Saturday!

I am definitely excited for Week of Welcome and you should be to. If you have some spare time in the first week back and want to get involved, sign up to be a WOW Volunteer here http://www.su.ualberta.ca/eventsvenues/wow/volunteer/volunteerapp/ You will get a free t-shirt and the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of cool individuals.

Make sure to check out UofA Students’ Union Events on Facebook and @uasuevents on Twitter to keep up to date with any WOW updates and band announcements. Online tickets will be available right away.

I’ll see you all soon!


Looking ahead

Rory Tighe - Mon Aug 22, 2011

These last couple weeks have been busy for us, as we’ve been doing a lot of work with our provincial lobby group, the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS). There is a distinct possibility of a provincial election in the near future, so things are really starting to heat up in Alberta. The University of Alberta Students’ Union is doing everything it can to make the issues students are facing in postsecondary education a concern for all Albertans.

Along with other members of CAUS, the Vice President (External), the Director of Research & Political Affairs and I met this month with Alison Redford, a leadership candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party, and Glenn Taylor, leader of the Alberta Party. Both meetings were very informative and productive. CAUS also spent some time meeting with the Alberta Graduate Council and the Alberta Student Executive Council, which are the other two student lobby groups in Alberta, to discuss our priorities for the year. There was some great discussion and I very much look forward to working together in the future. The three groups also all attended a government orientation session where we had an opportunity to talk with the Deputy Minister and other members of the Advanced Education and Technology Ministry.

The Students’ Union is also planning on running a “Get Out To Vote” campaign headed by our Vice President (External), Farid Iskandar. The most important thing we can do in getting our issues heard is encouraging students to vote and be informed about the issues. If you would like more information on the Get Out To Vote Campaign, or would like to get involved, don’t hesitate to email Farid at vp.external@su.ualberta.ca

If you have any further questions, suggestions, or concerns, please do not hesitate to follow-up with me, either in person at SUB 2-900, by phone at 780-492-4236, or by email at president@su.ualberta.ca.


Rising costs have Alberta's students stressed about their finances

Farid Iskandar - Thu Aug 11, 2011

TD Canada Trust has recently released a survey that found “more than half (55%) [of Albertan students] feel either anxious (38%) or stressed (17%) when they think about how they are going to pay their way through school.” In recent years, Budget cuts have forced universities to look for methods of getting around the Consumer Price Index tuition cap such as Mandatory Non-Instructional Fees, and Market Modifiers. Students can’t be certain whether or not the money they can save in the summer will be enough to pay for their education This forces many students to work during the school year to keep up with rising tuition and prices of academic materials.

Financial stress is also up because once again, summer unemployment is high for students, at 17.4%. If students are unemployed or underemployed when they are counting on earning money, they will have to rely on more loans, but the Alberta Student Loans Program expects contributions from summer earnings. According to the survey, 64% of Canadian students “expect to graduate with debt hanging over their heads with one quarter anticipating they will owe more than $25,000.”

Costs, unemployment and academics are all factors in postsecondary education participation, and Alberta already has one of the lowest PSE participation rates in the country. Short-term work in the natural resource industry is tempting in the face of PSE uncertainty. Alberta would be wise make PSE a priority so that the knowledge economy flourishes and students can be confident a degree will be worth their significant investment of time and money.

This goes on to prove that Alberta’s students need a predictable tuition and fees regulator such as CPI. How can we expect Albertans to plan on attending a postsecondary institution with unpredictable costs of academic materials and living, if even tuition is unknown? I hope that keeping the tuition cap remains a priority for the next government of Alberta.

Executive team lays out milestones for 2011-12 year

Rory Tighe - Thu Jul 28, 2011

Hello Everyone!

The Vice Presidents and I have recently released a summary of our goals for the SU during 2011/2012. The format that we chose to outline our goals provides tangible and measurable outcomes and shows how they align with the Students’ Union's Strategic Plan.

The SU Executive power structure works on a flat line, meaning that the President and the Vice Presidents are on the same level within the organization. Although each executive is responsible for a specific aspect of the organization's actions, when it comes to goals, there are many areas of overlap and opportunities to work together. Because of these shared duties, the repetitiveness in some goals represents a collaborative project.

The role of the President is broader than the Vice Presidents, and generally includes coordinating the executive and setting the vision for the organization. I hope to work with at least one Vice President on each of my goals and also to help each Vice President achieve their own. The more aligned the Vice Presidents and I are in terms of our priorities and vision, the better for the organization.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that attaining any of the goals below would not be possible without the support of all our staff. We have an incredibly intelligent, motivated, and dedicated contingent of staff that make the organization, and the executive, effective. Each of the goals that you see for any of the executive will likely require support staff work. I should also mention that in the SU, we are always standing on the shoulders of our predecessors. Our opportunities for success are often directly dependent on the work done by individuals who came before us.

Please feel free to contact me, or any of the executives, if you should have any questions.


Rory Tighe


2011/2012 SU Executive goals

STLHE Conference Recap

Emerson Csorba - Wed Jul 27, 2011

Every year, the Vice President (Academic) attends the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference. This year's edition was held in Saskatoon, where I had the chance to meet some university administrators, other student executives from across the country and the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union executives. The conference was a worthwhile event. Some of the big ideas I took note of during my time in Saskatchewan are academic advising initiatives occurring at the U of S, the concept of active learning classrooms being championed at McGill and various faculty reactions to graduate attributes. Attributes are an interest of mine, and the conference showed me the absolute necessity for universities to ensure that students graduate with not only strong content knowledge from their degree, but also with an ability to enter the workforce with interpersonal skills, empathy and compassion for others. If you are interested, the the full report is here. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!


What keeps you going?

Emerson Csorba - Tue Jul 19, 2011

University is a pressure-filled environment. As students, many of us attempt to balance five classes per semester with a part-time job, volunteer commitments, and social time with friends and family. For professors, there is the constant pressure to balance teaching preparation and class lectures with the need to engage in, interpret and publish research. Administrators face complex decisions that affect thousands of students and employees at the university. Administrators and faculty also must balance their work with social and familial pressure. Mental health is rapidly becoming a strong focus at the University of Alberta, but despite prominence of the issue, stress will always exist.

From a personal standpoint, serving as VPA has been a great experience, but it comes with its fair share of stress. I can arrive in the morning at 7 AM and work non-stop until the evening, and still fall behind on different initiatives. That’s the case right now with the undergraduate research symposium. Lots of work done, but much left to do. In comparison to others, my life is pretty easy. Some members of the university suffer the death of a family member. Some students are required to withdraw, and are forced to return home (which could be outside of the province or the country). Some faculty do not receive tenure after years of work within a university.

The point of this entry is to think about the following question: “What keeps you going?” When you face adversity, what is it that sustains you? We all move through peaks and valleys. That is inevitable. So when you descend into the valleys, what do you tell yourself that allows you to climb to level ground, and then gradually hike to the peak? For me, the answer rests somewhere between family and sports. When times are tough, I spend much of my time at home where I can relax with those closest to me. I also relieve stress by running around the gravel track across the street by shifting focus from the rigours of the VPA portfolio to the pattern of my breathing or the movement of my legs.

But what is it that keeps you going? Maybe you already know the answer, because you have thought about this in advance. If you haven’t though, set aside some time to reflect. By knowing what inspires and drives you, I am confident that you will make the most out of the more challenging situations in life, and become a better person because of that.


The two-month mark: thoughts up to this point

Emerson Csorba - Thu Jun 30, 2011

University thus far has been an incredible experience, where I have had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of inspirational people, many of whom have become close friends. Looking back, I feel that I have made a handful of good choices, which ultimately led me to where I am today. But of all the decisions made, running for Vice President (Academic) stands out. It's a decision that took careful thought, and was preceded by a medley of emotions and questions.

'Is sacrificing a year really worth it?' 'Will I be able to maintain a social life?' 'Will I lose any friendships that have been built over the last two years?' Though keeping a social life requires considerable effort, and although the nature of some relationships has changed, I feel strongly about the value of the experience as VPA.

Rather than construe the year of VPA as a sacrifice, I view it as a year of immense learning. If the current pace keeps up, my term as VPA will establish itself as the most influential period of my life. But why?

Numerous examples convey this point.

First, I feel like a large portion of VPA is learning how to find order in chaos. Though this may not be the most flattering depiction of the portfolio, I believe that is accurate. The VPA works on many different issues: developing relationships with faculty associations; understanding the dynamics of university governance; refining people skills; and making sense out of complex academic issues (assessment and grading, teaching evaluations and graduate attributes), constitute only a portion of the VPA portfolio. Prioritizing the issues listed above requires extensive thought, as each of the issues is important. So how does one do this? This is a question that halfway through the summer I still grapple with.

A second way the VPA portfolio is influencing my character is its demand on me to adapt quickly to new situations. As an experienced pitcher in baseball, I think that I entered the term with a head start in this area. Sometimes, the umpire might make a questionable call, or teammates might make some errors. In the span of a few minutes, the bases can be loaded with no outs. A good pitcher adapts to the situation. In my case, I learned how to slow down the pace of the game, show little to no emotion and focus on one pitch at a time. As VPA, I am sometimes asked to work through some unexpected jams. In this situation, one has to make principled decisions under pressure. Moreover, you need to maintain a "game face." There will be peaks and valleys - moments of success and adversity - but both situations need to be treated similarly. As a nineteen-year-old student still developing his own values system, this is can be tough.

So these are two examples of experience I've been the beneficiary of as VPA. One, the idea of finding order in complex scenarios. Two, the need to adapt to situations that push one out of one’s comfort zone. Both can be stressful, but also tremendously rewarding.

If you ever have thoughts about the VPA portfolio – whether it is interest in running (it is not too early), or a few questions that you wish to ask – please send me an e-mail at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca. I look forward to having an excellent conversation with you.

Pace: A Theme for the Year

Emerson Csorba - Fri Jun 24, 2011

Going into my term as VPA, I was naïve. In January, I held an executive position in my fraternity, was involved in various organizations and thought that somehow I would be able to hold all of it together. Add to that dating, attempting to maintain a strong GPA and then finding time to spend with family. Managing everything was a juggling act, and a tall order. It took careful planning and above all else, constant energy and a sound work ethic. For the most part, I succeeded in most of the points I listed above, but there were certainly some things that could have gone better.

Only a month and a half into my term, I am quickly seeing why serving students as an SU executive can consume one’s life. You must not only strive to achieve the big goals set out at the beginning of the year, but also help manage a ten million dollar budget, answer copious e-mails and on top of that, adapt to issues that arise randomly. For instance, the Faculty of Education’s recent move to allow first year students into the faculty took up nearly two full days in meetings. The recent Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry plagiarism issue resulted in over ten interviews with CBC, CTV, Canadian Press, Global and others in a matter of twenty-four hours. Serving as Vice-President Academic is very much the attempt to make order out of chaos. It is a tall order indeed.

I am now perfectly aware that the VPA commitment could become my life. I could easily spend the entire day in the office, going to meeting after meeting, thinking about different issues, reading up on hot topics, and writing reports. If I did that, I would probably be farther along than I am at the moment. I might be able to stay completely on top of my inbox and write some more letters, meet some more students, or crunch more meetings into the hours of the day. But life would become miserable. And, at some point, I would burn out. The summer would waste away, and no matter how much I accomplished, the memories in SUB 2-900 would be bitter.

Pace has rapidly become the theme of my life. I am training to run a marathon on August 21. If that is to happen, I have to gradually build up the kilometers I run each week, and run at a pace that can be sustained for two, three (and eventually four) hours. Outside of VPA, I now travel consistently. Since May, I have been to Warsaw, Krakow, Berlin and recently, Saskatoon. And prior to the end of summer, I will have been back and forth to Jasper and Banff on a few occasions, to Toronto and quite possibly back to Germany. In May alone, I made about one hundred new friends from all across Canada, and still I manage to keep in touch with many of them. I go out with different groups of friends three to four nights per week, to movies, clubs or for dinner. And most importantly, I am constantly back at home with family. Pace is the theme of my life, for 2011-2012 and hopefully, 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and so on.

If I am to serve you to the best of my ability, I have to keep this theme close to my heart. As soon as I waver and lose sight of this, my performance will recede: simple as that. Because of this, 2011-2012 is about pace. Whether it is running, maintaining a lively social life or penning papers in the office, the key is steady and consistent from start to finish.

  • Emerson

Voting 101

Farid Iskandar - Wed Jun 22, 2011

No, this is not going to be a blog about the importance of practicing your democratic right. I will not preach about the people in Libya who are dying for democracy, nor prophesize that students have the ability to change the cosmos if they hit the polls. This post is for students who are already interested in the upcoming provincial election.

If you don’t know already, we are likely going to have one of Alberta’s most exciting elections in 40 years this spring, but it could be as soon as this coming fall. I want to tell you about a sexy process called “Enumeration”. This is when Elections Alberta sends people knocking on every single door in Alberta to ask the following questions:

1) Are you a Canadian Citizen?
2) Are you 18 or older?
3) Are you or will you have been ordinarily resident in Alberta for at least 6 months?
4) Where do you identify your ordinary residence?

This will help count how many eligible voters are out there. Why should this interest you? Well, the first two questions don’t, but the last two have significant outcomes. The term “ordinary residence” is heftier than you might think, because where you ordinarily reside determines where you vote. Here’s the definition from the Election Act:

“… ordinary residence is determined in accordance with the following rules:
(a) a person can have only one place of ordinary residence;
(b) a person’s ordinary residence is the place where the person lives and sleeps and to which, when the person is absent from it, the person intends to return;
(c) a student who
(i) is in attendance at an educational institution within or outside Alberta,
(ii) temporarily rents accommodation for the purpose of attending an educational institution, and
(iii) has family members who are ordinarily resident in Alberta and with whom the student ordinarily resides when not in attendance at an educational institution is deemed to reside with those family members;”

This does not mean that all students living away from their parents during the school year have to vote at home. Students have the option to identify their residency based on point (b) or (c). If you live in Lister for example, and you would like to vote in the Lister riding, you can vote there as long as you register to vote with your Lister address (you just need proof that you live at that address).

The Enumeration process is taking place between August 26th and September 19th. This is not ideal, since many students will not have yet moved in during the beginning of that period. However in a meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Alberta, O. Brian Fjeldheim promised that enumerators would not come to student residences until everyone has moved in.

I ran promising to push the Province to create a smarter and more student-friendly Election Act. I plan on lobbying the government to update the Act, meanwhile here’s what you could do to help. If more students living close to campus identify their ordinary residency here, we can get a polling station (or multiple ones) on campus.

  • Farid

Students’ Union Voices Support for Proposed Assessment and Grading Improvements at the University of Alberta

Emerson Csorba - Tue May 31, 2011

Over the last year, the University of Alberta, under the leadership of Provostial Fellow Dr. Bob Luth, has engaged in numerous discussions about assessment and grading. The discussions began more than a year ago, and have led to a detailed assessment policy and grading procedure. Thanks to the outstanding work of Dr. Luth, student representative, Dustin Chelen and the CLE subcommittee on assessment and grading, the current version of the assessment policy and grading procedure is thorough and polished. The university’s emphasis on assessing students based on their achievement of clearly communicated learning outcomes – rather than on their performance relative to peers – is an innovative and refreshing improvement to student assessment. I’m excited to see the policy and procedure continue its development and before progressing through university governance in winter 2012.

  • Emerson

Humility in Empathy

Emerson Csorba - Thu May 26, 2011

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.”

-Henry Ford

When we talk of great leaders, empathy is a trait that often sticks out. The best leaders are those that listen intently to others, and who attempt to place themselves in others’ shoes. I think that we can agree that this is true. And for student representatives, empathy is especially important. If you are to understand the needs of the people that you represent, then you have to be empathetic – as Ford states, you must “see things from his angle as well as your own.”

Up until last week, I didn’t truly understood the notion of empathy. On May 16 2011, I departed to Poland and Germany along with 60 students across Canada for the “March of Remembrance and Hope.” During this trip, I had the rare opportunity to visit Holocaust concentration camps with two survivors: Pinkash and Faigie. This trip altered my view of empathy. No matter how much I try to understand the experiences of these two Jewish survivors, I will never fully grasp what they went through. In fact, I doubt that I could ever understand – not even for a moment – a sliver of what these two individuals experienced. It’s a humbling thought: no matter how much effort one dedicates to “see[ing] things from his angle,” you will never truly understand his angle. Not even for a second.

As the SU VPA, I represent around 30,000 undergraduate students. This is a daunting task: how can I truly understand the needs of these students? For me the answer is simple: no matter how hard I work, and no matter how many students I talk to, I will never fully understand what they go through. Each student has a different background, a different way of thinking, a different perception of the Students’ Union and a different outlook on life. We may agree on issues relating to tuition, textbook prices and teaching quality, but our personal lives will differ. While I go home to a fraternity house, another student might go home to a family suffering from the loss of a loved one. Another might go home to a husband or a wife. And another might go home to a baby and family to care for, in addition to textbooks to read through and exams to prepare for.

Perhaps stating that I can never truly understand what each student goes through surprises you. After all, isn’t it my job to represent students? Well, it is, and I will do everything that I can over the next year to best represent the students that elected me. If there is one thing that I learned from the survivors and my time at the concentration camps, however, it is the following: I may never be able to put myself in another’s shoes, and feel what he or she feels. But I have to do my absolute best. Sitting on the sideline as a bystander is just not an option.

It is our duty to show empathy, to attempt to put ourselves in others’ shoes, but at the same time, realize that we will never fully understand what others go through. As VPA, this is one thing that will drive me to succeed throughout the year. Whether it is a complex academic policy or collaboration with faculty associations, each issue affects students in unique ways. Part of my job is to listen to the best of my ability, and see the other angle, even if I cannot view it clearly.

  • Emerson

Another Quick Update

Emerson Csorba - Wed May 11, 2011

Hi everyone,

So for this blog post, I would like to highlight two points in particular. First, I am very pleased to see what the university has done with the Bridging Program under the guidance of Dr. Bill Connor, who served as Dean of Students for ten years. Second, I am excited to see what the SU’s Student Governance Office has done under the guidance of the Student Governance Advisor, Amanda Henry.

During the 2011 SU executive campaign, I talked briefly about the implementation of what is generally called a “Foundation Year” program. Foundation Year is prevalent at Australian universities, and has been established at Simon Fraser University, through a private company called Navitas.

The University of Alberta is not following in the footsteps of SFU or Australian universities. Rather, it is improving the current U of A Bridging Program, which provides ESL courses (ESL 140 and 145) to international students in their first year at the university. Basically, the new Bridging Program will introduce a new course, ESL 135, in order to open up to a larger number of international students, and provide additional transition support to the students in the program. The fact that the University of Alberta is running this program internally, instead of outsourcing to a private company, is impressive and well-received by the Students’ Union.

As for student governance, the Student Governance Advisor has made outstanding progress over the last year, and it is very much becoming apparent now. An introductory meeting was held for students serving on different GFC standing committees. This meeting, along with the range of services that will be offered by the SGA, should lead to deeper engagement from the students participating in university governance.

I will be out of the office (and the country) from May 14-24, and will probably be without internet or anything like that. When I return, I’ll respond to whatever you send me as soon as possible.

In solidarity,


Engaging Students

Emerson Csorba - Mon May 09, 2011

Student Council often has difficulty branching out to new students that are uninvolved in SU activities. In the past, some councillors have done an outstanding job at connecting students to student politics, but they are the minority. For instance, the Students United for Progressive Action (SUPA) hosted a handful of town halls in the 2010-2011 year, and encouraged numerous students to run for a variety of seats on Council. Similarly, the Interdepartmental Science Students' Society - thanks in part to the efforts of tremendous leaders like its President, Dustin Chelen - encouraged over a dozen students to run in both the Student Council and ISSS elections. On Friday, May 6, several councillors hosted what Councillor Kusmu calls SIC: Students Interested in Council. For one of the first times in recent memory, councillors are actively seeking the input of students not involved in Council. During the first SIC meeting, the twelve or so students in attendance discussed a number of issues, such as the creation of a farmers' market through Community Service Learning, the potential need of a council to represent international students on campus and the state of the Powerplant.

In my opinion, one big lessons can be pulled from this meeting: we need to ask someone to get involved. In the car ride home from executive retreat, Vice President (Operations & Finance) Andy Cheema talked about VP (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi handing him a nomination form for the General Faculties Council. Without Colten's leadership in this situation, Andy might not be in the Students' Union today. Had Sam Fiorillo, a former President of AUFSJ (the Campus Saint-Jean faculty association) not told me about a vacant seat on Student Council in September 2009, I would not be where I am today. So for everyone reading this, whether you are a councillor, an SU volunteer, an executive or a student wanting to participate in the SU, make sure that you ask others to get involved. This sort of care for others is what will push the Students' Union forward in years to come, and more importantly, possibly change a peer's life for the better.

  • Emerson

First Meeting of Council

Emerson Csorba - Thu May 05, 2011

Earlier today, I returned from what was an excellent but tiring SU executive retreat. Over those five days, the outgoing and incoming executives bonded and shared knowledge that will hopefully contribute to the progression of the Students’ Union. At this point, I am running on adrenaline. To put things into perspective, Rory and I were the first to return to our cabins last night to go to sleep, and that was at 3 AM. We woke up around 8 AM. All in all, this has been a great day: after getting into the city, I had a Committee on the Learning Environment (CLE) meeting within the General Faculties Council, where a draft version of the proposed grading and assessment policies was presented. From 6 PM to about 8:30 PM, I had my first Council meeting. If the first official meeting is a sign of things to come, then this will be a phenomenal year.

As I said in my opening remarks, excellent councillors have two habits. One, they prepare diligently for each meeting; two, they ask questions within Council. Do not underestimate the latter of these two habits. Questions go a long way in influencing the direction of the SU. Many councillors did both of these things – preparing effectively and then asking detailed questions – in the lead up to today’s meeting. In particular, I was quite impressed by Councillor Kusmu’s questions. One of his questions dealt with funding for undergraduate research, whereas another question concerned the possibility of creating an undergraduate research journal (this question built upon a previous question posed by Councillor Zinyemba). Because of these two stellar questions, my undergraduate research plan will include the possibility of providing additional funding to existent undergraduate research journals, or perhaps setting up a Students’ Union-led undergraduate research journal. At the moment, there are at least two undergraduate research journals for students: Eureka and Constellations. My research over the next week will determine whether any other research journals exist.

Today’s Council meeting was impressive in that these two councillors (in addition to a handful of others) asked questions that inspired me to think about different issues for the VPA portfolio over the upcoming year. As the year progresses, I hope that Council continues to value the question period, which is one of the best opportunities for both executives and other councillors to improve the Students’ Union.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at vp.academic@su.ualberta.ca. Additionally, if you have ideas for my VPA goals, do not hesitate to give me a call or send off an e-mail.



First Blog Post

Emerson Csorba - Sun May 01, 2011

Over the last months, I have become increasingly interested in the philosophy of higher education, reading much of Dr. Ron Barnett’s literature. Dr. Barnett is a professor from the University of London, and he coined the term “supercomplexity.” Basically, he means that universities’ ambitions are outstripping their resources. They’re taking on more and more without focusing on the development of student knowledge. Rather, universities produce highly specialized research, some of which is tied to the corporate world. Universities try to preserve different languages and cultures. And as one sees all the time when reading different university documents, there is the idea that universities contribute, or give back, to society. Through all of this, I have come to the following conclusion: although universities do so many different things – many of which are good and many of which could improve – a university’s ultimate goal should be to change a person’s life for the better. When a student graduates from university, he or she should be a better thinker: a person that is introspective and inquisitive. And a student should be an engaged citizen. When I write “engaged,” I mean a person that questions basic assumptions, that brings a healthy dose of skepticism to discussions and that evaluates and participates in society.

Considering these ideas, my actions as VPA have to be guided by the following goal: to transform the life of a student. That, to me, is the goal of the Students’ Union. It has to be. Thinking about the different topics that I will work on as VPA – grading and assessment, teaching evaluations, graduate attributes, the transfer credit system, peer mentorship, undergraduate research, etc. – each of these initiatives shares a common theme: the improvement of a student’s life. That is what our efforts come down to.

I am here today, ready to serve as VPA, because of a few key people. Two Fijis were instrumental to providing me with opportunities. They remain some of my greatest mentors. A former VPA got me very interested in the position, and continues to challenge and guide me. A former president of AUFSJ, the Campus Saint-Jean faculty association, told me about the vacant student council seat that I ran for in September of my first year. Based on this guidance, one can see that certain students drastically changed the course of my life. As I progress through university, and as I serve as VPA, doing this for others is my big goal. If I can leave on April 30 2012 at 11:59, knowing that my efforts improved the lives of University of Alberta students, then I will know that I have done my job.

My next post will discuss my goals for the upcoming year. Until then, take some time to relax, enjoy the beginning of summer and remember to vote! I am currently at the Students' Union executive retreat, but once I return, I will do my best to address any questions or concerns that you have.