Educational Advocacy Initiative developing a platform where students and professors can meet
My name is Emma Esselink, I am 22 years old and I’m from Canada. Managing various volunteer and extracurricular activities, I constantly strive to create my own goals and work with a like-minded team of individuals who aim at making social changes, both in their own communities and around the world.
As I was approaching the end of my 4th year of Bachelor Degree in Social Work in Toronto, ON, I was led to complete my placement with the Student Association of George Brown College. My daily experience as an Assistant Academic Advocacy Coordinator included an abundance of hours spent sitting and speaking with students who had various academic concerns with their curricula, felt as if they had no place to express these concerns and that solutions were not being presented quick enough. I had many students who wanted to seek academic changes, but did not have the support in order to do so. Some students even considered dropping out of school because their needs weren’t being met, and others came to talk to me because they needed an immediate response from a professor but felt like they weren’t being treated fairly by college policy. Therefore, I decided to work with students to develop a social platform for growth and communication between faculty and students. So, my first educational policy project, called “Educational Advocacy Initiative”, was officially put into action with the aim of helping both the Student Association and dozens of students.
According to the Sustainable Development Goal #4: “Quality Education”, “obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. Major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools particularly for women and girls.” The main purpose of the Educational Advocacy Initiative, then, is to create a feedback loop between students and faculty, to ensure a respectful environment that facilitates advocacy, improvement of curricula and openness, empowered by communication. The initiative has empowered student leaders over the past couple of years to continue in their studies, advocate on behalf of their peers and stand up for justice in the academic environment. Student leaders volunteer to give a voice to their classmates, while presenting their academic concerns to faculty, with support from team leaders and the Student Association of George Brown College. Student leaders then go through the Advocacy Training process, which seeks to encourage student leadership and confidence. Once trained, student leaders are encouraged to be an open ear and have a clear voice for their peers, as they will be meeting with faculty a minimum of four times throughout the year to formally discuss their concerns and feedback. Faculty are encouraged to respond with solutions within a short time period (typically two weeks), before implementing desired changes to the academic environment.
To ensure the success and sustainability of the Educational Advocacy Initiative, I desired to ground my project in previous research for support. Therefore, grounded in Terenzini & Reason’s (2009) conceptual framework on “The College Experience”, the objectives of the Educational Advocacy Initiative are to engage student representatives and their peers to encourage persistence in the BScN program. The Educational Advocacy Initiative creates an environment for students to share: what is going well in their program, what is causing them concerns in regards to course curriculum, potential changes they would like to discuss, and any new idea they wish to present to the faculty. Students will work together to build confidence for presenting a student issue document to the faculty. The goal of connecting and engaging with peers enables persistence, which is “an individual phenomenon—students persist to a goal” (Reason, 2009, p. 660) and they are impacted by underlying influences such as “the institution’s internal organizational context, the peer environment, and student’s individual experiences” (Reason, 2009, p. 662). These factors directly and indirectly impact students’ engagement inside and outside of the classroom and determine how well students will persist within the BScN program.
The research led by Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) demonstrates that positive interactions between students and faculty members (outside of the classroom and within the classroom) will increase the likelihood that students will persist in their studies. The Educational Advocacy Initiative builds a bridge over the communication gap between students and faculty and ensures that there is a controlled and designated space for the presentation of student issues, concerns and feedback that can be further implemented back into the course curriculum. Factors such as “the quality and frequency of feedback provided to students; and instructor rapport with students all positively and significantly promote course content acquisition” (Reason, 2009, p. 673) and ensure positive retention rates for the college institution. “Retention is an organizational phenomenon... [and is] often presented as measures of institutional quality” (Reason, 2009, p. 660), which is directly connected to the relationship between student persistence and engagement.
The Educational Advocacy Initiative is empirically supported as a “pedagogical [approach] that encourage[s] active, collaborative, and cooperative learning” (Reason, 2009, p. 673) and is rooted directly to the students’ relationships in and outside of the classroom, their social integration, and intent to persist throughout college. Therefore, the Educational Advocacy Initiative ensures the construction of an open process of ongoing and respectful dialogue between students and faculty that encourages student engagement, decreases retention rates and ensures student persistence within the college setting.
The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create a sustainable educational environment for youth that includes all genders, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, religions and beliefs, and promotes the empowerment of self-development and advocacy in the academic world. As I keep going with my Masters in Policy Studies, I will continue to stay in contact with the next placement students and Educational Advocacy Initiative student leaders at George Brown, to ensure the continuous progress of our social venture. I’m hoping to see our initiative being implemented across the entire college in the coming years, and our goal is to watch it spread to other colleges and universities in Canada and, eventually, across the world.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV