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

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!