First years reminded of responsibility

Sunday of Orientation Week gathered students from the Wilfrid Laurier School of Business and Economics (SBE) together for the faculty’s annual O-Day, a chance for students to experience SBE-specific programming and opportunities for involvement.

Held in the Schlegel Centre and the Waterloo Inn, students attended a luncheon featuring a talk by Procter and Gamble Canada president and Laurier business graduate Tim Penner. The overwhelming theme of the day, which featured a distinct get-involved fair for business and economics students, was taking advantage of opportunities for involvement on campus from the absolute beginning of students’ time at university.

“When you’re only starting classes tomorrow graduation seems like a really long time away,” Penner told the over 550 students assembled, “And it is. You’ve got time, I just encourage you to use it very, very wisely.”

He impressed upon students the importance of whatever experience they can gather during that time, especially in campus clubs and organizations. “It’s going to be those experiences that differentiate you relative to the 50,000 business and public administration students in Canada,” he said.

“Someone that was an achiever on the Laurier campus will continue to be an achiever after they graduate and join the business world,” he explained. “You can predict mediocrity and you can predict achievement, and no company is looking for mediocre people, we’ve all got enough of those already.”

Penner’s words resounded with students according to School of Business and Economics Students’ Society (SBESS) president Aneesh Lal. “The O-Day get involved fair told us that [first-years] were receptive to that message,” he said. “The fact that it was packed for two hours and not just people writing down names but engaging in dialogue all over said something.”

The day has been in the planning stages since May, according to Lal, who spoke to the reasoning behind a separate orientation and Get-Involved fair for SBE students.

“People always want to know about their own faculty and O-Week is a very general way to see how great Laurier is, but SBE-specific O-Day on the Sunday is designed so our students get the extra know-how of how things work at SBE.”

After his speech, Penner spoke to the Cord about why he felt it is important to reach incoming students and emphasize involvement from day one. “I’ve spoken on campus several times over the last several years but I’ve never been asked to speak to the introductory group before,” he said. “Frankly, as we interview there’s a lot of people who you realize only started to get involved on campus in their third year when they’re sort of sprinting for the finish line and it’s too late.”

Penner made clear the position students are in with regards to involvement opportunities on this campus specifically, the all-important effort initially that can lead to dividends in the future. “I think what separates Laurier from many other campuses is the richness of opportunities for leadership roles,” he said. “There are more leadership opportunities for students at Laurier than just about any other business school that I know of.”

“To come to Laurier and not capitalize on that is a tremendous missed opportunity.”

Academic Sessions for incoming Arts, Science and SBE students made mandatory this year

While classes at Laurier didn’t officially begin until Sept. 13, participants in orientation activities were given a pause to examine the more academic side of university life.

Academic sessions have been a growing part of the O-Week schedule for the last five years, according to Michael Imort, dean of the faculty of arts; however, this year was the first year these sessions were mandatory.

The implementation of the sessions is a step in the right direction, he said. “It is a beginning; it is not nearly enough from our perspective.”

“If you look at the Orientation Week,” he elaborated, “what we have is barely a day to prepare students for the academic challenges and transitions ahead of them.”

Imort talked about a trend of decline in students’ grade point averages (GPAs) in his academic session.

“We don’t care about your intelligence, we care about your performance,” he told the first-years assembled, also noting that, “Approximately three out of ten students don’t graduate with the honours designation.”

Markus Poetzsch, the English undergraduate advisor, also spoke with students during Friday’s sessions emphasizing the resources available if some feel it hard to maintain good academic standing.

“Talk to your professors,” he said repeatedly, encouraging students to ask for help.
Neither Imort nor Poetzsch professed to know exactly why undergraduate grades are trending downwards, but Poetzsch suspected an inability to maintain balance as one factor.

He told students his position increasingly means taking on the role of career and guidance counselor, advising students about more than just their courses and timetables.

According to Poetzsch, he has seen more and more burnt-out students in his office, often with multiple jobs in addition to full-time studies.

“It seems to be the normative,” he said. “It may have something to do with tuition prices.”
Imort pointed to a lack of preparedness among incoming students as another trend.

“What we’re faced with in the last few years [are] students who underestimate what is required,” he explained. “The transition is too dramatic for them; they are not prepared for the workload, for the stress.”

He said that these topics need to be impressed upon and discussed among first-years, though he lamented, “That takes time, small workshops rather than a large lecture hall where I stand for forty-five minutes and talk about it.”

In the aftermath of the sessions, Imort said feedback from students was rare, however, those he did hear from were positive about the experience.

“I think the students are better off for it.”