HE NEW STUDENT INFORMATION AND ADVISING CENTRE: A place for students to get answers, finally

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Undercover Joe

Geraldo Gonzalez is one of the many proverbial ping pong balls of Ryerson University.

“First I went to the Chang School and they sent me to Enrolment, and I saw the line there was huge.”

Gonzalez attended the University of Waterloo, but he is currently working as an office clerk in Toronto and taking an economics course at Ryerson — the last course he needs to get his degree.

He was only looking for the course time and date. And it was when he took a detour into Jorgensen Hall on Monday that he stumbled upon the help he needed.

“The guy took the time to answer some questions. The other places looked too busy, this guy looked almost too eager [to help].”

A one-stop shop for students, the Student Information and Advising Centre (SIAC) hopes to alleviate the stress of not knowing where to go and act as an all-around compass at Ryerson.

The SIAC, a S400,000-dollar pilot project dreamt up by former vice provost students Zouheir Fawaz, opened in May with funds set aside from the University’s operating budget specifically for a short-list of special projects that compete with each other for support.

“This one was extremely important to one of the top priorities at the university which is support for student engagement, so this had a very high priority,” said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy.

“When a student comes in with a more complex question, we will work with them until they either get the information they need or meet with the appropriate person who can resolve their issue,” said Tony Conte, SIAC manager. “For me, the priority is to help the student; that’s the main goal here.”

Both paid part-time peer advisers and full-time staff run the SIAC. The advisers are trained to provide one-on-one help.

Students can sit with an adviser at one of the several desks or couches if they request. Each desk has two flexible flat-screen monitors so that the adviser can simultaneously show the student any Internet resource they access and how they got there.

All staff sign a confidentiality agreement and are not given any access to student records.

Conte likens the SIAC to the ‘give a person a fish and they will eat for a day, teach them to fish and they will eat for a lifetime’ adage. He hopes, through the advisers’ help, students will gain the tools necessary to answer any future questions on their own.

The SIAC does have its limitations. Peer advisers can’t show you your account balance on RAMSS or give you a peek at your grades. They also can’t help you plan out your courses for the next four years. For those you have to go to the cashier’s office, enrolment services and your program assistant respectively.

They can help you sign onto RAMSS, clarify important dates and direct you to your classrooms. They’ll even offer to walk you there.

The SIAC was Fawaz’s response to the President’s Commission on Student Engagement and Experience report back in 2006. The Commission included a series of Town Hall meetings, response forms, and surveys to identify the most prevailing concerns for improving student life at Ryerson, a major one being improvement on how students get to and find out information.

The SIAC emphasizes feedback to help improve and mould the centre. Students are encouraged to leave comments — anonymously if they wish — via either e-mail or paper at the front desk. Conte believes student input to be “critical to the success of the centre.”

Levy said the types of questions students asked would be monitored for quality control and to see if they reflect problems with the system that can be fixed.

Nazuk Jain, a fifth-year computer engineering student and peer adviser, said the SIAC is successful because of it’s relationship with the student body.

“We’re students ourselves, so we can simplify the technical jargon and put it into their language,” she said.

The SIAC is located in Jorgenson Hall, immediately accessed through the east entrance on Victoria Lane. Students can drop by anytime between 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. on Fridays) throughout the school week with any questions about Ryerson they may have.

The SIAC is a resource that guides students who can’t find their way. 4.5 help desks out of 5.

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