Giancarlo Mazzanti is the Registrar and Director of Student Services at the University of St. Michael’s College. Giancarlo is a graduate of the University of Toronto (St. Mike’s) with an Honours B.A. in Political Science, and a B. Ed. from the Faculty of Education in 1985. He began his career in education at St. Michael’s College School and has worked in student services for over 30 years.
Our Connection Is Just Fine
It’s not like rumours weren’t swirling about a possible move to a primarily online mode of delivering the services of the Registrar’s Office and related Student Services. So it was with the better judgment of our team that we began preparations for what was beginning to look like the inevitable. It seemed like no time at all passed from those water cooler conversations with colleagues within the university community to when the email arrived from the Office of the President telling us that our offices were closing to in-person services. Academic advising meetings, learning strategist sessions, wellness appointments, and every other function and/or service would need to go online.
We received the call on the afternoon of March 17. Within minutes, Morteza was making sure e-tokens were good to go and that college staff in the various university offices were able to log in from home. Most were taken care of, but there were still a few to activate: no problem. Miranda, with Guillermo’s and Philip’s help, was making certain all students on the day’s docket were either seen or given a new appointment, all while planning for graduation scholarships and any number of the other responsibilities within our office. Nawang was ensuring that bursaries were going to get into students’ hands… yesterday! Next was getting ready for the hundreds of financial aid requests that would be submitted by our students, as well as the upcoming round of May admissions. Stephen was finalizing plans on how we were going to meet with future applicants, remotely, all while he and his wife were getting ready to deliver a future SMC student. Judy and Alex? Well, the newest members of our office were getting ready for the onslaught of student advising appointments which would fall on their shoulders as the various portfolios were being tended to. Hundreds of emails daily! Then, as the day turned into evening we packed our favourite mugs and our laptops and, with e-tokens in hand, we went home to our new offices!
All were confident as we prepared for remote delivery, even though the occasional nervous giggle could be heard. Gone were the commutes, the traffic, and the aggressive drivers. So was that horribly conspicuous dash to the only open seat on the train; everyone knows when you have designs on a seat in a subway train at 8:15 in the morning! Now it was simply a 12-second climb to the second-floor office, right next to the bathroom, and with a lovely view of the garden.
And so it was that practically overnight all university operations moved online, except for the staff in finance, the residence operation, and building services. They were our “hyflex” model pioneers. They were toughing it out on campus to make sure that USMC kept functioning and that students unable to get home had a room on campus, and that it was a safe space. The I.T. department stood on its collective head to make sure we had the hardware, software and in-servicing on the technology we had all dabbled in but which was not yet part of the daily menu. All of a sudden, Teams and Zoom were the plat du jour! And of course, the Communications team made sure there was an uninterrupted flow of information, essential to all parts of the community.
By the end of Day One of working from the home office, in whichever corner of the house we were assigned—or had earned over many years of squatting—many of the bugs had been worked out. It was quickly becoming business as usual for most, with the rest not far behind. Professionals who were accustomed to meeting in person were now looking at a screen with nothing more than a student’s initials in a small circle. Whether discussing course selection, scholarships, or convocation, all meetings were now being conducted via telephone or in a Teams meeting. Different delivery models, same great advice and suggestions.
And how appreciative our students were during those early days of the new, even if only temporary, normal! Every email or call we received began with “sorry to bother you during this very busy time,” and was often followed up with a lovely thank-you note.
Today, after hundreds of Teams or Zoom advising meetings, thousands of emails, dozens of website updates, countless online lectures and tutorials, governance meetings, a virtual Welcome Day for newly admitted students, two new Quercus courses to help transition our class of 2024, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency financial aid to our students, it dawned on me. I confirmed for myself what I knew all along. The people! That is the ingredient that is making all the difference.
The people I met on campus were important to me during my undergrad years, decades ago, and I understand far more clearly how important that is today: the staff, faculty, and students of the university. In these “interesting” times, we know we can rely on each other. Whether teaching or making sure we are well positioned to tackle the financial pressures of the coming year or helping a student find a course that will fill a final breadth requirement, we know each member of our community continues to do their utmost to make things work for our students—and for each other. I am confident that is why we were all drawn to this place, our community. That is why we will be ready for the coming year. Yes, a simple electronic screen will not get in the way. Our connection in just fine.
Ask.email@example.com offers a single point of access for student to find the help they need
From academic advising to assistance with financial aid, accessibility needs and career planning, the Office of the Registrar and Student Services provides essential help to students in all stages of their St. Mike’s journey. Although the physical office has been closed since mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Student Services team continues to provide timely, crucial support to St. Mike’s students online, and the team is optimizing its services for remote delivery this fall as well.
The effort on the part of the office to optimize online service delivery for St. Michael’s students in a matter of days “is truly something I have never witnessed before,” says St. Michael’s Registrar Giancarlo Mazzanti.
“Advisors have stepped up to deal with the very significant increase in student inquiries, while working at putting into a virtual format everything that students have come to expect of the Registrar’s Office and Student Services,” Mazzanti says. “The university has made a commitment to the continuation and expansion of Student Services to be certain that all students will have the advising and services that have become synonymous with the student-centered St. Michael’s approach.”
During this unique time, a single point of access has made it easier for students to find the help they need: firstname.lastname@example.org. Students can email this account to get in touch with an advisor directly, and to get connected with a variety of ongoing services.
Academic Advising is a primary focus of the office. During one-on-one sessions, advisors provide assistance with registration, course selection, program selection and scheduling. In addition, advisors can provide students with guidance regarding workloads relative to other aspect of their student life, and help provide clarity on options for financial aid, some of which are available directly through the University of Toronto.
Nicole LeBlanc MSW, RSW has been the Wellness Counsellor at St. Michael’s since the fall of 2016. All students and residents of St. Michael’s are welcome to set up an online half-hour counseling appointment with her by email: email@example.com. Other wellness resources can also be found through St. Michael’s Student Services under the Wellness Counsellor tab.
Dr. Andrea Graham and Julia Andrews are the Academic Success Learning Strategists at St. Michael’s, and they support students in all areas of learning and academic performance. Graham and Andrews are available to help students discover their best ways of learning, adapt to university expectations, increase their efficiency, identify and pursue their goals, improve their work, and get the most out of their academic learning experience. Appointments with each can be set up through firstname.lastname@example.org, and additional resources for academic success are available through University of Toronto Student Life.
Accessibility Services at the University of Toronto can help students with temporary and permanent accessibility needs receive necessary academic accommodations. St. Michael’s accessibility advisor can be reached through email@example.com, and more information about registering for services is available through University of Toronto Student Life.
It’s no secret that writing at the university level can be a challenge, especially for new students. That’s why the Writing Centre at St. Michael’s continues to offer one-on-one appointments for students looking for guidance on all aspects of the writing process, from researching and outlining to drafting and editing.
Support for students also includes help with the period that follows graduation. This is where St. Michael’s Career Educator Husna Arif comes in: she helps students with exploring career options, applications for grad school, upgrading job search skills, conducting mock interview, learning about employment opportunities, and making plans for after graduation. As with the Office of the Registrar’s other services, digital appointments with Husna can be set up through firstname.lastname@example.org.
As these services continue being offered digitally through the summer, Mazzanti says remote service is being optimized for the Fall term as well. “We have doubled the number of front-line advisors available to answer student inquiries as well as adding resource to the financial aid portfolio, in personnel and funds,” he says. Regular services offered during the Fall and Winter terms such as the Math and Computer Science Success Centres will be available remotely, too.
Many students will also be making their transition to university during this uncertain time, and the Office of the Registrar and Student Services team is already working hard to make the move as seamless as possible. “We have over 20 events planned over the summer to facilitate the student transition to university,” Mazzanti says, including “welcome events, course planning and selection and other events that will allow students to actively participate, collaborate and meet with our advising team.”