The University of Lethbridge campus is always spectacular in fall. Adorned with red, yellow and orange, campus kisses summer goodbye in the morning chill and takes on an autumn glow, welcoming the return of students.
Excitement is palpable those first few days in September. Students flood the hallways, looking for new classes, meeting new friends and making new memories.
This semester, more than 8,300 students are enrolled on the U of L’s Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton campuses. And it’s these students – each one of them – who are the driving reason behind what’s ahead for the U of L.
At the 2013 Fiat Lux address this fall, U of L President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Mike Mahon introduced the draft 2014-2019 Strategic Plan. Building on its predecessor, this next edition – a sequel, really – outlines five familiar priorities: excel as a comprehensive university, continue enhancing the student experience, promote access to quality post-secondary education, build internal community while enhancing relationships with external communities, and enhance the sustainability of the University.
The plan comes at a pivotal time for the U of L – a time when universities across the province are re-evaluating budget priorities.
“Our Strategic Plan and mandate tell us quite clearly who we are and what our priorities are,” says Mahon. “We will be the Alberta university recognized for our commitment to the individual person, for the quality, uniqueness and responsiveness of our programs, and for our accessibility to diverse communities. We will be Canada’s destination for all who seek a comprehensive, liberal education-based university that promotes a diverse and inclusive environment and inspires research-informed teaching and learning, creative discovery, scholarship, professional endeavours, experiential opportunities and community engagement.”
After a busy summer, there are a lot of noticeable changes on campus this fall – all aimed at enhancing the student experience and putting the U of L on the map as Alberta’s Destination University.
On the south end of campus, the new student residence, Mt. Blakiston House, opened its doors in August, providing a new home-away-from-home for 259 students.
“Mt. Blakiston offers a great experience because it is built to accommodate students: every detail was thought out by students for students,” says resident and third-year U of L student Deserae Gogel. “I love the large windows and how much light we get; all of the little study nooks are amazing for group or independent study; and having a work-out facility on the first floor saves me a cold hike to the PE building.”
Evidence of the 2012 University Campus Master Plan taking shape can also be seen with the development of the new quad, a vibrant outdoor green space that is outside of Markin Hall. A visible expression of university community, the area features a core open space surrounded on three sides by small rolling hills – an ideal gathering space for students, staff and visitors. The Suitcase sculptures, created by longtime fine arts faculty member and former associate dean, the late Carl Granzow, stand at the southeast section and will greet visitors for years to come.
The main entrance to the Students’ Union Building is in the midst of transformation with the revitalization of the South Plaza – again aimed at creating a gathering space on campus. The tunnel also received major upgrades, while the murals continue to tell an important part of the University’s history.
The commitment to the student experience, however, goes well beyond the physical campus and is woven into the very fabric of the University and is supported by enhanced student services.
Last spring, the University announced a new on-site food-service provider. ARAMARK commenced its services in the spring and introduced a full-service Starbucks, which features cozy seating, a coffee-bar atmosphere and a stunning view of University Hall and the eastern coulees. In addition, a new Subway and Tim Hortons are now in UHall and the campus cafeteria underwent extensive renovations, has a new name and a new menu. The Urban Market brings flair and healthy choices to on-campus dining with resort-like options such as freshly squeezed orange juice, stone-baked pizzas and personal grilling.
The U of L also introduced the Student Success Centre earlier this year, which includes Study Skills Services, Tutoring Services and Mental Health Education. “Through programs, services and partnerships, the Centre empowers every student to achieve success and personal well-being,” says Trish Jackson (BASc ’03), manager of the Student Success Centre. “The Centre takes a holistic approach to encourage students to set goals, examine various aspects of their lifestyles, connect with appropriate supports, make positive changes and achieve their goals.”
Campus renovations, a new food-services provider and additional student support services all speak to the University’s commitment to the student experience, says Mahon. “As Alberta’s Destination University, we will ensure that students remain central to what we do at the University.”
The resulting efforts have secured the U of L placement as one of Canada’s leading universities. The U of L is recognized on the national stage as one of Canada’s top-three undergraduate institutions (2014 Maclean’s University Rankings) and one of Canada’s top-three undergraduate research universities (RE$EARCH Infosource, 2013).
And for students like Sarah MacDonald, a first-year student from Strathmore, Alta., the benefits are evident. “I wanted to go to school where I’d be comfortable,” she says. “A lot of my high school teachers who I really liked graduated from the U of L and recommended it, so I applied. Although I’ve only been here a few months, I’m having a great experience. My professors are very excited about what they are teaching – and they are genuinely interested in me – and the scholarships I’ve received have helped alleviate a lot of my financial worries. I look forward to every day because there is always something amazing happening.”