The pandemic has had a profound impact on nearly every industry imaginable, and the education sector was no exception. Almost overnight, many students transitioned from in-class learning to fully online classes, in turn missing out on campus life.
But as the world opens back up, Canadian universities are getting ready to welcome students back for in-person learning in the fall. Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is among the centres for education currently working to ensure a safe learning and campus experience for new and returning students this September.
Julie Taylor, manager of TRU’s Kamloops campus Office of Student Life, says students are, first and foremost, top of mind as her office prepares for a safe return to campus. “We know they have been very resilient this past year, and many students may have some unease returning to campus,” she tells Daily Hive.
“When we have been thinking through our plans for fall, we have looked at what we have heard the students miss the most, and it’s been the social interactions and feeling like a part of a community,” says Taylor.
With this in mind, Taylor and her team are trying to create opportunities for social and community-building activities for students — while being mindful of health guidelines. She adds, “We also know that some students will have anxiety or stress about returning, and we want to meet them where they are.”
For new-to-TRU students, orientation will be a “hyflex option” this year. According to Taylor, students will have a choice in the activities they feel most comfortable taking part in, with some components still being offered virtually and some face-to-face.
“The virtual events will be ones where we have 100+ students in attendance, such as our Welcome Ceremony and the faculty academic sessions. All virtual sessions will be streamed live for students and will also be recorded and posted to our webpage, so students that weren’t able to watch live can still access the information.”
In-person events, including community-building and engagement activities, like scavenger hunts, campus tours, and icebreaker games, will be held outdoors and require students to register ahead of time, allowing TRU to manage group sizes. While orientation events would typically fall on one day, this year, the university is spreading them out over a week to give students many options to get involved on campus.
For students who are now in their second year at TRU but haven’t physically been on campus yet due to the pandemic, there’s still a way to get involved. Taylor explains that they will be receiving an invitation to participate in all of the orientation events taking place this fall.
For both new and returning students, financial barriers may exist due to the pandemic. In the last year, youth unemployment reached 58% at its peak. And in April of this year, 73,000 youth in BC lost work. These are numbers the university is responding to.
Director of Student Awards & Financial Aid at TRU, Gordon Down, says the university’s student surveys identified that while many students need assistance financing their education, for some, it was a large and “possibly insurmountable” barrier.
By creating a new Assurance Bursary, TRU was able to provide a clear path for up to 100 students each year — once fully implemented — to fund a full degree over four, five, or six years, Down explains. It will provide a guaranteed level of support to qualifying returning students for the remainder of their degree (regardless of how many years of study they have left). Applications for 2021 Assurance Bursaries are already in, and the first student recipients will be getting their offers soon.
“Combined with government student aid and modest part-time work, it ensures sufficient funding to completely cover standard educational and living costs for each year,” says Down.
The Province of BC has provided TRU with $141,000 in emergency bursary funding for the 2021-22 school year, which Down says will supplement the more than $1.5 million in donor awards that the university disburses to students each year.
“The federal grants accessed through StudentAidBC and other provinces continue to be doubled for the 2021-22 year, meaning more grants and smaller loans when accessing government aid.” TRU’s new $1 million Indigenous endowment, Down explains, will begin supporting returning undergraduate and graduate Indigenous students next summer.
“Any domestic TRU student pursuing a certificate, diploma, or degree, on any campus or online, part-time or full-time, and undergraduate or graduate, and even adult upgrading, can apply for some level of assistance once they demonstrate financial need,” he says.
TRU’s Student Awards & Financial Aid department can connect students with the funding they’re eligible for, provide guidance on the creation of a workable financial plan, and answer any questions you may have.