UTM receives mediocre grades, aims to improve student experience

University of Toronto Mississauga is hiring new faculty, has plans for new buildings while renovating existing ones and is expanding programs for students in hopes of enhancing undergraduates’ experience and scoring better in university surveys.

Amy Mullin, the school’s dean and vice-principal academic, said UTM growth that lags slightly behind student demand may be the reason for much of the criticisms in the latest Canadian University Report published Tuesday in The Globe and Mail.

The report found UTM students had difficulties with course selection, but Mullin told YourMississaugaBiz.com the university is responding by hiring 36 new faculty members.

“With more faculty comes an increased number of courses to choose from,” she said of the below-average B- rating. “I think it’s probably because we are bringing new courses online but not swiftly enough to satisfy our students.”

Mullin said one of the C grades in the report about work-play balance was likely due to the level of academic rigor in the university’s programs. “On top of that students are often commuting and working,” she said. “And so it’s difficult because the work-play balance isn’t something we can control. We’re not going to address it by making our programs less academically challenging and rigorous, that’s one of the reasons why students come to us.”

Another targeted improvement, the new co-curricular record to be launched next year, hopes to improve the student experience.  “It’s going to document for students all the different kinds of learning experiences that took place outside of the classroom and link them to concrete outcomes,” Mullin said. “They’ll also be encouraged to reflect upon them and build connections.”

Mullin also cited a new first-year academic transition program called utmONE that’s become very popular.

Introduced last year, the program’s workshops introduce students to available support services, mentoring and other university resources early on in their career.

“We’re putting a lot of our energy into the transition program,” she said. “So you’re not only trying to develop the academic skills they really need to be successful in all their years of study but also acquaint them with all their supports, resources and opportunities for engagement that are available.”

Mullin understands that the location of the campus, outside the downtown core, can make socializing and buying food difficult. However, she said, the discounted transit pass for students called UPASS, has made it much easier and inexpensive for students to travel to other places in Mississauga for food and social activities.

Mullin also said the university is well aware of the demand for more study space and is actively addressing it in plans for new buildings like the Instructional Centre and renovation of existing ones on campus, such as the North building. “We’ve also made it possible to make some of the study spaces bookable,” she said. “That’s I think a good innovation.”

Mullin said the university is also investing more in experiential learning and research opportunities in various programs after consulting with students. “We are responsive,” she said. “We engage in consultation and we see what it is students want and try to give it to them.”

UTM is located on Mississauga Road and currently has more than 12,000 undergraduate students. Mullin estimated 12 to 15 per cent are international students.

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