Posted on May 21, 2010 by Tia Lalani

Christopher Thrall explores activity at Augustana Campus during the summer. In Part 1, he talks to the busy people all around him.

By Christopher Thrall –

“You would never ask a farmer if he takes the winter off,” says Sean Moore, assistant professor of psychology at Augustana, “but I get asked all the time if I’m enjoying my summer down time.”

From September to April, the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus throngs with almost 1000 students. Professors teach them, the book store and coffee shop serve them, and custodians clean up after them. However, when the students go home for the summer, more than 300 Augustana faculty and staff take on the delayed projects and preparations for students to return the following September.

“During the school year, my primary duty is teaching,” says Moore. A full course load is nine to 12 teaching hours per week, plus lecture preparation, lab work and student evaluation such as grading papers and marking exams. If time permits, some professors sit on administrative committees or try to advance their research a bit. “I spend May until August catching up on all the things I wasn’t able to do during the year.”

Moore has boxes of data to integrate into several new projects, and papers on former projects to send for review and publication. He is producing his annual report and must consider grant or funding applications while either fine tuning his existing courses or creating entirely new ones. He will have to evaluate text books, he tries to attend at least one conference during the summer and serves on the executive for the Social and Personality Psychology section of the Canadian Psychological Association. Finally, he is also co-supervising a summer student with three other Augustana professors.

"Teaching and academic work can be stressful because it occurs in fits and starts, plus it pulls you in many different directions," says Moore. "Balancing these demands requires a lot of self-discipline. At the end of the day, it’s a really rewarding career: each year I get to meet the fresh new faces of students who renew my enthusiasm for my work."

Professors aren’t the only ones keeping busy under the summer sun. At Augustana, 20 summer students are engaged in research projects in every department, several of which directly benefit the surrounding communities. Many of the students are at Miquelon Lake, netting insects or catching frogs, or studying the evolution of wing patterns on butterflies. Others are suggesting ways to build rural capacity in towns like Wainwright and Hardisty, analyzing 19th century ghost stories written by women, or researching ways to compress digital music to the smallest possible file size.

Jeffery Friend and Julia Esch, both 21, are conducting electrochemical tests to discover the amount of vitamin C in food for James Kariuki, assistant professor of chemistry. The students did a literature review on the voltammetric determination of vitamin C methods, and will optimize their own process by conducting a series of experiments. They will then report their results to Kariuki, who will incorporate them into a larger project on vitamin C.

“Students are a particularly important part of many summer research projects at Augustana,” says Paula Marentette, associate professor of psychology and Associate Dean of Teaching and Research. “Students typically help collect and analyse data, essentially providing extra hands and eyes for faculty members. These experiences make classroom learning about research methods and theory tangible for students. From the formulation of a ‘good question’ through the planning and implementation of a project, summer research students experience the daily routine of research, as well as the thrill of discovering something that no one else knows yet. It’s a great opportunity for everyone involved.”

“You get to do a lot of independent work, and you get to think about the stuff you learned,” says Friend. Both have been summer students before, and both feel that the time spent will help them when they are pursuing graduate degrees.

Despite spending most of every warm summer day in the lab, Esch would recommend the experience to other students. “You get to apply what you’ve studied, as opposed to going home and forgetting everything,” she laughs. Augustana’s summer student program is the perfect fit for Esch and Friend, who can further their studies and gain valuable experience they wouldn’t find in regular summer jobs.

“We are having increased interest from students,” says Kariuki. “We used to have to go looking for them, and now they come to us.” He is proud to be working with Friend, who has done research for him before, and Esch, who is one of his top students.

With faculty and students engaged during the summer, the staff at Augustana is kept similarly busy. The maintenance crew is busy painting rooms, maintaining buildings, groundskeeping, attending to special projects and assisting with staff moves into the Library offices from North Hall. Coffee shop and bookstore staff enjoy a bit of a break as their facilities move to the new Forum, and library hours are cut back over the summer. Everyone on campus is preparing for students to return in September.

Lyndsay Sprado, an admissions counsellor in the Prospective Student Office, doesn’t take the summer off. Students who start classes in September need her. “Summertime is course selection time,” she says. “We lead a lot of campus tours: parents and grandparents plan their vacations around a visit to Augustana, so they can see where students will spend their time.” The admission counsellors run course selection workshops on Saturdays throughout the summer, take applications for enrolment and answer questions about everything at Augustana.

“During the summer, we are handling the residence questions,” says Sprado. “New students want to know about the courses, but they also want to know more about living on campus. Where can they park? Can they get vegetarian meals at the cafeteria? Should they buy their books beforehand?” The counsellors are always available by phone or for drop-in questions, and Sprado says that their busiest time is in August. “We give a lot of one-on-one instruction in building academic schedules, and the incoming students really appreciate that.” Sprado loves the connections that she builds with each new student, and stays in contact with many of them throughout and beyond their years at Augustana.

When classes begin in September, the whole cycle starts again. The University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus is a beehive of activity during the summer, all in preparation for the students’ return. Our commitment to being an excellent place of learning requires year-round effort.

This is Part 1 of a two-part story about Augustana Campus during the summer months. Please come back next week for Part 2: The Places, where we check up on what keeps the buildings themselves busy during the summer heat while the students are away!

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