English Pro-Seminar Series

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author: taylor balfour | news writer


learnin’ hours / jeremy davis

Building a community on campus in a new way

Every year, the University of Regina’s English Department holds the Pro-Seminar series, a collection of lecture- and workshop-based events to help students understand what the future will hold outside of campus life. 

Susan Johnston, the head organizer and creator of the Pro-Seminar series, is an English department professor who believes in the program and believes that its benefits are well worth attendance. 

“It is a non-credit bearing, optional, weekly workshop series focused on supporting English majors in particular, but students more generally in the skills and outcomes that will help them translate their studies into success in a variety of fields,” Johnston explained.  

“With that in mind, there are three types. We have professional development ones, these are things like oral presentations, or how to get the most out of a conference, that are really designed on giving people an opportunity to work more on these skills that lead to academic success,” Johnston says.  

“Second, what’s new in the discipline. In this vein we’ll do book launches, kind of combining both of those.” 

According to Johnston, it’s this type of seminar that is more close to home for the U of R campus.  

“If a member of the faculty publishes a book we’ll have them come in. We’ve had people come in with ‘what’s new in medieval studies.’ These are things that aren’t the normal terrain of any of the classes that we teach…It gives people a broader sense of the discipline outside this department.” 

“The third kind is a careers series where we bring in primarily alumni in different kinds of roles and invite them to talk about their work and their pathway,” Johnston states. “We get lawyers and librarians and communications people and sometimes,some outliers.” 

“What’s interesting is to talk about the journey because it’s a little bit different for everybody. One goal is adding value, the other is cohort building.”  

According to Johnston, it’s this type of seminar that adds something to the U of R campus that it had been lacking before. 

“One of the things that is not vibrant in general on this campus at this university is students having a cohesive sense of themselves as a cohort,” Johnston explains. “But one of the things that we know that over and over again the research points to is increasing satisfaction with university degree, in the quality in the experience and investment in the experience, is precisely those experiences. Pro-seminar is also about that kind of contribution.” 

There are a variety of reasons many university students decide to leave before they complete their degree. According to a study done by BDO Canada, a reason of this may be the lasting impacts of student debt on students after and even before graduation. 

Many students reportedly regretted not choosing cheaper schools or programs, and nine per cent of students wished they had chosen a two-year degree instead of a four-year. However, student regrets also add to a lack of a group feeling while on campus. 

Sixteen per cent of students said they were delayed in working in their chosen field, and 24 per cent said they withheld on having children because of their debt. Even worse, however, because of student debt, 53 per cent of surveyors stated that they “cut back on things like clothing, gym memberships or dining out,” all social aspects that add to a feeling of community. 

Many studies also state that style university experience isn’t enjoyable for many. CBC reported that 66 per cent of students reported feeling lonely in an average school year. Out of the 43,000 of students that were surveyed, 44 per cent claimed that they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.” 

In this vein, the pro-seminar series hopes to connect students with other people in their faculty, add to a sense of community, and make the English department feel like home. 

So, how did the program come to be?  

“I started it,” Johnston explained. “I was Graduate Coordinator for three years, that would’ve been four years and a bit ago, I came back from sabbatical and became Graduate Coordinator.” 

“Like any task like that the first thing you do is you talk to a bunch of people and get a sense of the field, and what I was hearing was long completion times, people aren’t completing in a timely fashion, and some people were expressing concern about the level of professionalism, so I was thinking about that. You know, what are the things we can do to address these concerns in the program.” 

According to Johnston, the program went through several blunders before getting to where it is today.  

“I started by trying to do it as an occasional series. ‘We’ll have this every now and then’ didn’t work because people have lives, they’re busy. So it needed to be regular, not just every-now and then.” 

While Johnston was working to plan the pro-seminar series, she said that timing was one of their biggest issues.  

“Central scheduling is increasingly not scheduling senior classes on Fridays, so people weren’t coming down to campus, they weren’t going to come down just for pro-seminar.” 

“This year when I went at it again, I talked to Marcel DeCoste about it and we kind of problem solved it a little bit together and I ended up plotting on a weekly schedule every single class that wasn’t a 100 or a 110 and there’s a hole in the English schedule, and that’s where pro-seminar is this semester, and that seems to be working better.” 

The pro-seminar series goals are to help further build the feeling of community on campus, which adds into one of the many goals the English department has. 

“I think we do try to offer a more rounded experience,” Johnston said. “We want the English department to feel like people’s home because we think that it is a more fertile environment for intellectual growth.” 

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