Vice-president's job all about students

Adventure, passion, engagement are all words Brian Sullivan uses to describe why he's at this university

by Bruce Mason staff writer

Brian sullivan's job title--vice-president, Students--is unique in Canada. He was intrigued when, one year ago, he first heard about a position being created at UBC, thousands of miles away.

"Sounds like an adventure," said his wife and four teen-aged children.

"Last February, I was associate vice-president, Student Affairs, at the University of Guelph and had no intention of leaving," he recalls. "But I have a passion for universities and making them better for students, so I seized the opportunity of a portfolio which bundles together all the concerns for and of students, from A to Z."

Sullivan is the senior university officer responsible for shaping the student experience on a continuum that encompasses prospective students, current undergraduate and graduate students and alumni. He jokes that the portfolio covers the spectrum from "cradle to grave."

Since arriving on campus in August, he has become ubiquitous--an easily approachable, bow-tied figure, equally at home with students and senior administrators and comfortable in the remarkable diversity of a large, complex university.

Anchored in a role he describes as a "constructive conscience concerned for the student view," he is immersed in change. "Engagement" is a word he uses often and very seriously--particularly "student engagement."

Pushing aside a slice of pizza he has picked up enroute from a meeting with student leaders, he produces an eight-page questionnaire currently being widely circulated. It surveys students' overall health and level of stress, use and degree of satisfaction with campus health services and extracurricular activity, hours of sleep and degree of support, substance use and demographic profile.

"My office will be data-driven and share the large body of applied research available on student services," says Sullivan.

"We are a learning community and need to know precisely what we are doing and how best to improve it," he says. "Paying close attention to student needs and experiences is a critical tenet of the Trek 2000 vision."

First-year experience programs are one example of initiatives intended to help achieve that vision, Sullivan says.

"Research demonstrates that campus involvement promotes student learning. The new programs will help the 75 per cent of new students who live off campus get more involved on campus beyond the classroom."

Student Services units are also working with faculties to support other Trek 2000 goals, such as adding work skills to the credit curriculum and expanding volunteer service-learning opportunities. An expanded housing guarantee will assure students from outside the Lower Mainland who meet registration requirements of a place to stay.

Acutely aware of the complexity of his job, Sullivan says that the collegiality of the university's >senior administrative team, highly motivated staff and student governments have smoothed the transition.

"These first six months have been exciting and affirming," says Sullivan. "I think it's a great fit and look forward to contributing for some time to come."