The Heart of the Matter:

Connected, Directed Teaching that Touches Lives

A story that uncovers teaching innovations at UBC — driven by faculty, backed by research and squarely aimed at leading new thinking.

Community-based, collegial and integral to student success, UBC’s Jump Start program gives international students a ‘jump’ on life and learning at UBC. Originally designed to strengthen engagement and retention among first-year international students, Jump Start has exploded in size and uptake — and not just among students. Now with 62 faculty fellows serving more than 1600 new international students, Jump Start offers faculty members a way to connect deeply with colleagues, a safe space to try out new teaching methods, and a chance to know students on an individual basis.

This 11-day orientation and transition program happens every August, right before the school year starts. More than simply an opportunity to help ease these students’ transitions to university in Canada, Jump Start offers faculty members a place to stretch their pedagogies, model professional and academic integrity, and guide the next generation of students to become confident and adaptable learners for the 21st century.

With class sizes of only 20 to 30 students, Jump Start gives faculty fellows a chance to experience the pleasure of working in a highly-connected, face-to-face learning community. It’s a rare opportunity for faculty members to really get to know these young adults and the stories that brought them to where they are today. The learning environment also offers instructors a rare opportunity to hone their craft and try new teaching techniques in a low-risk setting before launching them in the lecture theatre. The benefit to students is that they receive coaching and guidance on how to prepare for university-level coursework without being hemmed in by ‘approved’ curriculum and neither the instructor or student end up feeling the pressure of grades.

The research is clear: making friends and connecting with faculty are two of the most powerful indicators for student success during the crucial first-year transition. Jump Start faculty fellows — like Chin Sun, Naoko Ellis and Lisa Coulthard, whose stories are featured below — are key in fostering that all-important sense of belonging at UBC.

Chin Sun
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Chin Sun, Sessional Instructor, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science

I see in these students an earlier ‘me’ back when I was an international student attending graduate school in the United States. I still remember the confusion and overwhelming feelings of that time. I wanted to help these students to be better prepared and feel more comfortable with entering a large university in a new country.

The first thing I do is to let them make a personal connection with me. A lot of Asian students, for example, hold their instructors in high regard, reluctant to question or challenge them. I want to demystify myself so they feel comfortable seeking help and guidance from their instructors. Secondly, I help them identify and recognize their own strengths as well as weaknesses and show them other resources in place on campus to help them succeed, empowering them to take initiative and responsibilities for their own learning.

Finally, I want to instill in the students a deep respect for their integrity and character, as ultimately they are what truly matter.

Chin Sun teaching
Naoko Ellis
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Naoko Ellis, Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science

Jump Start has grown since I joined in 2009! I’ve been teaching for 13 years at UBC and while we know we are dealing with diverse learners, I now have a more in-depth appreciation for what these students are going through.

I work hard to make sure this is a safe learning space. There are some students who will be homesick, as it’s their first time leaving home—sometimes it’s the first time they leave their country! It’s a huge deal. I make sure they have the contact points for where they can go if they ever need help. A couple of them have returned to be student leaders, too. The junior students really look up to them, because they have gone before.

I can see the direct impact that this two-week experience has on students over the school year. There are always a few students who come back to me. They close my door, sit down and share some of the things that have been going on. I just listen and guide them where I can. That connection is what keeps me coming back. It’s an amazing feeling, that what we’re doing here affects the lives of our students.

Naoko Ellis
Lisa Coulthard
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Lisa Coulthard, Associate Professor, Department of Theatre and Film, Faculty of Arts

When I was a first-year student at UBC, I was like most people in that I found the experience alienating. I lived in Totem, had huge classes and felt a bit like a number in the system. I had high grades, and I was pretty ambitious and high-functioning, which were all ingredients that set me up for success, but I still struggled with the transition. The idea of helping students prepare for first-year really appealed to me. As a student, I would have liked more discussion about how classes were run before being thrown into them! That’s one of the things we do in Jump Start. We talk about study skills, and how to be self-motivated and independent in approaching your education.

It’s amazing how stressed out first-year students can be before the year even starts. Jump Start is a good reminder of how you can help the students in your classes deal with stress and anxiety around exams. What keeps me in Jump Start is this awesome space that’s free of grading. It’s fun. If I’m having a discussion with a group, I’m not thinking about assessing them. I’m not ticked because they haven’t done the readings — and they’re not worried about a grade.

At Jump Start, we have these great conversations, and the students all have their own stories. That translates into my first-year teaching by reminding me of the people behind the students.

Lisa Coulthard

Jump Start’s faculty support has blossomed from just a handful of participants to more than five dozen in just a few years. It’s easy to see why. With the satisfaction that comes from helping a small group of students make the successful transition to the university environment, opportunities to connect in new and different ways with colleagues, and the chance to try out novel approaches to teaching, Jump Start provides faculty members a space to make real differences at UBC.

Chin Sun

Sessional Instructor, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science

Love to help people of all ages to learn, especially interested in empowering disadvantaged learners. I am still learning to play the piano.

Naoko Ellis

Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science

Engineering professor, interested in clean energy. Thinking deeply about the global glut of CO2. Rock climber, avid cyclist, wine lover.

Lisa Coulthard

Associate Professor, Department of Theatre and Film, Faculty of Arts

A film and television researcher with a special interest in film violence, genre, crime and philosophy. A Vancouverite by birth and UBC alumna, she has taught at UBC for thirteen years and been with Jump Start for four.


Story Credits

Special thanks to our story partners:

Kari Marken, Educational Designer, Centre for Student Involvement and Careers; Mark Mac Lean, Academic Director, First Year Student Initiatives; Chin Sun, Sessional Instructor, Zoology Dept, Faculty of Science; Naoko Ellis, Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science; Associate Professor Lisa Coulthard, Associate Professor, Theatre and Film, Faculty of Fine Arts.

Team credits: Communications & Marketing — Cindy Connor, Online Producer; Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Michael Kam, Web Developer; Adrian Liem, Manager, Digital Communications; Mark Pilon, Communication Designer; Jamil Rhajiak, Communications Coordinator; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer; Matt Warburton, Manager, Graphic Design; Alex Van Tol, Writer; David Leidl, Copy Editor.

Published: November 2016