The Professor Is In:

Creating New Space for Academic Inquiry

A story showcasing student learning experiences at UBC — ways for students to participate in community service learning, research, internships, mentorships, international opportunities and co-op experiences.

University isn’t just about learning in the classroom environment. Developing social skills, creating a network, gaining exposure to different points of view and being curious about the world around you are, for the most part, fostered in the fluid ‘learning’ spaces well beyond classroom walls. Flexible learning has inspired higher education to loosen its proverbial tie and recognize the value of co-curricular activities and environments to students’ overall university experience.

UBC has taken a unique approach to enriching students’ learning through face-to-face dialogues with their professors, who are bridging the once-distant learning environment to students’ everyday campus experiences. For some, this is a communal “pizza and ideas” philosophical dialogue with Michael Griffin, Associate Professor, Philosophy; as an enthused member of the UBC Professor in Residence program, Griffin lives among the students at Totem Park student housing. For others, it’s a stress-busting between-classes baking session hosted by Celeste Leander, a Professor in Collegia and a Botany Professor of Teaching, at Arbutus Collegia and what is a ‘home away from home’ for commuter students.

Begun as a small pilot project by Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) and the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers, the Professor in Residence initiative creates opportunities for first-year students and faculty members to engage in informal conversation in residence halls, collegia spaces, and library learning commons about living, studying and working in a complex academic environment.

Celeste teaching
Celeste Leander

Professor in Collegia Celeste Leander, Professor of Teaching, Department of Botany, Faculty of Science

From my own experience at community college, I had a mandatory class my first semester on how to be a successful student. On the first day, our professor came in with a black trash bag and made us throw away our highlighters. We were all aghast! But he taught us how to study smarter. The impact of someone teaching me how to be a successful student was huge in my own life. I hope I can bring some of that to UBC students. It’s important for them to know that there’s someone who’s just there for them, and watching out for them.

This year, I’ll be in Collegia once or twice per week. It’s an amazing place for our commuter students to bond with one another and experience what residence is like. Sometimes I drop in and bake with the students, or I’ll hold short sessions on study skills or writing term papers. I’ll also be teaching a for-credit Biology course in Vanier residence in the evenings in Term One; I’m calling it The Pajama Sections!

Michael with students
Michael Griffin

Professor in Residence Michael Griffin, Associate Professor, Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies and the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts

As a grad student at Oxford, I was used to a college setting that had graduates, undergraduates and faculty all living together in one complex. You’d go to dinner together and maybe sit beside someone from a different faculty. I wanted to bring that feeling to UBC so that first-year students don’t just see their profs as a tiny face at the bottom of a lecture theatre. I wanted to create that human contact, and give students a chance to know what the life of an academic researcher is really like. The programming around Professor in Residence sparks conversations between first-year students of different backgrounds, their senior peers and faculty, and engages a respectful, genuine mutual quest for knowledge that characterizes good academic inquiry.

It’s working. Students tell me that I and other faculty seem approachable and welcoming. It’s made me a better teacher, too: I’ve learned how to listen and communicate better with first-year students. As a philosophy instructor, it informs my teaching around perspective-taking and critical inquiry.

Celeste in kitchen

Creating accessible, academically supportive spaces for faculty members and students, such as the Professor in Residence initiative, helps to form an important bridge between the classroom and co-curricular worlds of a student. This flexible, modern approach to education gives students at UBC a better chance at succeeding — especially in the early years of an academic career.

After four years, it’s clear: baking brownies with a mutual quest for new thinking is a recipe UBC students are lining up for.

Celeste Leander

Professor of Teaching, Department of Botany, Faculty of Science

Professor in Collegia, biologist, baker, and pet-lover. Easing the first year transition by valuing the whole student.

Michael Griffin

Associate Professor, Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies and the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts

Professor in Residence, Philosopher + Classicist, architect of the imagination. Cultivating student citizenship and bringing ideas to life. Connecting faculty & students across years and disciplines.

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; Dr. Celeste Leander, Senior Botany Instructor, Faculty of Science; Dr. Michael Griffin, Professor, Dept of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts; Cate Morrison, Assistant Director, Residence Life Student Housing and Hospitality Services; Robbie Morrison, Manager, Student Engagement Centre for Student Involvement & Careers.

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