Winners of the SFU Champions for a Healthy Campus Community award, Donna McGee Thompson (far left) and Diana Cukierman (second from left). They are accompanied by Tara Black, SFU's Associate Director, Health Promotion and Jon Driver, SFU's VP Academic.

Healthy mind and body improves academic success

February 02, 2015

Reaching out to first-year students to help them develop and enhance strategies for success in their academic experience and in life is an important goal of the Academic Enhancement Program (AEP). Since it started in 2006, the AEP has supported more than 4,000 computing science students and recently won an SFU Champion for a Healthy Campus Community Award.

Diana Cukierman, School of Computing Science faculty member and Donna McGee Thompson, head of SFU’s Student Learning Commons, started the AEP upon the recommendation of Margo Leigh, a computing science academic advisor at the time.

Aiming to address the challenges that students encounter in their university studies, including the transition into a new post-secondary environment, they developed activities that create a healthier academic experience for students by providing opportunities for reflection and social connection. In addition, students learn to find academic resources and develop healthy life strategies.  

“A key component is that we bring the activities directly into the class,” says Cukierman. “Often the students needing the most support do not have the time or the impetus to attend workshops offered on campus, such as through the Student Learning Commons or Health and Counselling Services, and may not even be aware of such resources.”

The AEP provides students with reflection and discussion opportunities in the form of either learning workshops or reflective writing activities, tailored to the needs of the class. Topics include ways to cope with study demands, learning strategies and time management skills. Workshops are also tailored to their related computing science course topic and facilitated by at least one learning specialist and one discipline specialist.

The AEP activities are incorporated into selected core, first-year computing science courses as workshops or assignments, with course credit offered (in agreement with the course instructor and as approved by the Computing Science Undergraduate Program Committee). While the program involves just one session or assignment per course per semester, students could participate in these activities in three different courses across two or more semesters, providing the effect of an extended program, and also providing opportunities to reinforce core concepts.

Students gain self-awareness and learn to set goals in their studies and life. Based on that, they begin to proactively move forward in attaining those goals. In addition, students learn to communicate better among themselves and with their instructors.

With the impact AEP has made on computing science, the program has been piloted in a first-year School of Engineering Science course. Both schools are part of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

The Champions for a Healthy Campus Community are awarded annually by the SFU Health Promotion Team. This year another winner was Laurie Anderson, Executive Director of SFU Vancouver for promoting health and wellness at the Vancouver campus.

The Champions for a Healthy Campus Community video, featuring the AEP can be viewed at the Student Services website.

(left to right) Donna McGee Thompson, Margo Leigh, Diana Cukierman.
(left to right) Donna McGee Thompson, SFU Health Promotion Specialist Rosie Dhaliwah, Diana Cukierman.