This article originally appeared on UBC.ca.
Joanne Fox is the Principal of UBC Vantage College, a program dedicated to fostering the potential of first year international students and preparing them for the rest of their UBC degree with rigorous academic English instruction. The 11-month program is enriched — students do interdisciplinary research or design projects on what interests them and find their own ways to apply the curriculum. In 2014, Vantage College was just in its formative stages. Now, three years later, the program has been fully integrated into the Vancouver Campus. This year the school welcomes its fourth class to UBC and will watch its first class graduate in May 2018.
Joanne has a PhD in Genetics and her research background is in computational biology. She is also a Professor of Teaching in the Michael Smith Laboratories and Department of Microbiology and Immunology. She has always been interested in learning and embraces “collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches” to teaching and welcomes “being open and curious in [her] classrooms.” It is this genuine love for teaching that led Joanne to her Principal role at UBC Vantage, a program she helped shape from the ground up and now continues to guide its evolution.
Q&A with Joanne Fox
Q: It has been three years since Vantage College opened its doors to international students. When you first started, the college didn’t have a physical space of its own. What does the new building offer in terms of student experience for those students who may be coming to UBC, Vancouver, or Canada for the first time?
A: As a mixed-use facility, Orchard Commons has created a lot of new opportunities. The dining hall, and classroom facilities are open to everyone at UBC. There is a real buzz in the building — with first year students living in the space and with classes from all different disciplines and programs taking place in the building. Now that we’ve been open for a year, many students, staff and faculty have also discovered Orchard Commons is a great place to connect! The active learning classrooms and informal learning spaces have become a popular place to study for students and the Open Kitchen is a great place to eat.
I like how Orchard Commons increases the opportunities for students, staff and faculty to interact with each other. In addition to in-class settings, there are a multitude of spaces for group study sessions, and we also hold office hours in more open and informal learning spaces. I think spaces like Orchard Commons make it less intimidating for students to approach faculty and staff outside of class. I, for example, enjoy smiling at, saying hello, and chatting to the students as I walk through the building (and often talk with students in the lunch time line ups at Open Kitchen).
When I have talked with students about Orchard Commons, they tell me they like being able to use the classroom spaces as learning / study spaces (i.e. outside of regularly scheduled class time). They describe how the vibrancy of these spaces feels different than studying in the library. There is a sense of community. For example, one student shared with me that she studies here because her friends live here. So when she needs to take a break she can visit with her friends and everything they need is really close.
Q: When the college first opened, you spoke about the hope to create a “highly connected learning community.” Now that you have seen UBC Vantage College develop over the years, how would you say this initial goal was realized?
A: This is a special year for the Vantage One programs as our first intake of students will begin graduating in May of 2018. It has been so rewarding to track the success of Vantage One students and to see the many different program specializations, combinations of majors, student leadership opportunities, and options they have pursued. Again, I am always amazed and inspired by our student leaders at UBC. We have peer mentors who are former Vantage students and this year they organized a Vantage One reunion. Seeing friends reconnect and watching 2nd and 3rd year students give advice to first years, made that reunion one of my favourite events of the year.
The Vantage One Capstone Conference is another place where our student community really shines. This past July, we had close to 300 student delegates present the results of their research and design projects. Vantage One students choose the conference theme, design the logo, build the website, and set the academic program. Students really enjoy presenting their work in this multidisciplinary and authentic conference setting and we also get the chance to acknowledge and celebrate their achievements.
Q: Can you describe a specific example of how the learning process has been transformed at Vantage?
A: In the Vantage One program we think deeply about how to enrich the student experience. Our faculty and staff work collaboratively on how to integrate academic English instruction, coordinate courses and co-curricular programming, and incorporate multidisciplinary research and design experiences.
Q: What can international students expect in their first week at Vantage?
A: All Vantage One students participate in the Jump Start orientation program. In Jump Start, students can expect to meet other students from their Faculty, explore the campus, connect with advisors, and get set up for academic success at UBC. Students have the chance to interact with peers and faculty members in learning communities.
I’m particularly passionate about teaching in first year. I love it when I can connect with students. For example, I enjoy teaching in the Fall term because that means that I can be one of the first professors (or classes) who welcomes new students to UBC. For the past three years, I have also volunteered to greet students at the airport when they arrive for Jump Start. I feel a special sense of connection with students that I meet in these contexts and I love to hear about ‘Who they would like to be’ as they begin their studies at UBC.
Q: You first started as the academic lead for the Science stream at UBC Vantage College and then took on the role of principal and academic director for the college. Can you share some insights on what you learned in the process and what new and exciting things are on the horizon for UBC Vantage College in the future?
A: As I have worked on Vantage One programs, I have had the opportunity to interact with talented students from around the world. These students’ aspirations, engagement, and perspectives have enriched my work as an educator here at UBC. Through the Vantage One programs, I have also learned from working with experts across both of our campuses. These faculty, staff, and students care deeply about the student experience and about enriching teaching and learning environments at UBC.
We have amazingly talented students here at UBC and I am inspired by our students. I’m proud to have helped launch new programs, such as Vantage One, and courses that help students navigate the transition to university — and I feel very proud of students as I see them progress throughout their degrees and thrive at UBC.