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Supporting student success

- March 16, 2017

Heather Doyle, senior advisor, student success in Student Affairs. (Carter Hutton photo)
Heather Doyle, senior advisor, student success in Student Affairs. (Carter Hutton photo)

After serving as director of Student Services on Dalhousie’s Agricultural Campus for two years, a secondment to her current role as senior advisor, student success in Student Affairs was the perfect fit for Heather Doyle.

Working to help increase the rate of student retention and degree completion at Dal (in support of the university’s strategic priority 1.1), Heather knows it comes down to the level of success that students achieve in and out of the classroom.

“Students who are engaged, both at the curricular and co-curricular level, are not only more likely to do better academically, but are also more satisfied with their experience,” she says. “We don’t just want students to stay, we want to help them make the most out of their experiences while they are here and help them achieve success—whatever that looks like for them.”

A journey through education

A native of Saint John, N.B., Heather became interested in the field of student success while a student at the University of Prince Edward Island, where she worked in the university’s First-Year Advising Centre and was involved in residence life.

“As a student, I was extremely engaged and the work I did energized me,” she says. “I loved learning from my faculty, both in and out of the classroom, and I gained mentors from those working in the field of Student Affairs.”

After graduating from UPEI with a degree in psychology, she worked as a recruiter for UPEI, travelling across the northeastern U.S. and the Maritimes, talking to high school students about university life. The experience piqued her interest in developing a career in higher education.

“It was a mentor of mine who suggested I might want to consider Student Affairs as my career,” says Heather. “Like many students, it was something I had never considered before, but when I realized that working with students is what brought me the most energy and what inspired me, I knew it was the perfect fit. I haven’t looked back since!”

After obtaining a master’s degree in counselling psychology from Memorial University, she worked as a career counsellor at Career Development Services in Prince Edward Island. She then moved to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. as coordinator of academic advising, where she helped to develop, and was later named director, of the university’s Student Success Centre.

Providing the best programming to students

In her new role at Dalhousie, Heather works with Student Affairs staff to increase their knowledge and appreciation of student development theory, and to help them include it in their everyday work so it ultimately ends up benefiting the students.

Heather also collaborates with faculty and staff across the university to develop student programming. Two pilot programs that launched this past year, First-Year Interest Groups (FIGS) and Bounce Back, both focus on increasing student retention, engagement, and degree completion—and have benefited from Heather’s experience with student retention and evidence-based approaches.

“In order to ensure that we’re providing the best programming to our students, it’s important for Student Affairs and faculty to work together collaboratively,” she says. “One of the things I’ve really loved about this job is being able to work with individuals from across the institution to develop programming that is thoughtful and intentional, because it has so many voices and perspectives included.”

Keeping connected

Heather gathers perspectives from outside Dalhousie — and shares Dal’s successes with others — by involving herself in Student Affairs organizations and events throughout North America. She regularly presents on a range of topics related to student success both nationally and internationally, works as a sessional faculty member at Florida Atlantic University in the Office of Appreciative Education, teaching an online appreciative advising course, and is a faculty member at the Appreciative Advising Summer Institute.

She has also taught an online advising essentials course through the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development (CHERD) at the University of Manitoba. Heather is heavily involved with the Global Community of Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and is the president-elect for the Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services (AUCUSS).

“As someone who has spent most of my professional life working in the university environment, I feel it’s important to understand the academic culture,” she says.

“I think that, as Student Affairs professionals, it’s essential for us to engage in the discipline of the work that we do. Engaging with professional associations and teaching other professionals helps me to keep abreast of best practices, connect with others, and engage in the art of reflection to ensure that we’re all providing the best services and supports to our students.”

Any faculty or staff members interested in meeting with Heather, and finding out how she can help support them in their programming, can contact her at heather.doyle@dal.ca or 902-494-6456.


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