Ruthie Szamosi: Academic Advising & Student Success

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At Linden, we pay a great deal of attention to academic advising in order to increase student success by ensuring they benefit from our 100% university acceptance rate, and that they thrive at university once they get there. We believe that there is a direct correlation between our strong high school program, effective teaching and academic advising, and the fact that Linden students excel at university with a zero percent dropout rate.

Instead of a “one-size-fits all” approach, Linden students have the advantage of receiving individualized academic planning and advice from our full-time Guidance and Learning Counsellor, Ruthie Szamosi. Ruthie recently shared some of her thoughts on advising students and the challenges they face in today’s competitive world.

Linden: What are the most important areas of focus in your role?

Ruthie: My role focuses on student well-being, interpersonal skills, and academic planning. My goal is to facilitate student transition from elementary to secondary school and from secondary school to university so that students can thrive in the classroom, in their relationships with others, and, eventually, in the workplace. Advocating for students and supporting students’ self-advocacy is also very important to me. The teachers and I work together to foster a culture of engagement and empowerment so that Linden students can see themselves as agents of change and use their voices passionately and responsibly.

Linden: How does Linden support student well-being and healthy interpersonal relations?

Ruthie: From the very beginning of the year, we work with students to develop confidence in themselves and their abilities, as well as empathy for others. We cultivate an environment of respect and kindness every day by modeling this kind of behavior and setting clear expectations. This might be in classroom circles and discussions, in All-School activities, or in our individual interactions with students. By creating an environment of safety and support and valuing equity, justice, and diversity, we give students the space to be authentic and vulnerable, which then gives them the opportunity to build strong and healthy relationships with each other. When students face conflict or any kind of adversity, whether social, personal, or academic, we help them build the skills they need to problem-solve and own up to their mistakes so that they can use them as opportunities to learn and grow.

Linden: You recently completed a course in Guidance and Career Education. Tell us about the course, and your takeaways.

Ruthie: The course covered all sorts of topics, from provincial educational policy, to counselling techniques, to labour market trends. It was great to connect with teachers and counsellors in schools all across the province with diverse teaching experiences. One of the challenges for all of us was to figure out how to apply the more general course content to our individual school environments. Something that I found particularly applicable to Linden is the idea that everyone, no matter what age or stage in life, is already on a career path and that school is a part of that journey. We do a great job of making clear connections between what students learn in their classes and the world outside of school, especially as they relate to the school’s mission and values. Students are always looking at the social implications of their course content and thinking about the ways that their actions can affect the world around them. I would like to follow this approach even more in the guidance program, specifically when students are thinking about their plans for the future and deciding on post-secondary options. It can be a lot easier to decide on the pathway that’s right for you if you realize that, whatever you choose to do, you are coming from a place of knowledge and experience.

Linden: Given how our career options and academic disciplines are changing in a rapidly evolving economy, what are some of the latest best practices and trends in academic and university advising that can help “future-proof” students in this area?

Ruthie: We know that our economy and workplace are changing rapidly. Some of today’s careers will look very different in the future, or will be replaced by new ones, and students will need to be able to adapt to new environments. Employers are currently finding that new job applicants lack what they call “soft skills,” which include time management, flexibility, self-confidence, and interpersonal skills. Some trade schools and apprenticeships are starting to build these skills into their programs. At Linden, we have always facilitated students’ learning of these skills through our multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to teaching and learning. At all grade levels, our students design experiments for their Science Fair projects, perform in drama productions, make announcements in front of the whole school, and take on leadership roles in school clubs, on sports teams, and during special events. These activities give students opportunities to apply their academic course content to a variety of contexts, ahd help them develop the critical thinking skills that they will need to adapt to multiple career paths in the future workplace.

Linden: What are the latest trends in university admissions?

Ruthie: Universities are continuing to expand their admissions criteria and make their applications more holistic. In addition to looking at grades and personal statements, they want students to demonstrate real and concrete ways in which they will impact and add to their school. Students need to go beyond listing the positions they have held or organizations and teams they joined, and provide examples of the times they showed creative thinking and problem-solving or made a change in their school or community. Another change is that universities now offer more work-integrated programs, such as co-op placements and internships across all disciplines. Universities are no longer purely academic institutions, but are now a place for students to mix theory and practice, and gain specific technical skills for potential jobs and determine a career path that suits them. There are a lot of different options available. While universities will be determining which students are the best fit for them, students can also start thinking about which program suits them the best.

Linden: University admissions can cause parents and students considerable anxiety. What advice do you give them?

Ruthie: It can be a stressful process because it is a time of so much change and so many decisions, but it is also a time of great excitement. Universities look for a lot of information in their applications, which might feel daunting, but it means you have a real chance to show off your many different sides and attributes. They want to admit real people, not just résumés and transcripts. One of Linden’s strengths is our commitment to social justice and student engagement, so our students can draw on that experience to help set them apart from other applicants. My advice to students is to stay focused on learning what you are interested in and what your goals are, even if the application process seems like a big hurdle. Remember that you have been learning for a long time, and the hard work you have been doing up until now will help prepare you, regardless of the program you choose. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Applying to universities is a new and sometimes confusing process, but there are a lot of people who are happy to help you out.