Michelle Prytula

Engaged in education

Michelle Prytula really wants students and graduates of the College of Education to be loud and proud both on campus and off.

The dean of education is leading a number of strategies to boost the level of engagement among students and those who are now teaching in classrooms across Saskatchewan and beyond. Asked about the current level of connection between the college and its graduates, Prytula said her own experience is reflected in today's reality: "I completed three degrees here and I never really engaged with the college until I started working here."

An internal focus on programs has meant "we've done little work on engagement and, as a result, many alumni have little interest in giving back or becoming involved," she said. As for students, "they feel more connected to the school where they interned than to the college where they trained."

Much of the engagement data came to light in a survey. Prytula said while it required "my rhinoceros skin to read some of the comments," she understands how a college can appear to undervalue alumni engagement: "teachers go off and teach, and we assume they'll stay connected. That's a mistake."

The first step in building affinity was adding a direct admission option that will allow students to be enrolled in the College of Education throughout their four-year program, giving faculty and staff more opportunity to get to know them. "That," said the dean, "is huge."

There are also efforts underway to shift the culture within the college in a way that "allows us to illustrate to one another how valuable everyone's work is within the college and beyond," she said.

Prytula said an external consultant has been retained to work on enhancing the college's identity, "to create constant reminders of who we are that will help students develop affinity and pride."

One such reminder could be a celebration of the transition from education student to interning teacher. "Why aren't we making that more significant?" Prytula equated it to white coat ceremonies in health care colleges, and recalled her own move from the college to the classroom: "I remember having to whelm myself because everything else was underwhelming. It's an exciting and meaningful time, and we need to do a better job of honouring that."

There are also plans to celebrate significant milestones and accomplished graduates from the college's 87-year history. Other ideas include an education alumni tent at the Oct. 23 Huskies football game, a banner going up on the river-facing side of the building, and the creation of alumni association chapters in Saskatoon and Calgary.

Prytula acknowledged building engagement internally and externally is a process of continuous improvement but what she wants to see are students and alumni who "say awesome things about the college. We want to see applications going up, our graduates coming back for events, and maybe even donations going up when they see we're listening. It might happen a year from now, or two years from now but when it does, we'll have a very different story to tell."

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