Michelle Wilband has a breadth of knowledge in her work as a humanities educator, having gained experience from academic roles at several institutions throughout her career. Recently, Wilband sat down to discuss a new role she’s taken on this year, the Associate Director (Student Support) and how she can support students in the Foundation Year Program.
What did you do prior to your involvement with FYP?
It’s hard to believe, but I first became involved in FYP 14 years ago, in 2008, when I was first hired as a “teaching fellow”—which is what faculty fellows used to be called in those days. Prior to this I was a graduate student in the classics department at Dalhousie University, where I focused my attention on late ancient and early medieval thought. I completed my undergraduate degree in philosophy at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which means that I’m one of the few on the FYP teaching staff who didn’t themselves take the FYP program as a student.
In 2011 I joined the faculty of Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec as a humanities professor, and I taught interdisciplinary courses there for several years. I was deeply enriched by my experience teaching at Dawson College, which allowed me to interact with an exceptionally diverse group of students with a broad range of backgrounds and interests. After my daughter Stella was born, my family made the decision to relocate back to the Maritime provinces. Although I was sorry in many ways to leave Dawson College, it felt like a real homecoming to return to King’s as a senior fellow in 2017.
Tell us what you do as Associate Director (Student Support).
As the title suggests, the core function of my position is to offer academic support to students studying in the Foundation Year Program. This means that I’m available to assist and advise all FYP students throughout the year as they manage their academic workload and navigate the challenges of an exhilarating but fast-paced first-year program.
“FYP is a challenging program, and I’m happy to help students navigate the challenges.”
Although I’m available to all FYP students to help them navigate whatever concerns they have, I work particularly with students who require academic accommodations, whether long or short term. Often this can take the form of extending essay deadlines for students facing unforeseen circumstances, or working with students who, for various reasons, have fallen behind on course material. Together with these formal academic components, such as deadlines and accommodations, I also happily support students in their intellectual engagement with the program’s content.
The overarching goal of my position is to ensure that students have the support they need to get the most out of their FYP experience, and in that sense, I don’t see my role as ADSS as neatly separable from what happens in the lecture hall and classroom. The student support role exists to facilitate the learning and educational aspirations of the students who have chosen to study here, and to ensure that all our students have the opportunity to enjoy the exciting adventure of the Foundation Year Program to the greatest extent possible.
What’s the most meaningful thing you’ve learned about your role so far?
I’ve learned how much my role, in practice, depends on the wider college community at King’s. My primary responsibility is, of course, to provide academic support to FYP students, but I’m only able to do this effectively with the guidance and cooperation of many others from all over the college, including the FYP director, the admin assistant in the FYP office and my colleagues on the FYP teaching staff who know the students best.
The position also connects me to members of the college I wouldn’t necessarily interact with in the ordinary course of my teaching, including the dean, the assistant dean and the student support advisor…It’s a gift to work with these people, who are all committed to the good of our students, and their insights have been invaluable to me.
What’s one thing you’d like students to know about your role?
That my door is open to meet with students about whatever concerns they might have as they move through Foundation Year. If they’re struggling with any aspect of their studies in FYP, whether or not it’s impacting their grades, they are welcome to come speak with me. FYP is a challenging program, and I’m happy to help students navigate the challenges.
It can sometimes be difficult, when we’re still partway through the FYP year, for students to anticipate the sense of accomplishment and celebration they’ll enjoy when they reach the end, having faced and overcome these challenges. It’s important to remember that no one is going through this program alone. We’re all surrounded by many others making the same adventure, and there are a great many of us here who know the landscape and who are eager to offer support along the way.
Would you say your MA in Classics from Dal has informed/influenced the work you do in FYP?
Certainly, my own educational formation has shaped many aspects of my life, including my work in FYP. I’m deeply indebted to my teachers, both at St. Thomas and in the Classics Department, who took great care for the quality of my education and helped me to experience firsthand the power of the humanities to challenge and to transform. It was a real delight and privilege to study with them, and I continually look to their examples in my own work.
The ancient authors studied in the Classics Department and in Section 1 of FYP tell us that learning comes through suffering, and I can recall a Latin class or two that confirmed this truth. However, as the epic hero Aeneas recognized in the thick of his heavy labours, when we reach the end, even the struggle can be a pleasure to remember.
When I think back to my days as a student, to the struggles and the late nights, Aeneas’ words ring true: “A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this” (Aeneid 1.203).
Is there anything else you’d like to add or include?
My office is on the third floor of the New Academic Building, just a few doors down from the FYP office. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.