By Marie-Pier Deschênes
Studying science in university can quickly become a challenge, and some students may even feel completely overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are people like Charles Wolfe who can offer a ray of hope.
“Many of the students I meet were academic stars in high school who are unprepared for the possibility of failure,” said Wolfe, a retired teacher who has worked at the University of Ottawa for the past 15 years and now focusses on promoting student retention in the Faculty of Science.
But his day-to-day work involves much more than convincing students not to quit! Each fall, he visits first-year science classes to tell it like it is.
“We aren’t here to sugar-coat it. Yes, failure is a possibility, but if they roll up their sleeves, students can succeed despite the difficulties,” he explained.
Last year, some 350 students who were having trouble in two or more courses stopped by Wolfe’s office; after earning their trust, he wasted no time in letting them know that “there is hope, they can’t quit now, they have to give themselves time to adapt to this new environment.”
In addition to providing students with information on the many support services at the University, such as the excellent team at the Faculty of Science mentorship services, Wolfe counsels students on how to manage their time, how to tackle labs, and especially, how to work with their classmates and learn from them. He insists that students should never work on assignments in isolation and that they can use the success of those around them to stay motivated.
Students as people first
As for Wolfe, he realizes that he draws his motivation from the personal nature of his work. He takes great satisfaction in seeing students go beyond their expectations, take on many challenges, and drop by his office to sincerely thank him after graduation.
“As an educator, you can’t go wrong if you speak from the heart,” he says.
And this infectious enthusiasm drives his work as an academic advisor, one who aims to inspire hope in these science students, many of whom feel significant pressure to succeed.
This year, Charles Wolfe will be adding to his workload: he intends to meet one-on-one with every new international student at the Faculty of Science. In addition to providing them with vital academic advice, Wolfe will make sure they are successfully adapting to their new country.
He will let them know what to expect in terms of culture shock and brief them on the many surprises that await them on campus. He feels it essential that he develop a personal relationship with students and convince them that he is truly invested in their success. Charles Wolfe’s message is a clear one: “There’s always hope!”