April 3, 2017 | Volunteer & Awards

A student-focused innovator

Donald Boere receives a 2017 Jill Matus Excellence in Student Services Award

Donald Boere receives a 2017 Jill Matus Excellence in Student Services Award

“I have one of the best jobs around,” says Donald Boere, Assistant Principal and Registrar at Innis College. “Registrars have the privilege of working one-on-one with students, so it’s two brains working on one problem. And then, we get to take what we learn from the one-on-one work we do with students to try to improve or enhance the student experience for all students.”

For his commitment to new initiatives, for his dedication to his work and for his enthusiastic investment in students, Boere (BA 1985 St. Mike’s) has been named one of this year’s two recipients of the Jill Matus Excellence in Student Services Award.

Boere’s collaborative approach began in his first week of work, when he hosted an Orientation event, If Only I Had Known. One senior student told the first-years: “Don’t buy your books until you’re three weeks into the term!” Another said, “No, I had all my books beforehand.”

For Boere, the session succeeded because students were learning from students. “It was really helpful because it introduced first-year students to the idea of being critical, not just in class but also about life and what you hear from other people,” he says.

Boere realized quickly that this student-centred model could be a very powerful tool. And so, in 1998, the Registrar’s Office at Innis College hired their first work-study student. “We felt it would be helpful for students coming into the office to also get a student perspective,” he says.

This was the beginning of askastudent, a website for students to write in their questions, and have them answered by a peer. The tone is unofficial and entertaining, though it also provides concrete, accurate and valuable information. Students loved it. “It really took off – now it gets more than 170, 000 views a year,” Boere says.

In 2013, with the Office of the Faculty Registrar in Arts & Science, Boere launched another question-and-answer site: the award-winning FAStanswers helps first-year students navigate
U of T. In 2015, he developed fastforward, searchable online profiles of Innis alumni. And last year, he helped students build Quick Queries, an interactive site for incoming international students. “We wanted to help students at a distance, including international students who had just been admitted to the University who couldn’t necessarily make it to campus for information,” says Boere. Again, the site was an immediate success – it crashed due to demand on its first weekend.

Boere has a wealth of knowledge of the University’s service infrastructure and student support services. “Advisors are custodians of tons of information – about registration, enrollment, funding, rules, regulations, appeals and the student experience from the point when students come in right through to graduation,” he says. “One of the dividends for advisors is that we get to take what we learn from the work we do one-to-one with students to try and improve the experience for all students.”

During his years at U of T, Boere has participated in countless advisory boards, panels and committees dealing with student-focused initiatives. He believes such wide service is a benefit, because that involvement keeps him apprised of the many exciting developments occurring across the University. He’s currently on the Faculty’s International Student Advisory Committee and the NGSIS team, which is developing new programs to replace the ROSI system.

Boere counsels students and he works with them to find solutions to problems. His concern is heartfelt. He gives the students the time they need, despite his own busy schedule, because he knows that they need to be listened to and taken seriously.

“I’m one of many registrars. It’s just what academic advisors do; I happen to be fortunate enough to receive the award this year,” he says. “But it’s not only one person who knows everything – it’s a group of people who have access to all this information, and we get a chance to share it with students so we help them to help themselves.”

The Jill Matus Excellence in Student Services Award was established in recognition of Professor Jill Matus’ exemplary service to the University of Toronto, spanning seven years as Vice-Provost, Students and Vice-Provost, Students and First-Entry Divisions. Two awards are presented each year under the banner of the Awards of Excellence, a program recognizing the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.

Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.

Donald Boere and the other 2017 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a recognition event on April 27.

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