The Ring

Lazy days of summer? Don’t be so sure!

Wed, 2014-08-06 11:57

Petch Fountain in the summer.
Science Venture participants. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne.
Science Venture participants. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” That old song comes naturally to mind while strolling UVic’s walkways, enjoying the sunshine and slower pace of summer on campus. No visible throngs of students rushing to the next class, shorter lineups at the sandwich bar, no circling the parking lots hoping for a spot to open up. Just a relaxed, laid-back time to regroup, catch up and chill out.

Or not.

Crowd control

Certainly, summer provides the opportunity for many UVic faculty to get out in the field or into a lab for research, or to take the vacations that aren’t possible when the fall and spring terms are in full swing. And, of course, the campus boasts a much smaller student population from May through August. In the winter session, the campus teems with more than 20,000 graduate and undergraduate students and over 4,600 faculty, librarians and staff. During summer months, the number of students drops to around 4,000 full-time and 3,000 part-time, spread out over seven terms. The terms vary in length from as short as three weeks to as long as 13 weeks, many providing the standard 39 hours of instruction for 1.5 course units. More than 200 courses are offered in the summer, encompassing almost all faculties.

Jill Carruthers, Director of Undergraduate Records and Graduation Services, notes that many students like the options they have with summer courses.“Some co-op students realize there may be more work-term opportunities when most other students are back in class,” she said, “so they appreciate being able to do course work in the summer.”

One of the most active offices on campus is the English Language Centre that, in the summer, is home to more than 700 students of at least 15 different nationalities. They are enrolled in a variety of programs, from language and culture, to a nine-week academic intensive program, or the 12-month Pathways program that allows students to study English concurrently with their academic program for their first year at UVic.

On the ground

For many non-academic departments on campus, summer is easily the busiest time of year. Take grounds, for example. Not surprisingly, the workload is heavy during the warmer months, and the department typically hires temporary workers, almost doubling their workforce from about 18 people to 32 for several months to handle the load. Often the additional staff have relevant experience—they may be studying botany or working towards a horticultural certification.

For grounds staff, the work can seem never-ending. Watering, weeding, mowing, trimming—repeat. UVic’s spectacular campus requires a huge amount of effort to keep beautiful. Each employee takes pride in the area he or she is responsible for, and special projects—such as replacing invasive plants with native species, or working on water conservation strategies—help keep the days interesting.

“The work we do is very labour-intensive,” says Peter Roberts, one of UVic’s senior groundskeepers.  “Folks on campus probably don’t stop to think about it, but we do most of the work by hand, rather than using machinery that’s noisy and disruptive. We have to use mowers on the grass, of course, but other than that it’s pretty much all manual work.”

Pat Green, another longtime grounds worker, says he enjoys the summer months. “People are really friendly and interested in what we’re doing. They like to stop and chat, ask what I’m working on, talk about the plants and landscaping. It’s a very different environment in the summer.”

Residence life

Summer is also a busy time for staff at Residence Services, where summer days are a constant juggling act. From early May to late August, they handle accommodation and food arrangements for 150–200 conferences, school trips and corporate meetings, as well as offering economical bed and breakfasts for other visitors staying on campus.

With the many guests coming and going during the summer, it’sa busy time for staff managing the dormitories, apartments and cluster units.  Nancy Daniska of Conference Services explains: “During the regular school year, after the first week or so, the students in residence are pretty self-sufficient. But the summer months are constant check-ins and check-outs, housekeeping and guest services. We function much like a hotel for four months of the year, and our guests expect and receive a great stay with us.”

Similarly, UVic’s Welcome Centre sees a lot more variety in the workload during the summer.  Located in the University Centre, the Welcome Centre is the front line for campus visitors, some of whom want to take one of the daily tours, find a building or an event, or get answers to any one of thousands of questions about the campus.

“July and August are really the peak periods for us,” says Bruno Rocca, Manager of the Welcome Centre. “We’ll have a lot of prospective students and their families coming in to see what UVic is all about. Some of them have an offer from the university and are trying to decide whether to come here or not, while others have committed to coming here and want to get an early look. In either case, the Welcome Centre is often their first impression of the campus, and we try to make it the best one possible.”

Kids, kids and more kids!

July and August is also the time when the campus is alive with the cheers, shrieks and laughter of hundreds of kids taking part in the popular Science Venture and Vikes’ sports and recreation summer camps.

Science Venture is a year-round program that aims to open up the exciting world of science, technology, engineering and math to Vancouver Island’s youth, and inspire them to explore their potential in these fields. From September to June, the program delivers half-day, after-school and weekend workshops to thousands of students all over the island, with a special emphasis on engaging aboriginal youth in their communities.

But it’s during July and August when the real fun begins, with week-long camps for students aged 6-14. Themes range from science and engineering—where the kids might be making non-Newtonian slime, or building a pop bottle rocket; to “makers”—where the campers use computers, toy robots and their imaginations to build projects; to specialty camps such as CSI: Victoria—where they investigate and solve fictitious crimes.

Melisa Yestrau, Science Venture director, credits the enthusiasm and dedication of her staff and volunteers, many of whom are UVic students, for the success of the program. “Our people are so passionate about what they do, and they’re constantly revising the activities to keep them fresh and fun for the kids,” she says. “Each week we’ll have eight or so different camps running, with over 20 kids in each camp.  It’s definitely organized mayhem, and we have a blast!”

Not to be outdone by the scientific side of campus life, each week the sports and recreation camps welcome hundreds of 5-17 year-olds to McKinnon gym, the Ian Stewart Complex, Centennial Stadium and the fields. Camps fall into three streams: recreation—with a focus on fun; sports development—to introduce kids to new activities and build teamwork; and high performance—where competitive athletes can practice and hone their skills.

With so much variety, the hardest part for most of the kids is deciding which camp to pick. For recreation, how about learning hip hop, jazz and other dance styles? Or “Girl Power,” with a focus on team building, health and fitness? Or become a “Vikes Adventurer” and try rock climbing, geocaching and scavenger hunts? For sports development, what about hockey, tennis, swimming, track & field, soccer, basketball and even cheerleading?

Here again, the key to the success of the programs is the dedicated volunteers and staff, which include a number of varsity athletes and experienced camp leaders. “We have a Youth Leadership Development program that has been hugely successful,” says Camps and Community Programmer Sandy Ferrin. “It gives older teens the opportunity to gain practical job experience, leadership skills and volunteer hours as leaders-in-training. Their experience often encourages them to attend UVic in a sports-related discipline, and they move into paid leader positions with the summer camps.”

All in all, the summer months have a lot going on. For some, it’s a time to catch up on a course or two; for others, it’s the busiest time of the work year. Visitors may come to UVic for a one-time conference, never to return; while for others their summer time here just might be the first step in a life-long relationship with the UVic community.

So next time you’re soaking up the sun by the fountain, and musing on the easy livin’ of summertime, you might want to rethink that sentiment—and switch that song in your head to “those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!”