It’s a brilliant winter day, warm enough that students are in shirt sleeves and shorts, including a dude slicing the air with a series of well-practiced martial arts kicks near the new Tower residence.
It’s lunch time at the University Centre and a line-up snakes out the door of Sweet Greens as students crowd in for some sustenance before heading back to class. Nearby, in the lobby, 18 pensive-looking souls hang in small groups. Half of them are teenagers; the others are nervous-looking parents waiting for the arrival of our tour guides.
Although it’s late January, it’s prime time for prospective students and their families to fly, drive or take the ferry to Vancouver Island for their first-hand look at the university.
It’s been more than two decades since I have spent much time on a university campus and it pains me to note that I have far more in common with the middle-aged parents than their teenaged offspring. My own children are a decade younger than these UVic hopefuls but I go on the tour as a visitor to see what campus life is like in the 21st century. Other than attending a handful of performances at the University Centre, I’m unfamiliar with the rest of campus, something of a green-hued mystery that spins largely inside the road that rings the campus.
Although we haven’t met before, I immediately recognize our chief tour guide from the click-click of her high heels. A vivacious third-year economics/psychology major, Jillian Kelly is somewhat famous on campus for her footwear. Today it’s black pumps with little bows on the toes. Kelly admits that she’s more comfortable in high heels than sneakers. “I don’t own any flats,” she says. And away we go.
Over the next hour-and-a-half, Kelly and Zang (Shiny) Hanyue will guide us through a good chunk of the 160-hectare campus that caters to 19,000 students. That’s a sizeable population, roughly equal to Courtenay. But the campus feels spacious and several visitors comment that they love the size and feel of UVic. It’s hard to disagree.
Kelly, the more experienced guide, takes the lead and does most of the talking, while Zang hangs back a bit and provides colour commentary to her colleague’s play-by-play. First stop is the McKinnon Building, home to the UVic Vikes and the School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education. It’s a boon for anyone interested in getting active. There are far more activities available now than a couple of decades ago: beach volleyball, Ultimate Frisbee and dodge ball, along with more traditional university sports like soccer, basketball and volleyball. There is even rackleton, a quadrathlon of sorts for hardcore racquetheads who compete in tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis.
Since 1976, 156 students from UVic have joined the Olympics, Zang says as she points out the triple gymnasium and swimming pool.
This gets the attention of Josh Smith, 17, a good-looking tower of a kid from Calgary who is interested in sports and business. In a little more than 48 hours, the teen and his mother have visited four universities, including UBC, Trinity Western in Langley and Burnaby’s Simon Fraser University. UVic is their last stop and they’re glad for it.
“This campus is really nice,” says Smith, who is playing basketball for the high school from which I graduated 26 years ago. “UBC was huge and SFU was kind of a strange layout. I like the size of UVic.”
He is also impressed with the meeting he had with business faculty, saying that the co-op program appeals to him. “I like how it’s more experience-based.”
It’s a brilliant winter day, warm enough that students are in shirt sleeves and shorts, including a dude slicing the air with a series of well-practiced martial arts kicks near the new Tower residence. As we tour the campus, it strikes me how wide open it is with plenty of green space and trees. The ubiquitous campus rabbits are a hit with the visitors as cell phones and digital cameras are whipped out for souvenir photographs. “Awwwwww, I love the bunnies,” utters one young woman, unaware that the long-eared bounders are considered a garden-eating nuisance by resident neighbours.
At the Student Union Building, Kelly explains health and dental benefits available to students, provided through the University of Victoria Students’ Society. But some prospective students are already planning their social lives, eyeing the campus pub, Felicita’s.
“That’s where I want to be,” says West Vancouver’s Amanda Berenjian, 18.
Kelly cautions prospective first-year students that BC’s liquor laws are strictly enforced on campus.
“You have to be 19 or older and they will ID,” she says.
I clearly remember the temptation of the campus pub where I often spent more time than study hall. This doesn’t hold much appeal to North Vancouver’s Nadia Grutter, though. A quietly confident 17-year-old interested in enrolling in creative writing, Grutter is touring the campus with her mother, Bev. “It’s not for me,” Nadia says of the party life.
Just in case things do go sideways, UVic offers Safe Walk and Campus Alone programs. The former ensures that students can get where they need to go late at night with an escort, whether back from the bar or from a red-eye study session. The latter gives students who are working alone late at night piece of mind. Once a student contacts security, her whereabouts are recorded, as is her departure time and destination. Students are provided with a number they can call Campus Security 24-7 and 12 campus pay phones are also linked to Campus Security, no coins needed.
Over at the campus residences, Kelly points out the Village Greens restaurant. “Anybody here a vegetarian?” she asks. “No? Well, they’ve got really good veggie burgers and stir-fries and I’m not a vegetarian.”
After a quick run-down of how residence meal plans work—the options are basically small, medium and living large—it was off to one of the residences for a look. UVic has 20 residence buildings offering singles or doubles for those who don’t mind bunking with a roommate. In the six-storey, 126-bed Tower residence, one of the three newer complexes opened in 2004, we were ushered into room 101. The space was small, spare and clean with a bed, desk and wardrobe. But for a first-year student away from home for the first time, it shouts freedom.
In the newer residences, it’s all co-ed with shared, private showers on each floor and separate toilets.
First-year UVic students are guaranteed a space in res if applications are received before June.
“It has to be quiet after 11 o’clock,” Zang says. Parents nod approvingly.
Nearby at the McPherson Library, Vancouver Island’s largest, Kelly extols the virtues of the university’s Learning Commons where students can get complimentary tutoring in math, science and term paper writing. It allowed her to get through a troublesome math course. “I was getting a D and I ended up getting a B+,” she said.
Next, Kelly and Zang lead us through the impressive, steel, glass and laminated wood edifice of the Social Sciences and Mathematics Building. An example of UVic’s new green spirit, the building features a “green” roof, pine-beetle wood, and plenty of windows for natural light. The new buildings also feature showers for cyclists. Lockers everywhere are free too.
The tour winds up in the Business and Economics Building where Derek Wong, BSc ’08, an affable student recruitment officer, answers questions about scholarships and entrance requirements. Caught up in the sunny enthusiasm of the tour and impressed by the campus’ attractive, open feel, I’m tempted to submit an application as a mature student. For now, though, I’ll leave it to the teenagers.