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Thursday, May 31, 2001

  • Warrior answers students' questions
  • Picturesque Perth offers opportunity
  • The talk of the campus

Warrior answers students' questions

Warrior graphic] A new web site titled "Ask the Warrior" has answered some 14,000 questions from potential UW students since it was introduced four months ago, and has won a gold medal for UW's undergraduate recruitment office.

"It has been enormous amount of work, and we have just tapped into a small portion of what its capabilities are," says Julie Hummel, manager in the recruitment office. "We will continue to grow the site."

What it does, and how and why, are summed up in a report from Hummel and colleague Heather Mackenzie:

"The Web site askthewarrior.ca was developed as an innovative and effective solution to answering questions and managing e-mail from prospective students. Over the past few years the University has experienced an increase in recruitment and admissions related e-mail in the amount of 30% per year. We are also heading into an environment where, because of educational reform in Ontario high schools, we are anticipating an increase of 50-70% of applications over the next two years.

"This increase in applications will undoubtedly result in a surge of inquiries from prospective students. We are committed to providing outstanding service to our prospective students . . . including consistent and timely answers to their questions.

"The overall goal of the site is to provide immediate answers to questions commonly asked by prospective students in an innovative, effective and convenient way. . . . We receive a high volume of e-mail that is repetitive in nature, from students who are just beginning their university search. For example, we may receive 20 messages in the same day asking admission requirements for a particular program. The system is designed to provide immediate answers to those students asking the questions and at the same time will free up staff time. . . .

One of the top ten questions

How many students go to Waterloo?

The University of Waterloo is considered a medium-sized university. The number of students are broken down into the following categories: Full-time, Undergraduate: 15,500. Part-time, Undergraduate: 4,250. Full-time, Graduate: 1,500. Part-time, Graduate: 250.

"Ask the Warrior is an e-communications management solution, which uses a natural language inquiry interface as a tool for asking questions. . . . After asking the question, the prospective student receives an immediate response to their inquiry. If the question isn't matched with the criteria in the knowledge base, their question gets sent to a campus expert who then personally responds to the question. After responding, the expert adds criteria to the knowledge base, ensuring that an automatic response is generated in subsequent inquiries. . . .

"Market research was gathered to determine what the most commonly asked questions were in the various offices that manage prospective student inquiries across campus. The knowledge base was built as a result of that research. A template was developed to ensure that all the answers were consistent in their formatting and tone and a style guide was used to help direct the writing of the responses."

The report notes that "a considerable amount of time was devoted" to choosing the Warrior mascot and designing the web pages the student sees. "It was important to have a character people would feel comfortable with who provided a personality for the system."

Since the site's February 9 launch, the Warrior has responded to almost 14,000 inquiries and automatically provided answers. There have been fewer than 100 inquiries that the Warrior wasn't able to answer that needed to be forwarded on to a campus expert, Hummel says.

The site recently received a gold medal from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education, for "best e-innovation" of the year.

[Beside pickup truck]
Dean does some field work for CGIS

Picturesque Perth offers opportunity -- by Jesse Helmer, from the UW Recruiter employer newsletter

When Jeff Dean came to Perth, Ontario, to visit his grandfather for a weekend, he wasn't expecting to run into a fabulous career opportunity. Jeff, currently a third-year geography student, had an interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). When he heard that Jim Peden, a local high school teacher, had an similar interest, Jeff looked up his phone number and called him. They met for only a few hours, but Jeff was hooked.

A few months later, when Jim called him and offered a co-op position with his new company, the Centre for Geographic Information Systems (CGIS), Jeff agreed.

CGIS, based in Perth, is a firm that creates digital base maps and related databases for clients in both the public and private sector. These maps and databases are the basis of GIS.

Jeff's first work term with CGIS was excellent. Since there were no predefined job descriptions or roles, Jeff's responsibilities were varied and challenging. He worked in AutoCAD, trained and supervised a staff of four co-op students, and created an assignment for a Grade 11 class at the local high school. Further, he wrote the CGIS user manual and prepared and delivered several presentations on the benefits of GIS to stakeholders.

For his next work term, Jeff decided to return to CGIS as a project manager. He began delegating his previous duties, and became an active participant in meetings and the business side of CGIS. His value to CGIS had grown, and when he realized his dynamic role within the expanding company, he decided to remain there for a third work term. Jim Peden, in his evaluation of Jeff, writes "[Jeff's] task orientation, contribution to team problem solving and his limitless energy re-emphasized both the necessity and the true value of co-op learning at the university level."

Now a full-time employee at CGIS, Jeff is completing his Bachelor of Environmental Studies through distance education. He credits UW co-op for providing him with a career opportunity in his field of choice, and for allowing him to graduate debt free. It's a great example of the UW co-op solution at work: a student and an employer, both more than satisfied.

The talk of the campus

Being the last day of May, today is the last day to pay fees for the spring term. Students are warned: "Tuition fees or arrangements not accepted after this date. The spring academic records of students who have not paid will be deleted."

I made mention the other day of several student activity fees that will be going up in September, subject to approval next week from the board of governors. There's one more: the fee for Imprint, the student newspaper, will be rising as of September 1 -- sort of. The fee has been $3.84 plus GST, for a total of $4.10; starting this fall, it'll be $4.10, and not subject to tax. So individual students will pay the same, but the newspaper will get more of the money. "We discovered that we do not need to charge GST," says Jesse Helmer, president of Imprint Publications. And as for the increase in the basic fee: "Over the few years our advertising revenue has declined and our salary and printing costs have risen. Given our current operations, a fee increase is a solid and reasonable option. This increase is, however, only a short-term solution. We are currently evaluating long-term solutions. In the future, I hope that the fee will decrease. We are, after all, an organization for students."


And RSVPs are due today for next Tuesday's strawberry social at the bookstore -- see the store's web site for details and an on-line reply form.

Reminder: the UW staff association will hold its annual general meeting tomorrow at 11:45 in Davis Centre room 1302.

The UW senate is being asked to approve a name change for the Studies in Personality and Religion program, based at St. Paul's United College. SIPAR wants to be "Spirituality and Personal Development", says a report from the Interdisciplinary Studies Program Board. "The name change represents more accurately the goals of the core courses offered and the direction of the program. It also reflects the growing importance of, and interest in, spirituality in the general public over the last decade."

Two former UW graduate students are coming back to Waterloo as of July 1 to faculty positions in mathematics. Alex López-Ortiz created the popular "Frequently Asked Questions in Mathematics" web site when he was at UW doing his graduate work in computer science, and is now a faculty member at the University of New Brunswick. Peter Wood was president of UW's Graduate Student Association while he worked on his PhD here, and is currently at Wilfrid Laurier University.

And this note from the local Volunteer Action Centre: "Grand River Hospital, K-W Health Centre, has interesting volunteer summer opportunities for students 16 years of age and older. Volunteer positions include greeting patients and providing information, helping in the emergency, day surgery or oncology departments and portering patients. This is a perfect opportunity to gain job-related skills, meet new friends and explore career options in the health care field. Students must be able to volunteer 3-4 hours a week for July and August. An information/orientation session is scheduled for June 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. If you are interested, call 749-4300 ext 2613."


[UW logo] Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
http://www.bulletin.uwaterloo.ca | Yesterday's Bulletin
Copyright © 2001 University of Waterloo