You are now in the main content area

Fit for Business transforms the first-year experience beyond the classroom

June 29, 2021
Fit for Business Top 10 Ceremony over Zoom
Fit for Business Top 10% end-of-year ceremony

Starting university for the first time can be difficult for students, particularly during a pandemic when school is completely online. The Ted Rogers School of Management’s Fit for Business (FFB) program was there, however, to help students with this transition by keeping them connected, engaged and informed. 

“The transition to university is more than just adjusting to new classes. It can often be the first time that students have lived independently, and students consistently tell us that they are worried about not making friends or feeling isolated,” says Dr. Al Goss, Associate Dean, Students. “The Ted Rogers School has a constellation of supports for students, but it can sometimes be difficult and a little daunting for new students to know where to reach out for the help they need.”

That’s why Fit for Business was launched in August 2020, a dedicated transition program for first-year students.

"Students were going through their first year of university completely online and studying from around the world in their own unique situations. We knew that building a sense of community was more important than ever,” says Shabnam Ahmad, Fit for Business Lead. “With the Fit for Business program, we empowered students with a community and path to achieve success right from the start of their university experience.”

In the 2020-21 school year, 72% of the first-year student population accessed services and initiatives across Ted Rogers School departments leading to 30,000 hours of engagement beyond the classroom.

“FFB was not created in response to the pandemic, but I am certainly glad that we had it this year,” Dr. Goss points out. “All of the usual challenges that new students face were made more difficult by COVID-19. It was more difficult to navigate the university to find the support and services that Ryerson offers. And it could have been more difficult to meet people and make friends. FFB solved both of those problems.”

Connecting with other students

The foundation of Fit for Business is the TedPack - a cohort of students that have the same courses in their first term. Dr. Cynthia Holmes, Associate Dean, Faculty and Academic, created TedPacks to help build a sense of community for first-year students. “My idea was that if incoming students had a small group of colleagues that they took all of their classes with, they would get to know each other more easily,” says Dr. Holmes. “It was a way to create an intimate collegiate experience inside a very large business school.” 

Ahmad built on the TedPack structure by designating first-year students as TedPack Leaders and adding senior students to each group as TedPack Mentors. “This created the sense of community and belonging which students often said was their biggest fear about the transition to university,” Ahmad explains.

In 2020, the Ted Rogers School welcomed first-year students from across 50 countries representing over 220 cities, allowing students to make friends from around the world. Many incoming students found TedPacks very helpful in meeting and connecting with their peers. 

“The transition from high school to university is not an easy one, especially with a virtual system,” says Business and Technology student Ying Ge. “Despite not being on campus, or even in Toronto, TedPacks helped students like myself connect and make this time alone much less lonely. Our TedPack members all know that they will always have a group of familiar WhatsApp or Discord profile bubbles to turn to for questions – bubbles that we will hopefully meet in real life soon.”

Remaining informed

Through a personalized weekly FFB email – one centralized channel exclusive to first-year students – students receive communication on everything needed to navigate their first year. Many students say they found these emails were a good way to stay informed with relevant information and opportunities.

“FFB weekly emails made getting involved more straightforward and answered all my questions about co-op, courses and more at a click of a button,” says Accounting and Finance student Jessica Vasantharajan. “It’s basically a one-stop-shop for all first-years. I'm glad I took two minutes out of my week to read the weekly email because it opened up a whole year full of meeting new people, improving my skills and getting involved at school.”

The average open rate of FFB emails was 63%, compared to the higher education industry average of just 34% (Higher Ed 2020 Email Benchmark Report). 

Staying engaged

To encourage first-year students to take advantage of the services and unique offerings available, the FFB program rewards them with TedPoints for engaging beyond the classroom. The more TedPoints collected, the more opportunity there is for students to redeem them for rewards such as access to senior leaders’ chats and sold-out Bootcamps. 

“Through TedPoint Rewards, I got the chance to have a co-op deep dive chat with the Ted Rogers Co-op Manager, Medhat Sedarose with my TedPack,” says Accounting and Finance student Vedansh Gandhi. “This helped me better understand the co-op experience through the personal stories and experiences shared. The open conversations helped me make up my mind about what I want to do and what things I have to do along the way to be successful in the future.”

The most engaged students were recognized at the end of the academic year during a Top 10% end-of-year ceremony that gave them exposure to a panel of Directors and Deans.

FFB program insights: FFB 360 

FFB recently launched the FFB 360 webpage, which offers insights into what first-year Ted Rogers School students experienced during the 2020-21 academic year. The webpage includes dashboards highlighting everything from Bootcamp participation by program and a breakdown of TedPoints earned, to student testimonials about how the FFB program helped them during their first year. 

Take a look at this video, external link created by first-year students on what their experience with FFB was like this past year.

“I really couldn't be happier with the way FFB unfolded this year,” says Dr. Goss. “We harnessed technology to create a real sense of community for our students. We didn't plan on rolling it out in the middle of a pandemic, but the results are very encouraging.”