Dr. David Slomp believes strongly in the people and work of the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education’s Graduate Studies program. In his new role as associate dean overseeing Graduate Studies and Research, he wants to draw greater attention to the incredible impact that graduate programs and research within the faculty are having on education in Alberta, Canada, and around the world.

We don’t celebrate enough the quality of the people we have here, the work they do, and the quality of that work,” says Slomp, who has worked with the department for 11 years. “The longer I’m here, the more I see that. I’m part of an amazing team of people.”

Originally from southern Ontario, Slomp grew up in Hamilton and attended high school in northern B.C. The holder of three degrees from the University of Alberta, he spent two and a half years working as an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa before returning west to the U of L, where his older brother Mark is the executive director of Student Services.

Slomp, who was appointed as a Board of Governors Teaching Chair in May 2016, serves as Editor-in-Chief of his field’s leading international journal. He feels his pursuit of excellence in both teaching and research provide a strong foundation for his formal leadership role within the faculty.

Slomp says an important goal in his new role “is to celebrate the impact of the work done in this faculty, research that has a direct impact on schools and classrooms.” His hope is that “by drawing greater attention to breadth, quality, and impact of the research being done in this faculty, we can attract greater resources and supports, both from within and outside the university, for our researchers and our programs.”

Slomp’s research on assessing the development of writing ability has attuned him to the complex set of intrapersonal and environmental factors that shape human growth and development. Applying that perspective to his work as associate dean, Slomp aims to “understand what my colleagues are trying to achieve with their research, what challenges they’re facing as they’re trying to do that work, so that we can work to reduce those barriers, while developing new supports that will help them build their careers and programs of research.”

An exceptional teaching staff of active researchers who are engaged with schools means high-quality education for the graduate students.

Throughout the province, we’re known for our undergraduate program, but we’ve always had a very strong graduate program as well,” says Slomp. “We haven’t always drawn attention to the strength of this program and its impact.”

The faculty’s graduate programs in counselling, for example, are one of the faculty’s most highly regarded offerings. “They’re so highly sought after, we only have room to accept 10 per cent of applicants into these programs.”

The Graduate Studies program attracts highly qualified students who then return to their professional fields equipped to make a further positive impact on the community and beyond.

“We’re quite proud of our graduates and the roles they play in their professional contexts, in schools and in their school districts,” says Slomp, who notes that one of his aims is to find ways to accept greater numbers of international students into the faculty’s programs.

The U of L’s graduate students receive not only top-quality training, but, through the cohort-based model of their programs, find the unexpected bonus of a valuable support system and often life-long friendships.

“These groups really become a strong professional support network,” Slomp says. “Many sustain relationships long after.”

That, in fact, is one of the most treasured aspects of the Faculty of Education's Graduate Studies program, in the view of the students and graduates. Asked what benefits she derived from participating in the Curriculum and Assessment program, recent graduate Naoko Masuda of Calgary noted, “I benefited in so many ways, and the first one has nothing to do with academics. The friendship and support that we gave one another was something that really had a huge impact. They’re going to be life-long friends.”

Jen Karpiuk, a middle-school teacher from Medicine Hat and part of Masuda’s cohort, echoed the view, explaining how the classmates offered welcome assistance, “helping each other, attending defences, being each others’ cheerleaders.” The support doesn’t end upon convocation. “We’re still connected, still colleagues as this lifelong learning journey continues,” says Karpiuk. “We still support one another through group chats, cheering each other on in teaching new ideas.”

The support aspect quickly becomes evident for new graduate students, too – even after just two and a half weeks, says Fisayo Latilo, a middle-school teacher in Lethbridge attending the summer session in the Curriculum and Assessment program. “It’s lots of work but there’s such good support from colleagues and faculty,” she notes, adding she feels she has a support network she can rely on when the course continues online in the fall. “It’s good to come and build these connections with people I’ll be connecting with for the next three and a half years.” Originally from Calgary, attending the U of L for her Graduate Studies was a comfortable choice for Latilo, who graduated with her teaching degree in 2017 from the U of L, where she also played rugby. One of her education classmates was David Kofi, known by his friends as DK. A high school teacher working with the Tsuut’ina Nation, he enrolled in the Graduate Studies program after recognizing the need for more accurate assessment, particularly in terms of matching curriculum with the needs of First Nations students. He finds the Graduate Studies experience “humbling” because, after graduating and venturing into the world of teaching, “you realize you don’t know anything. There’s so much to know to get to the point of mastery.”

Amanda Sequeira, originally from Frederickton, N.B., and a 2014 U of L graduate with a Fine Arts degree, has taught junior high in Taber for six years. She enrolled in the Graduate Studies program with the aim of personal professional development. “I had a lot of questions about why we’re doing the things we do and where that’s coming from” in the area of curriculum development in the province over the past 20 years. “It’s an opportunity to grow. I’m always thinking about the context of student learning to inform my practice and how to better support students.”

It falls under Slomp’s umbrella to guide the Graduate Studies program so it can continue to help teachers and counsellors become leaders in their professions. The twin issues of ongoing budget pressure and proliferation of education programs in the province are a challenging part of that effort.

“These pressures create challenges for our program sustainability,” he says, noting budget pressures are nothing new. But that’s why he feels it’s especially important to trumpet the good work being done by his colleagues and by the Graduate Studies in Education programs at the University of Lethbridge.

“As we confront these challenges we need to be distinguishing ourselves and the graduate programs are an important part of that.”

Writer: Dave Sulz | Photographers: Rob Olson and Darcy Tamayose

Photo collection below from the Faculty of Education Graduate Studies Summer BBQ 2022 event: