What happens when you put six Student Affairs professionals into one recreational vehicle and send them across two countries, three provinces, seven states and six universities?

The experience of travelling to a professional conference is routine and uneventful – you print or download an itinerary, hop on a plane/train/bus and that’s it. You use the journey to catch up on work, entertainment or sleep, with the understanding that the learning will take place once you’ve reached your destination. But who says the journey itself can’t be a learning opportunity?

Six Student Affairs professionals from Ryerson University decided to switch things up on their journey to the annual Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) conference this year. What began jokingly as a conversation between two friends about taking a road trip – and cutting costs in the process – snowballed into conversation about transition (using the metaphor of the road). And in true Student Affairs fashion, we thought about the multiple scenarios we’d encounter on the road and how we’d tackle them as Student Affairs professionals: roommate agreements, team building activities, reflection exercises etc. We pitched the burgeoning idea to our Executive Director of Student Affairs, John Austin, who encouraged us to build it out and offset the costs with sponsorship. And before we knew it, #RoadToCACUSS was born – a reflective journey of personal and professional development.

On the heels of the wildly successful #RoadToRyerson campaign, an initiative piloted in 2014 that empowered five incoming students to document their journey to Ryerson University, a handful of Student Affairs professionals assembled to share their story leading up to CACUSS. We work and practice as professionals at Ryerson University, and we will be driving approximately 2800 miles from our campus in Toronto, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia. Leaving May 17th, we will be travelling across two countries, three provinces, and seven states. We will combine pre-departure activities and reflection with our new knowledge which will result in a 75-minute conference presentation delivered at the CACUSS conference in May 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The #RoadToCACUSS will yield measurable benefits for #RyersonSA and the broader Ryerson University and Student Affairs community:

  1. We will raise the profile and awareness of the #RyersonSA brand by attracting attention from across the country.
  2. We will share transformational stories of ourselves both individually and as a team.
  3. We will document the entire trip and produce a structure for this campaign to be replicated in the future.
  4. We will improve our personal and professional performance by meeting with and learning from our peers across the country and south of the border.
  5. We will learn more about one another to serve our students more effectively.
  6. We will kickstart the #RoadToRyerson campaign.

Share your own reflections on your journey using the official hashtag, #RoadToCACUSS. See you in May!


During our trip, we will be reflecting on how Student Affairs at Ryerson, also known as #RyersonSA, has transformed, shifting from transactional to more transformative initiatives across the portfolio, and how #RyersonSA has  enhanced student engagement and increased collaboration across departments. We will also be reflecting on our own personal transition as Student Affairs practitioners, how our lives at work and at home add to our practice, and how this integrates to the Canadian Student Affairs context and beyond.

The intended learning outcomes of this experience are:

  • Identify Ryerson’s 5 pillars of Student Affairs (community building, personal development, professional development, mental well-being, and learning) as represented by participants’ reflections on the Road to CACUSS.
  • Outline how Kolb’s experiential learning theory was used by session presenters on the Road to CACUSS to overcome challenges.
  • Describe Ryerson’s transformative “Road to Ryerson” initiative and identify how they might create connections on their campus to improve the transition of incoming students to their campuses.
  • Identify a current challenge they are experiencing in their roles regarding student transition and propose how they might use Kolb’s experiential learning theory to propose a solution.

On the road, we’ll meet and spend time with our peers in similar positions, and/or a representative to help us learn about what they do, why they’re doing it, and how. Our goal is not just to meet peers to learn what they are doing and how they are doing it, but to begin a new conversation to integrate ideas and understand trends that can affect the practice of #RyersonSA and the broader Canadian Student Affairs landscape regardless of a campus’ size or location.

With partners and colleagues who have graciously given their time at Michigan State University, Notre Dame, Northwestern University, the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campuses, we will begin our conversation with the following research questions:

  1. What is the biggest success/challenge facing your students?
  2. What is the biggest success/challenge facing your department?
  3. What is the biggest success/challenge facing Student Affairs?
  4. What does Student Affairs look like in 2020?
  5. If you had $100,000 in sponsorship/funding what would you do with it?

On the road and at CACUSS, we will be sharing what we learn and discuss, and our hope is that you will engage with us and reflect on these questions, too. Symbolically, this trip allows us to act as messengers that thread the lessons at each institution with the intention to also impact your own practice.

In terms of transitions, the very cycle of learning that we guide our students through is often the very cycle of learning that we need to better understand our own ever-changing lives. Caught up in the day-to-day, we can sometimes go days, months and years without critical introspection. How can we help the whole student if we ourselves aren’t committed to the concept of holistic development in our own lives? So why not start this reflection at the beginning of the student experience to post-secondary? Our approach is to do just that: we will also meet with a handful of incoming Ryerson students and personally hand them their acceptance letters.

When you think about connections; typically, the larger the organization, the more challenging it is to form connections with one another. The six #RoadToCACUSS navigators have reached across departments to form connections with one another both personally and professionally. Their connections will be put to the test as they endure the stress of an over 5,000 mile drive across the country; a microcosm of the 4+ year journey that thousands Ryerson students will embark upon in September.

Day-in, and day-out, we help students navigate their personal, professional and academic transitions. But we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we, too, are are works-in-progress. The #RoadToCACUSS is more than a metaphor. It’s about experiential learning for professional staff.