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Advancing Student Success - Dr. Joanne Hewson’s Commitment to Teaching, Community Well-Being and the Student Experience

February 07, 2022

In photo: Dr. Joanne Hewson, Associate Dean Student and Academics at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. Photo credit: Spencer McMillan.

As Associate Dean, Students and Academic (ADSA) for the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, Dr. Joanne Hewson’s title may be succinct, but her portfolio covers a broad area.

In her role as a key member of the OVC senior leadership team, Hewson is responsible for providing leadership in advancing the academic, professional and personal development of students in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, curricular innovation and oversight, as well as DVM student recruitment and career readiness.

Maintaining calm in the face of uncertainty was another leading feature of Hewson’s job description that rose to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. In her ADSA role, Hewson was frequently in touch with students in all four phases of the DVM program at OVC and all instructors, at every stage of the pandemic and now throughout the recovery phase.

As communication needs of the students and faculty evolved over the pandemic, Hewson took great care to adapt ways of receiving input from everyone and sought to understand new challenges and barriers as they emerged, so that solutions could be identified through shared conversation.

“The saying that it takes a village is certainly true” says Hewson, “So many student leaders, faculty, staff and administrative members of the OVC team each played key roles in keeping communication channels open and supportive. I am proud of the ways in which our OVC community has stayed empathetic with each other, as we worked through some incredibly signif­icant pinch-points together.”

Hewson’s leadership through the pandemic is a reflection of her lifelong commitment to teaching, student well-being and to the student experience. A Large Animal Inter­nal Medicine faculty member in the Department of Clinical Studies, Hewson, OVC DVM 1996 and PhD 2003, has continued to teach in the DVM program since her appointment to the Associate Dean portfolio in fall 2018.

Adds Hewson, “Every time I connect with the students, it re-energizes me, so it’s exciting to maintain teaching as part of my job.”

Indeed, she continued to deliver significant in-person skills training to student veterinarians throughout the pandemic as well. “By being an instructor on the front line, ensuring essential skills training was continued so that our student veterinarians could progress in their program in meaningful ways despite the pandemic, I was able to deeply understand the needs of other instructors and personally connect with students. We were able to implement carefully crafted safety plans and deliver training while maintaining a safe learning environment for all.”

She worked with faculty to help transition courses to a remote format and safely deliver hands-on skills labs to DVM students. She also worked with the admissions team to pivot to an online situational judgement test for applicants, along with virtual interviews, to replace the traditional face-to-face Multiple Mini Interviews.

Despite the constant need to manage pandemic-related challenges to the DVM program, Hewson has also remained actively involved in leading a variety of initiatives related to curricular design and redesign, and supported faculty seeking to expand their teaching strengths or to enhance student training.

“The University as a whole has made great strides towards allowing faculty who feel very passionate about their teaching to excel in that area, do research in that area, publish in that area and make that their career focus,” says Hewson. “I think that’s been a really key thing that’s allowed me to take the path I’ve taken to where I am today, and now my role is to enable others.”

She is also excited to help craft the vision and next steps for the continually evolving DVM curriculum.

Steady refinements to the curriculum ensure students receive a competency-based skill set and assure continual accreditation success for the college.

Over the past three years, under Hewson’s leadership, the ASDA team has expanded to enhance work in the key areas of experiential learning and job readiness through the addition of a Learning Pathways Officer, and in well-being through an OVC Director of Well-Being Programming.

An important component in the learning process is focused on helping student veterinarians to actively reflect on the skills they are learning and the ways they can use them.

Hewson believes this reflection piece, directly embedded in the concept of experiential learning, is a critical component in the learner-centred approach of OVC’s DVM program.

“This not only expands student learning, it enhances confidence and also helps students be more prepared to make career changes if the opportunity presents itself and go where their passions take them,” she adds. “I think that’s really the take home message of a veterinary school: We teach you how to learn so that you can make change in the future and be confident that you will be successful.”

Over the past three years, under Hewson’s leadership, the ASDA team has expanded to enhance work in the key areas of experiential learning and job readiness through the addition of a Learning Pathways Officer, and in well-being through an OVC Director of Well-Being Programming.

“The intent with this latter role is to enhance the knowledge and practice of well-being across OVC using evidence-based approaches on how to best support and help our students be resilient and practice self-care,” adds Hewson.

As a guiding principle in her ADSA role, Hewson has remained committed to seeing students succeed while maintaining high-quality training, curricular excellence, and delivering a student experience that embraces people’s differences and is founded in compassion. “It’s not only about what we teach students in the four years that they are with us,” says Hewson. “It’s about making sure they’re ready for the next 20 years so that, as a profession, our graduates can remain resilient, flexible and nimble to the changing times.”

“It’s about making sure our students are ready for the next 20 years so that, as a profession, our graduates can remain resilient, flexible and nimble to the changing times.”

Originally published in The Crest, Fall 2021, the research, teaching and health care magazine of the Ontario Veterinary College.

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