There are a variety of ways the campus community can get involved in community engagement activities, including Extracurricular Volunteering. Placements can consist of local and international volunteering opportunities. Below are some examples of projects carried out by students at the University of Ottawa.
International student integrates through community engagement
Sunny Verma, a masters of electrical and computer engineering student, left his home country, India, this August to complete his last year of study at the University of Ottawa. As Sunny describes it, “Being an international student in a whole new country was an uncomfortable experience.” However, his discomfort motivated him to get out there and get involved in the community.
Barely a month after his arrival, Sunny began to seize every opportunity to volunteer. It was his way of being engaged socially while also developing new friendships. He first volunteered as an outdoor cleaner with the Ottawa Mission. Then, he showed his support for the Canadian Forces by helping to manage the first water station at the annual Army Run. He also gave of his time to the Free Store with the uOttawa Office of Campus Sustainability.
Sunny followed all of this by getting involved as a Proud City campaign coordinator with the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. He acted as an intercultural exchange leader with the uOttawa Official Language and Bilingualism Institute, as well. Finally, to embrace his first Canadian winter, he recently volunteered for the Snowsuit Fund, helping to provide winter clothing to children from vulnerable families.
With all this experience under his belt, Sunny has now received leadership training from the Michaelle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement. He can act as a team leader for other student volunteers and provide exemplary community leadership to his peers. On November 19, he successfully managed and supported his first group of student volunteers, assisting with Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, which sends thousands of Christmas shoeboxes filled with gifts of hope to children in need around the world.
Reflecting on his journey integrating into a new culture, Sunny says, “Once I decided to expose myself to the culture of my new home country, it became a lot easier and exciting for me to settle down and transition to a new life. Whether it’s interacting with my colleagues who are from different parts of the world or meeting new people for whom Canada has been their home, it’s always a nice feeling sharing our different experiences and the common love for Canada.”
He goes on to say, “Becoming a student volunteer gave me an equally good opportunity to hone my language skills. As an added bonus, volunteering as a team leader has allowed me to improve my leadership and teamwork skills, which are a few of the key skills an employer looks for in a future employee.”
When Sunny first came to the MJCGCE, one of his main goals was to make friends. When asked how his friendship building was going, he says with a big smiling face, “I have made so many friends. I now have friends around the world.”
Sunny has also been pleased to discover that his volunteer experience has allowed him to gain marketable and transferrable skills for employers and get strong references, which will serve him well in job searching in his field when he graduates this year. “I would encourage everyone to do their bit for the society by volunteering and helping the society as often as they can,” he concludes.
From volunteering to a full-time job: This student did it!
Myla Monica Inventor, an international student completing an honours bachelor of social sciences in international studies and modern languages (French immersion), was interested in volunteering to get involved and gain more experience in a Canadian environment. A second-year transfer student who came to Ottawa in September 2017, Myla volunteered her time at University of Ottawa Press (UOP) in fall 2017 and winter 2018, an experience that fit with her strong interest in books and literature. Her dedication led to her receiving a job offer from UOP this summer.
Myla started at UOP performing administrative and office work. Her placement, chosen from the Community Engagement Navigator, was a unique experience. Her co-workers were very open, teaching her about how a publishing house works. For her, community engagement means, “trying to help out whomever you can. The more you help, the more you gain from the community.”
UOP is the publishing arm of uOttawa, one of Canada’s top research universities. Founded in 1936, it is Canada’s oldest French-language university press and the only bilingual university press in North America. At UOP, Myla has worked in both English and French, allowing her to practise more French. This has helped with her French immersion courses.
Given the advantages it offers, such as meeting new people and networking, Myla encourages volunteering to classmates. Volunteer placements are an opportunity to pursue one’s interests and gain experience, while enabling students to help and to learn about the University overall.
By: Minnah El-Mowafi
Volunteer placements for every taste! - Chelsey Brassard, recipient of a Gilles Patry Student Engagement Scholarship
Chelsey Brassard, a second year Honours student with a Bachelor of Arts with Major in French as a Second Language and Minor in Communication, began volunteering in her native Thunder Bay in Grade 9, when high school students are tasked with completing the 40 hours of volunteer work they require to graduate. Her experiences as a counsellor at a summer camp for children aged 4 through 12 became the foundation for a love of volunteering that has only grown with time. She took the initiative of approaching several organizations to volunteer, including a Taekwondo school, a charity that combats hunger, and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. When she began her studies at uOttawa in 2016, she looked for ways to get involved in her new city. The Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement helped her find a placement as a research assistant during the fall 2017 term, along with a volunteer position at the Carlington Community Chaplaincy of Ottawa.
To date, Chelsey has over 1000 volunteer hours to her credit, and she expects to volunteer even more in the coming years. She says her volunteer placements have honed a number of valuable skills, including her communication abilities and her awareness of different cultures and lifestyles. She feels her most important gains are patience and respect, which she forged by working with children, the elderly, and those living with disabilities in multicultural communities such as Thunder Bay and Ottawa. She also believes that volunteers must be committed to the causes they support.
By getting involved in her community, Chelsey has enriched her student experience and expanded her personal and professional networks. She cherishes memories of her former volunteer colleagues and clients; for example, she fondly remembers her interactions with a woman preparing for surgery at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Chelsey strongly encourages anyone who is thinking of becoming a volunteer; she’s convinced that since the placements are so diverse and worthwhile, there’s bound to be something for everyone. She recommends that volunteers start small to discover the causes that speak to them personally, and then gradually increase their commitment. As Chelsey puts it, volunteering warms the heart and promises to generate memorable, transformative experiences.
By: Irene Knicely-Coutts
Looking to apply your studies? Community engagement can get you there!
Lucas Cherkewski, who is a second-year undergrad pursuing a joint honours degree in history and political science, with a side of CO-OP, has six years’ experience in managing and creating websites. In 2017, Lucas decided to volunteer to help create a website for an online political journal, a position posted on the Navigator by Professor Stockemer. Lucas was curious about how academic political journals operate and was eager to combine his computer skills and his political studies to create something of use to others. Lucas described this placement as an excellent experience, saying that he enjoyed working with Professor Stockemer, whom he described as a great supervisor.
As for Professor Stockemer, he was quite happy and grateful to have Lucas help him. Given that the professor wanted the website launched before the winter semester, he appreciated that Lucas was easy to work with and quick to answer his emails. This was Professor Stockemer’s first experience in taking a volunteer under his wing, and he was glad to have someone who was reliable. Professor Stockemer believes that anyone who decides to take on volunteers should reward their commitment. “It’s so easy to see the positive impact every student volunteer has in their community, but it’s even more important for them to be rewarded for their involvement.”
The Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement (MJCGCE) is proud of the outcome of this placement and strives to replicate its success. Whether you’re a professor who wants to see students get more involved or a community partner looking to hire more student volunteers, the Centre offers several options to meet the needs of anyone seeking volunteers. As for the reward, the Centre suggests that professors and partners take the time to complete the short online evaluation to highlight the volunteer’s strengths and provide positive feedback on how they can improve.
By: Ines Sayadi
Community-building a career in nursing
Getting engaged in your community through volunteering is a great way to build your skills and give back. “Volunteering has given me the opportunity to gain professional experience and leadership skills that I will use in my career,” shares aspiring nurse and uOttawa student Goretti Muthahi. For the past six years, Goretti has been engaged in her community by proudly volunteering with the South East Ottawa Health Community Centre (SEOCHC) and the Better Beginnings Better Future Program.
As a nursing student, Goretti has built up a strong portfolio of volunteer experiences that she views as an integral part of her student learning and her own sense of civic responsibility. Her most recent entry is her volunteer work with the Friendly Grocer Program at the SEOCHC. Her experiences have allowed her to connect what she has learned in class to actual competencies she has developed in a work environment. “I have gained so much knowledge, such as which local resources are available to solve the community’s needs, and I have a new understanding of the community needs. I know and believe this knowledge that I have acquired throughout the years I have been volunteering is transferable to other health sectors and will be an asset when I start my career.”
Goretti’s desire to begin volunteering was sparked by her own experiences of receiving community services. “Being a parent myself with no immediate family in Canada, I came to rely on services offered by volunteers in my community, so volunteering in my community centre was my way of giving back to the community.” Her motivation to stay engaged is now fueled by a desire to help make it more resilient, one person at a time. She lists one of her most memorable moments as working with a young mother and her special needs child: she and the community nurse worked to get them the support they needed in the right school for the child.
Goretti believes that “community services and volunteer services are an investment in the community and the people who live in it.” When asked what advice she would give to any student considering volunteering, she did not hesitate: “Go for it. Not only is it a way to give back to the community, but also it’s a great way to meet people and network as well. Plus, you get a break from school by doing something beneficial, which sometimes lowers your stress levels, and it feels good. It’s a win-win situation.”
By: Kate Richardson
When charitable acts lead to self-reflection — Renée Leduc, recipient of the Gilles Patry scholarship for 2017
Renée Leduc, who received a Gilles G. Patry Student Engagement Scholarship in fall 2017, has had a unique background as a volunteer and student. From a young age, Renée was involved in the community delivering meals on wheels and singing in seniors’ residences, as well as taking part in festivals and tournaments and delivering Christmas baskets to low-income families. Drawing inspiration for her charitable actions from her grandfather, she continued to volunteer during her bachelor’s at the University of Ottawa, as executive chair of the Telfer School of Management partnership committee for the Jeux du commerce competition. This role was so rewarding for her that she continued to be involved for the next two years as coordinator and sponsor of the Telfer delegation to the competition. Through her volunteer experience, Renée developed her leadership, management and networking skills, which helped her subsequently as an administrator for the Amical alumni association of Gatineau’s Collège Saint-Alexandre.
Renée also has fond memories of her experience with Gatineau’s Festival des bâtisseurs. The goal of the festival was to reduce drop-out rates among youth. It brought together children and youth to take part in workshops and activities focused on student success and its links to careers. Renée remembers affectionately the children’s smiles when they spoke of their dream jobs. Thanks to this experience in the community and as a teaching assistant at Telfer, she realized her love of education, which changed her career goals and academic path once she graduated. Indeed, she’s now a student in the Faculty of Education.
Today, Renée continues to be involved as a volunteer. She was elected class representative in the Faculty of Education, a position requires strong communications skills to speak for her peers when dealing with professors, the student committee and the administration. Renée expects to continue spreading her passion for helping others and strongly advises students to get genuinely involved in volunteer placements in their communities. After all, without dedicated volunteers, many charitable organizations would not be able to function. Not only does volunteering help ensure continuity in these organizations and in social activities — it also builds individuals’ capacity for self-development, which can make a definitive change in the lives and perspectives of those who avail themselves of the opportunity — as has been the case with Renée.
Written by: Irene Knicely-Coutts
CASCO: The Virtuous Cycle of Giving Back
When you have a background in business, dealing with large sums of money is not uncommon. But for Conor O’Doherty, raising over $57,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is also just part of what it means to be engaged in your community.
Conor is a fourth-year accounting student at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management and president of the Commerce and Administration Student Charity Organization (CASCO). He has been with the organization since his first year at uOttawa, and now finds himself steering the ship. He says the act of volunteering not only cultivates stronger communities, but stimulates personal development as well. From learning how to manage a team of 40 people to facilitating the execution of multiple largescale events throughout the year, Conor says, “My only regret was that I didn’t get involved and start volunteering earlier.”
Besides helping students develop organizational and leadership skills, CASCO has fulfilled its mandate to create positive social change. Conor explains: “CASCO was founded 18 years ago when a friend of the two original co-founders passed away. Their friend relied heavily on CHEO, as he was a patient there. After his passing, CASCO’s goal was thus to raise funds for the institution that cared for him.” Today, the organization has grown into a dynamic team of students looking to enhance the quality of care given to children at CHEO through their talents. From golf tournaments to bake sales and football games to galas, CASCO embodies what it means to be a club at the University of Ottawa. For Conor, this means “meeting new and interesting people, acquiring important skills and making a long lasting impact in your community.”
By raising the bar on what it means to give back, CASCO has created a virtuous cycle in which passionate, driven and team-oriented students experience personal growth, while, as Conor puts it, “striving to leave your community a little bit better off than when you first entered it.”