Douglas 360°

From baking soda and vinegar to virtual reality, this Chem prof is keeping students engaged at home

By Melissa Nilan, Marketing and Communications

When the pandemic hit, James Zhou was among the many instructors scrambling to convert a very hands-on subject to an online format. How could students practise chemistry at home without a lab? (Dexter’s Laboratory, anyone? If only!) James and the laboratory staff came up with some clever and creative solutions, including virtual simulations and having students do experiments with ingredients found in their own kitchens.

Black bean experiment: The black beans were used to make a natural pH indicator. It helps determine whether a solution is acidic or basic. A black bean indicator is grayish-purple in neutral solutions, pink when it comes into contact with an acid, and green when in contact with a base.

“We felt that if we just filmed everything, students wouldn’t be engaged enough. We wanted them to really get hands-on experience in the lab. Simulations and safe at-home experiments were the answer, and the students have really enjoyed it,” says James.

Chemistry in the kitchen

For the first-year introductory chemistry course, James shipped kits to students’ homes. This “lab” required students to mix and identify common pantry ingredients, such as salt, sugar and flour. Since these aren’t volatile chemicals, the ingredients could be safely shipped, and students could easily perform the experiments at home.

“We gave the students sandwich bags randomly labelled A, B, C, et cetera, and they had to determine what each chemical was by doing different reactions with it, such as testing if it dissolves in water. We also gave them special beans that change colour if the ingredient is acidic or basic, and pH papers they could use. Students really enjoyed it because they actually got to do something hands-on,” says James.

Exploring the limitless possibilities of virtual labs

James and his team also introduced students to virtual chemistry labs. A virtual lab allows students to play with different equipment and chemicals to simulate their own experiments. The best part? There is no limit to how many times they can do an experiment online, unlike in a physical lab where there are limited time and resources.

“Simulations were the answer. The virtual lab is like a chemistry video game. You can do the experiments over again as many times as you want and keep making improvements. The program will tell you at the end where you made mistakes and how you can improve,” says James.

This is one of the virtual lab experiments conducted with students in upper-level chemistry courses.

For students in upper-level chemistry courses, James offered a platform that could go full virtual reality with the addition of VR goggles, for those who had them. Students would get the experience of immersing themselves in the lab, where they can turn their heads and look around the virtual room as if they were actually there. 

And yes, students can cause explosions in their virtual labs by mixing the wrong chemicals or altering time and heat in their experiment — something they wouldn’t be able to do in a real classroom.

“The simulator allows you to speed up time, conduct the experiment in different orders and try different products. Some students discovered if you leave the experiment for too long or turn the temperature up too high or add the wrong reagent, it will explode. We can’t do all those variations in a true lab, but in a virtual setting you have unlimited resources,” says James.

Read more: This Geology instructor moonlights as a volcano explorer

Pursuing the WOW factor in science

James knows the value of experiential learning first-hand; lab experiments are what led him to a career in chemistry.

“My favourite part of chemistry was going into the lab, exploring chemicals and doing fun experiments. And I was really good at it, so I ended up following the chem path through university,” says James.

While he was working on his master’s degree at SFU, he did STEM outreach for K-12 students. Teaching them about science sparked his interest in becoming a teacher himself.

“I would host workshops for kids and teens and do fun activities. We blew stuff up, made things shrivel into little pieces, shattered things – lots of cool stuff you can’t do at home. The ‘wow’ aspect of those experiments is, I think, what really gets students’ attention.”

James Zhou teaches chemistry at Douglas College

 Read more: Elementary school teacher renews her passion for teaching math and science

Looking ahead to post-pandemic

While some chem students have returned to in-person labs this semester, James and his colleagues are continuing to make use of these remote methods in order to limit the number of students on campus. They will continue this approach throughout the pandemic – and maybe even after.

The simulations are a really nice dry run for students before they actually come into a real lab, and possibly something we could continue using in the future. They can test out and practise their experiments online in advance before doing them for real.”

This alum is bringing joy to seniors with dementia in the midst of the pandemic

Therapeutic Recreation seniors

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

When Danielle Axton posted on social media asking people to send holiday cards to residents at the assisted living facility she works at, she had no idea the post would go viral, resulting in thousands of cards arriving from across the globe.

Danielle, a Therapeutic Recreation diploma grad, is the Memory Living Manager at Chartwell Langley Gardens Memory Living, an assisted living home for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Knowing how difficult it is for her residents to stay in touch with friends and family, especially during COVID-19, Danielle wanted to find a way to connect them with the community.

During the last holiday season, Danielle shared a social media post where she asked people in the community to send cards to the residents.

“I wanted to think outside the box and figure out what I could do to help bring them some joy,” Danielle says.

She only expected a handful to arrive, but to her surprise, the post went viral, and cards began pouring in from across the globe.  

“I can’t count how many cards we received, but I can comfortably say it’s been well over 5,000,” says Danielle, who also notes they still received cards well into February. “We’ve received a surprising amount from Germany and Japan, but they came in from all over the world. It’s been amazing to see how something like this can resonate with so many people.”

After isolating the cards for three days, the Memory Living staff put them on the dining room table for the residents to read and share.

“People poured their hearts into these cards. The residents look forward to reading them every single day,” says Danielle. After the residents read the cards, they were hung on the walls as a reminder to residents that the world is still connected, even during a pandemic.

Danielle’s dedication to her residents hasn’t gone unnoticed. She was recently awarded Chartwell’s 2020 Memory Living Manager of the Year award, a national award recognizing her work in making a difference in her residents’ lives during a year where they haven’t been able to see their families as much as they used to.  

“I feel so blessed that I get to help make people’s lives better every single day,” she says.

Road to Douglas

Danielle always knew she wanted to work with older adults. When she discovered therapeutic recreation – the use of leisure and recreation activities to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for seniors and people living with disabilities or illness – she knew she’d found her career, and enrolled at Douglas College.

“The program really emphasizes that this field is not only about having fun and making meaningful connections, but it also highlights how important the work we do on a daily basis is,” says Danielle. “We are taught from the very beginning to think outside the box and to individualize our approaches so our residents can live a satisfying and fulfilling life that is filled with purpose and meaning.”

Read more: TR grads use therapeutic recreation to help kids with disabilities improve their quality of life

Read the original post here!

Practice makes perfect

Danielle honed the skills she learned in the classroom through two practicums – one at Holyrood Manor, a long-term care home in Maple Ridge, and the other at the now-closed mental health facility Riverview Hospital, in Coquitlam.

“My practicums challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone,” Danielle says. “Holyrood Manor allowed me to work with older adults, while Riverview allowed me to gain more experience on the mental health side. There are so many times, especially in the senior population, where a diagnosis of dementia is also partnered with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, for example. There are so many intersections in this field, so my practicums were beneficial in helping inform the type of care I continue to provide today.”

Now 10 years into her career, Danielle is more motivated than ever to continue to offer unique, person-centred care to older adults with dementia.

“Quality care for this population can really make their lives that much brighter. These are the people that shaped the way we live our lives now, and they deserve to have the best experience possible as they travel through their dementia journey. It means so much to me that I get to be a part of their lives.” 

Mechanic shifts gears to business owner with dreams of running one of the most successful auto repair shops in the Tri-Cities

Robert Zielinski has been around his dad’s auto repair shop from the time he was a kid. Ever since high school, he has wanted to take over the business and grow it when his dad retires. The first-ever graduate of Douglas College’s Bachelor of Business Administration in Management program with a Trades Management concentration, Robert is on his way to being a confident and business-savvy boss.

How did you get into the auto repair business?

My dad owns Tyner Automotive, so I started at the shop at a young age. When I was about 10 or 11, I remember going there after school and sweeping the floors. Eventually, I did my first oil change on my mom’s car with my dad’s supervision. From that point, I wanted to become a mechanic just like my dad and grow the business to be something bigger and better.

Why did you choose to take BBA in Trades Management at Douglas?

I wanted a credential in a program that would not only be interesting, but useful in my daily work. I found out about it when I was in the General Business Certificate program from one of my professors, Bill Archibald, when it was still just an idea. I told him where I worked and how I was trying to apply what I was learning to my work. He informed me that Douglas was creating a program that would count my apprenticeship towards a degree instead of just a certificate.

What was your experience with the program?

The instructors were very helpful and understanding. I enjoyed the interactive parts of the teaching process. Lectures and taking notes are necessary, but when you can apply what you learn in school to your workplace, it helps you understand the material in a different light.

Read more: This grad turned her love for martial arts and self-empowerment into a business

How did you apply your work experience to your courses?

My work experience earned me nearly a year and a half worth of academic credit I put toward my degree. When I did assignments or tests, I pulled from my experiences on the job and applied them to the material. That helped me understand it more in depth.

How did your coursework help you at work?

The more experience I got from school, the more responsibilities I got at work. I started by mostly working on vehicles and writing quotes. Eventually, I started doing a little bit of everything, from talking to customers, to communicating with company representatives, to coming up with ideas to improve efficiency and productivity.

How has the program helped you reach your goals?

My dream is to run the shop on my own and grow it into one of the most successful independent automotive repair shops in the Tri-Cities. The program has given me the confidence and skills to run the business to its fullest potential, and I believe I can grow it to be even better.

What skills or knowledge do you have now that you didn’t have before?

The most important thing I learned was interpersonal skills. Being more comfortable on the phone and in person with customers has helped me be more confident in my abilities. Not only in sales, but also as a mechanic. I found that the more I talked to customers, the more knowledge I had about vehicles that I didn’t think I had.

What were the most challenging and most fulfilling aspects of your experience?

The most challenging aspect was balancing work, school and life. I was doing part-time studies, one to two classes per semester, and working full time. The most fulfilling part was getting to the end of each course with more knowledge and more skills I could apply to the shop. I wanted to improve the shop as much as possible, and with the knowledge I gained through this program, I have succeeded with most of my ideas.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about doing the BBA in Management, Trades Management Concentration?

Go through the program at your own pace. Taking extra time to finish allows you to gain more knowledge that can be applied to the workplace. It took me over eight years to finish school, but I learned and retained more than some of my friends who rushed through it. The other piece of advice I have is to prioritize your time. Having a healthy balance of school, work, personal life and recreation is important.

Honouring all voices in theatre during an unprecedented time

World Theatre Day

By Thrasso Petras, Theatre Instructor

“Nobody understands nothing no more.” said Christina Drayton, Katherine Hepburn’s character in 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, echoing the words of her Black housekeeper of 22 years, Tillie (Isabelle Sanford), as the liberal family grappled with the reality of an interracial marriage.

These words have been haunting me for the better part of a year, and they have become my constant refrain. There are so many things I don’t understand and I don’t know. One of the things I don’t know is if someone will accuse me of being culturally inappropriate for speaking those words, tinted with a Black vernacular.

Never have so many individual versions of our human identity (racial, gender, religious, sexual) surged to the surface with so much determination to be heard and seen. We are caught in the swirls of multiple emotional and intellectual turns, sharpened to a deadly point by a pandemic that forces us to be physically apart, as well. 

Read more: Managing anxiety and stress during COVID-19

Artists and educators are struggling to find the centre of the tempest, intimidated by the thought that the wrong word, image, or tone might blow us away, but also called to make vital changes. The task is daunting and potentially paralysing. It leaves me wondering, do I really know what I think I know?

The legitimate anger and frustration of marginalized communities, abandoned and abused, has underscored how much we still don’t understand about one another, and about ourselves. We are exhorted to “listen,” but that’s only a small first step. The hard work begins when we risk doing.

At its best, theatre is an exploration of the unknown. When something doesn’t work, we turn it over and over until we find the thing that does. But nothing gets done until we make a choice to do something, listen for the response to our action, learn something new from it, and then do it again. Do more. Do better. We can’t do it for selfish reasons; selfish never works. We do it because we need one another; a need which may be construed as selfish, but the kind of selfish wherein we “give a little, take a little.

Read more: Getting set for the next stage: How the pandemic helped this theatre grad rediscover the power of story

We have found ways to work, live and play, à la distance, away from one another, feeling the loss of presence and yet, somehow still present. As much as I yearn to be crammed into a lobby shoulder-to-shoulder with my community, to negotiate the narrow row to my seat, past knobby knees and draped coats, to breathe in the hush of 300 souls the moment before curtain (when that moment comes again, I suspect there will be tears), I am grateful for the organization, the optimism, and the determination of colleagues and students as we hold one another, not closely, but up. We continue to find ways to do the thing we love.

On behalf of the Departments of Theatre and Stagecraft & Event Technology,
Thrasso Petras

Thrasso Petras, Theatre Instructor
Thrasso Petras, Theatre Instructor

Thrasso Petras is an actor, director, teacher and coach of voice, speech, text, and movement. He studied theatre at UBC and holds a degree in Classical Studies from UBC, a diploma in Physical Theatre Arts from the TOOBA Physical Theatre Centre and an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy from UAlberta. Thrasso develops performance training in which the clear, meaningful voice demanded by classical training is simultaneously informed by expressive articulation offered by the body in more avant-garde methodologies.

Beyond math and physics: Lab Facilitator finds ideas for engineering projects in unlikely places

By Melissa Nilan, Marketing and Communications

Jared Cloutier loves to tinker. This personal interest has been a bonus for students in the Engineering and Fabrication Technology Diploma program.

Jared Cloutier, a lab facilitator in the Engineering program at Douglas College, works with a student in the fabrication lab in pre-COVID days.
Jared works with a student in the Fabrication Lab in the good old pre-COVID days.

Jared’s primary duty is to train students how to safely use the machines and tools in the Engineering Fabrication lab – including a water jet cutter, laser cutter, 3D printers and CNC machines, lathes and welders, power coating ovens, finishing machines, grinders and buffer wheels – and then supervise and assist them in using them.

But the Engineering and Fabrication Lab Facilitator also finds inspiration for projects for his students that stems from his personal interests.

Tinkering for inspiration

“I recently did some dabbling with pewter casting and jewellery making and thought it would be a great project for the students,” Jared says. First I created a pewter cast of a wrench with engineering print on it. Then I showed them what to do with my pre-made design. For their final casting project, they had to come up with their own design. They made coins, gears and etched pictures, as examples.”

Jared also takes inspiration from his frequent trips to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, which sell donated home décor and building supplies. During one trip he bought a water-jet-cut puzzle box, which inspired a lamp box project, where light is projected through designs cut into a lamp shade. Each student created their own lamp and designs. On another trip, Jared found a deal on marble and snapped it up; the marble was turned into a planetary gearset business card holder by a student.

A lamp box made by an Engineering student.
Lamp box project

His most recent project involved turning an old transmission from his own truck into a lamp and assigning the students to design a matching lamp shade for it.

“A lot of my tinkering sparks ideas, and I think, why not try that? I’m always in the mindset of, ‘what can we do that’s fun, engaging, but not heavy on the math and physics aspect?’ Projects don’t need to be about the book time; they’re about exposure to the equipment and processes. And through exposure, students get motivated and come up with their own ideas and designs,” says Jared.

More than just math and physics

Jared says he cannot emphasize enough the value of the hands-on experience the fabrication labs offer. While a design may look perfect on paper, the reality can be very different, he says.

“I had a student submit a design change that altered the measurements by 0.10mm. I pulled out my Vernier caliper and measured the change in distance, and then pulled out a beard hair and measured that, which was only 0.08mm. So they were basically splitting hairs with the changes they’d made. It might have looked good on paper, but in reality that kind of miniscule change isn’t going to matter. By seeing it, they had a better understanding of how their design translated to the physical item.”

Projects don’t need to be about the book time; they’re about exposure to the equipment and processes. And through exposure, students get motivated and come up with their own ideas and designs.

Jared Cloutier

Jared says it’s common for students taking engineering at a university to get no hands-on experience during their program for the first couple of years. His goal is to expose his students to as many fabrication processes as possible, so that when they go out into the real world they understand the processes used in industry.

Engineering and Fabrication Technology Diploma student Carlos Vasquez knows first hand the value of hands-on experience.

“In the real world, it’s important to have a prototype when you are creating something new, so you don’t waste materials. In learning all the fabrication processes of the different machines, I now know how to create my own prototypes; I won’t be afraid to try something new because I have a better understanding of how my designs will convert to reality,” says Carlos.

Read more: This Engineering grad wants to change our reality.

Jared Cloutier is a lab facilitator in the Engineering program at Douglas College. He wears full PPE gear when he is on campus during the pandemic.
Jared on campus in full PPE.

This practical knowledge and experience can also give Douglas grads an edge when applying for jobs or for cooperative education work terms if they transfer their credits to university to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“I think it’s who you know that gets you a job, but it’s what you know that lets you keep it. Exposing students to the fabrication labs isn’t just about the equipment, it’s also about developing dexterity and manual hand-eye coordination, and understanding how a place of manufacturing functions. You have to wear safety equipment, get an orientation and follow the order of operations,” says Jared.

Getting a holistic view

Getting exposure to both sides of engineering – the math and physics, and the fabrication – gives students a more holistic view of the field they’re going into, Jared says. Some students may decide they enjoy the hands-on aspect more and switch their study path from a university degree to a trade certification – or even become an entrepreneur (Etsy, anyone?).

“By exposing students early to all aspects of engineering, they know whether they’re in the right field for themselves before they’ve put in years of study. It also exposes non-engineering students who take a fabrication course to a variety of new career options.”

“There is a huge variety of equipment in the lab for students to interact with,” he adds. “You could literally pick one and make a career out of being an expert with it.”

Make connections, grow your skills and promote research at Douglas

By Alison Henwood, Communications Officer, Research and Innovation Office

Did you know that you can support and promote research happening at Douglas College – and get paid for it?

Cassidy Penney, Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching student at Douglas College.
Cassidy Penney promotes science and tech research at Douglas.

Student Research Ambassadors work within their faculties to raise awareness of research, share opportunities and get their fellow students involved.

Our current SRAs, Megan Scott (Health Sciences), Lauren Wittal (Health Sciences), Cassidy Penney (Science and Technology) and Jennifer Browning (Humanities and Social Sciences) share why they applied for the role, what they’ve been up to, and how the experience has enriched their time at Douglas.

A life-changing experience

After taking a Research Methods (SPSC 3256) course, Cassidy, a fourth-year Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching student, was intrigued by the research process.

 “One of my main jobs has been to promote science and tech research at Douglas College through social media,” says Cassidy. “That has involved collecting stories on current projects. It’s so neat to be able to get a glimpse into another field of research through the eyes of the researchers themselves.”

Read more: This Chemistry instructor is turning coffee grounds into biofuel.

Lauren, a third-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing student, was intimidated by the thought of being involved with research, but that’s exactly what led her to become an SRA.

Lauren Wittal, Bachelor of Science in Nursing student at Douglas College.
Lauren Wittal was once intimidated by research, but not anymore.

“I felt research was something only people with a PhD could do,” she says. “I wanted to get a better understanding of research, how it is conducted and, additionally, as a BSN student, I wanted to increase my understanding of research to follow evidence-based practice.”

One of the highlights of being an SRA for Lauren has been supporting a study on the lived experience of nurses during COVID-19.

“This study has been so eye opening.  I have talked with nurses who have been working on the front lines for a year,” she says. “Through virtual focus groups, I’ve heard about their challenges, their strengths, and what has given them hope. Actively participating in research has been a life-changing experience.”

Read more: This Sport Science instructor created a video game to help rehabilitate stroke victims.

Jennifer, a second-year Criminology student, was interested in different disciplines and how they informed criminology. 

“I am also a curious person by nature, so I love to know what kinds of questions people are asking and how they are going about finding the answers,” she says.

Jennifer got involved in the first Humanities and Social Sciences Poster Board Event, which involves recruiting and managing presenters, working with faculty, and a lot of organization.

“Even though we are still in the recruitment phase, it’s shaping up to be an exciting event that I hope Douglas students will want to attend.”

Megan, a third-year student in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, got her first taste of being involved with research as a member of the Douglas Student Union’s Health Sciences Journal Club. Since then she has gotten involved in research much as possible.

Being an SRA helps you to engage more with faculty, other students and the College as a whole.

Jennifer Browning, criminology student

“Being in the nursing program, I quickly realized how important it is to be involved in research, as health science rapidly evolves,” she says.

Megan has worked with fellow RA Lauren to create a Health Sciences Research social media presence as well as promote ways to get involved in research at the College. “We created an Instagram page and also post to the Research at Douglas Facebook page,” says Megan.

“We have also been active members of the BSPN Research Interest Group, which is made up of Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing students and faculty members who come together to share, participate and facilitate research, and we sit in on meetings with the Research and Scholarly Activity Committee, as well as provide support to faculty research projects.”

Read more: This English instructor is telling true tales of dementia through comics.

The best thing you’ll ever do

Lauren says becoming an SRA is the best thing you’ll ever do at Douglas.

“When we get involved, we get so much more out of our education. Not only does it look good on a resume, but the experience of analyzing a journal article or conducting a research study is an amazing learning opportunity.”

Megan Scott, Bachelor of Science in Nursing student at Douglas College.
As she prepares for a career in health sciences, Megan Scott knows the value of actively taking part in research.

“Being an SRA helps you to engage more with faculty, other students and the college as a whole,” adds Jennifer. “I feel a much greater connection to Douglas now, which I didn’t think was possible with everything being online.”

“It is truly amazing how much engaging in research at Douglas has enhanced my educational experience,” Megan says. “I feel so connected with resources throughout various different departments. I am so thankful for this opportunity.”

Want to become a Student Research Ambassador? Visit the Douglas Careers site and keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities at the start of each semester. You can also join our Facebook group, Research at Douglas, to learn more.


4 ways the Career Centre can help you plan for your dream job

Have you thought about what you’ll do after you graduate? Do you want to find a part-time job, try a few jobs before you choose your career, or gain skills and experience through a Co-op semester?

The Career Centre is your go-to for all these questions and more. They offer programs and services to help you learn how to apply your academic knowledge to your work and plan for your future.

Career clinics

These are a series of weekly workshops to help you learn what to do, and what not to do, on your career path. There are 28 topics, including how to write resumes and cover letters, how to network and use LinkedIn, job search techniques, negotiation skills and more. Additional specialized workshops are offered throughout the semester. You can check the events calendar on CareerHUB.

1:1 coaching by appointment

Career coaches are there to support and champion you through your job search, applications and interviews. They can teach you about cultural awareness, answer your questions and help you work through any concerns. Book an appointment on CareerHUB.

Career Boost program for post-degree students

If you’re a student in a post-degree program, this is where you will develop skills and knowledge about the local market to help you succeed in your job search. Hone your skills while you look for work to complement your study area. Join anytime in the semester and get career coaching to support you to reach your goals.

Co-operative education program

Co-op alternates a semester of academic studies with a semester of paid, full-time work. You’ll get hands-on work experience that’s relevant to your career. Students typically take their first Co-op terms in the third semester of their program. This is a great opportunity to apply classroom theory to a real work environment, build self-confidence and gain experience for your resume. You can find a list of all eligible programs for Co-op on this page.

Visit mycareer.douglascollege.ca for workshop dates and times.

Discovering his passion: how this alum’s time at Douglas helped him build the foundation for his career

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

Psychology alum Aran Armutlu not only earned a degree at Douglas, he also gained an interest in advocating for students and education. 

“I’m a firm believer that education leads to social and economic mobility,” says Aran, who now works as a Student Engagement Coordinator at Simon Fraser University (SFU), developing workshops, volunteer opportunities and leadership programs for students. “When we reduce barriers for people to access quality education, we are directly and positively impacting a person’s ability to create opportunity for themselves. I think it’s really important for people from different walks of life to have access to education.”  

A rocky start

Despite Aran’s interest in education, his own relationship with it wasn’t always positive.

“At 17 I had no idea what I wanted to do,” says Aran, who started his post-secondary journey at Concordia University pursuing a business degree. “Business wasn’t something I was really interested in, and I wasn’t sure if I was even ready for university. I felt directionless.”

Knowing that business wasn’t his path, Aran took time off to work and figure out what he wanted to study. After two years and some soul-searching, he decided to come to Douglas for a change of pace and a fresh start.

“I told myself I wanted to do it differently this time,” he says. “I wanted to find opportunities, get involved and explore what I wanted to study. Feeling connected to my school was the biggest thing for me.”

Aran did just that. Shortly after starting at Douglas, he joined the Student Ambassador program, where he got involved with student orientation and helping students transition to college life.

“I immediately felt connected to my peers, and that I had found my sense of place,” says Aran.

Read more: How Student Ambassadors play an integral role in the future of Douglas College

Advocating for students  

This newfound connection extended to academics. Studying at a college allowed Aran to get a quality education at a more affordable price. This gave him the freedom to explore a wide range of subjects as he figured out what he wanted to focus on, which turned out to be psychology. He planned to take the first two years of his bachelor’s degree at Douglas and transfer to university. Then, fate intervened.

“Douglas announced the Applied Psychology degree program and I knew I had to stay,” he says. “I loved it at Douglas. I loved the smaller community feel in my classes, the connections I’d made and my professors.”

Staying at Douglas meant getting more involved on campus as well. Because he’d already forged strong relationships with his peers and fellow Student Ambassadors, he continued building on that foundation.

“Instead of starting again and having to build new relationships at a new school, I took bigger steps at Douglas and got involved with the Douglas Students’ Union,” says Aran.

And the decision paid off. Aran was elected to the DSU’s board as the Director of Finance and Staff Relations Officer, where he worked with faculty and administration to improve the student learning experience and make education more affordable. He went on to become chairperson of the B.C. Federation of Students (BCFS), a provincial-level student union. 

Discovering a career

While Aran’s interest in advocating for students was fostered by his involvement in student leadership, it was long-standing Douglas physics instructor, Jennifer Kirkey, who introduced him to another one of his interests: Open Educational Resources.

OERs are public domain, no-cost and freely accessible resources – such as textbooks, multi-media files, software and much more – that are created to increase access to education and knowledge.

 “The whole point is to reduce as many barriers as possible to knowledge and make it less about ownership and more about accessibility,” Aran explains. “It really caught my interest, and I knew it’d be a huge benefit for students.”

As part of the DSU and BCFS, Aran helped adopt OERs both at Douglas and at post-secondary institutions across the province. He is currently a member of SFU’s OER Working Group, where he works to create awareness and build capacity for adopting OERs.

In 2019, Aran was the 15th recipient of BC Campus’s Award for Excellence in Open Education, an honour that his former instructor, Jennifer Kirkey, also received.  

“Education is a huge social justice issue – it has an impact on society as a whole. It’s why I care so much about the work I do,” says Aran.  

SHIFT-ing the Conversation: An interview with Jakub Burkowicz

SHIFT 2021 aims to explore and uncover the wide-ranging social impacts of COVID-19. Panels and community dialogue sessions will feature stories, lived experiences, arts, and culture. This event series will zero in on sexual and gender-based violence, mental health and well-being, anti-racism and decolonization, and what we as individuals and a society can – and should – do in these novel times.

Jakub Burkowicz, a sociologist and faculty member at Douglas College, will be a panelist for the Teaching Showcase. (March 4, 2021, 10:30am)

We chatted with Jakub about why he got involved with SHIFT, what he thinks about systemic racism and how to create anti-racist virtual classrooms.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be involved in SHIFT

I first learned about SHIFT when I started working at Douglas College in 2017. I was in the same department as Lisa Smith, Chair of Anthropology and Sociology, who is on the organizing committee, and I accepted her invitation to moderate a SHIFT panel that year called Women’s Sport as Politics. This time I will be presenting at the Teaching Showcase where I will give a talk on how white educators like me can implement anti-racism in the classroom. My teaching and research areas are race and ethnicity, social movements and social theory, and I am excited to draw insights from all three for this event.

  1. SHIFT is about tracing the social impacts of COVID-19 and places a focus on dialogue and conversation. Can you share with us a social issue (or two or three) you feel needs to be brought to light and why?

The social issue I will be tackling is racism in the classroom. In an obvious sense, racism itself is spotlighted in the media as movements push for social change. If movements like Black Lives Matter indicate anything, it is the growing willingness in the general population to recognize systemic racism as a social issue, especially as it concerns police brutality. While that is important, Canadians are less willing to recognize systemic racism in other institutions, like education for example. That’s where I come in. I see myself, especially as a white person, as being responsible for doing something about it. Systemic racism doesn’t just affect police departments – it’s endemic to social institutions in general.

  1. For you, what does equitable, anti-racist teaching look like in a virtual classroom?

You don’t get to read people the same way in a virtual classroom. I remember teaching a class on white privilege before the pandemic and seeing one of my students tense up. I was able to say to them, “You look uncomfortable with this.” I could address that, and I can’t do that in a virtual classroom. My lectures are all asynchronous, so there is also that lack of real-time interaction with students. 

What this means is that now I focus exclusively on the discussion boards and written assignments. If students embody racial prejudice, I see it as my job to point it out to them. But it’s never that straightforward. Students do not tend to openly announce their biases. This means that I must read between the proverbial lines and look for unconscious biases reflected in things like denying or downplaying racism or taking Eurocentrism for granted. It also means extending that invitation to my students to call me out if they ever see me engaging in those kinds of behaviours. Normalizing this is, I think, quite healthy. 

Besides that, anti-racist teaching in the virtual classroom also means creating space for BIPOC students. I do so by encouraging students to share how they identify, and acknowledging and examining how our social identities shape our perspectives.   

SHIFT-ing the conversation: An interview with Amber Brown

SHIFT 2021 aims to explore and uncover the wide-ranging social impacts of COVID-19. Panels and community dialogue sessions will feature stories, lived experiences, arts, and culture. This event series will zero in on sexual and gender-based violence, mental health and well-being, anti-racism and decolonization, and what we as individuals and a society can – and should – do in these novel times.

Amber Brown, a fourth-year student in the Honours Applied Psychology program at Douglas College, will be moderating the Student Research Showcase (Wednesday, March 03, at 1:30 PM).

Amber provided us with some insight into her work with SHIFT and the impact of COVID-19 on communities and research.   

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be involved in SHIFT

I am currently an Honours student in Psychology pursuing explorative multicultural research towards Indigenous peoples at Douglas College. Learning about SHIFT from passionate faculty members is how I got involved, and I stay on with the project because I want to support student-led research. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to the DC research community and contribute to what I hope to be an empowering experience for other student researchers.

  1. SHIFT is about tracing the social impacts of COVID-19 and places a focus on dialogue and conversation. Can you share a social issue (or two or three) you feel needs to be brought to light and why? 

The ability to self-isolate in a safe place is a privilege in a pandemic world, as many who live in unstable or violent households are unable to do so. This dynamic is evident from the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. At the same time, many shelters and temporary housing options have had to decrease their occupancy due to COVID regulations. Overall, we are failing people who face housing security and domestic violence and much more government support is needed.  

  1. How do you think researchers have had to adjust their focus and methods in light of the urgency of the pandemic and its devastating impact on communities?   

I’ve noticed that, with a seemingly universal sense of loss and uncertainty, people can forget to consider the systems that were failing beforethe pandemic. Despite all of us going through it together, the pandemic has intensified existing stratifications of class, leaving vulnerable groups further behind. Many researchers have had to turn to a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” approach, highlighting ‘loud’ or palatable social issues in hopes of securing needed attention and support for vulnerable communities.

While I understand the rationale behind this, I am afraid it will take us on a dangerous path. Often, research focused on marginalized communities can lead members of those groups to feel like they are another statistic with the odds against them. I want to avoid these groups feeling ‘researched to death’ but rather research them back to life.

I would like to see research that promotes what is currently working for these communities, what success looks like for them, and to show the public and policymakers that these groups are more than capable when supported.