By Melissa Nilan, Student Life
Last night, the Student Leadership Awards ceremony honoured this year’s winners and nominees. Typically an extravagant in-person event, the ceremony was held online for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. Together, attendees watched a video of speeches celebrating the incredible work and leadership of the eight award winners, followed by a virtual social gathering. Over 50 guests logged in to show their support for the winners and nominees.
If you missed out on attending last night, it’s not too late to watch the ceremony video.
Congratulations to all the winners and nominees of the 2021 Student Leadership Awards.
Student Leader Award of Distinction
Living Big Student Leader of the Year Award of Distinction
Caitlin Spreeuw, Associate of Science Diploma – WINNER
“Caitlin is passionate about open educational resources (OER) and is dedicated to the challenge of increasing OER use at Douglas College. She is an active member of both the Open Douglas working group and the Douglas College Open Education Strategic Initiative Team, which is newly formed by Senior Management. She passionately and eloquently brings the voice of students to all meetings. Caitlin coordinates all of the DSU events for their activities during Open Access Week and Open Education Week. Open Douglas couldn’t have a better partner in Open Education than in our DSU, and that is thanks to Caitlin’s leadership.” – Debra Flewelling, Open Education Librarian, Learning Resources (nominator)
Cody Goodman, Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing – WINNER
“Under Cody’s leadership as Vice-President of Peer Mentorship in the Department of Psychiatric Nursing, the BSPN Peer Mentorship expanded its purview. Any leader needs to take initiative, have a vision, and be willing to commit time and energy to their cause; Cody has repeatedly demonstrated these characteristics. I have witnessed Cody cultivate a growing community of peer support, actively recruit members of the BSPN community to assume leadership roles and mentors others to ensure their success. Cody is masterful at instilling hope and empowering others.” – Marlene Graveson, Student Coordinator/Faculty, Department of Psychiatric Nursing (nominator)
Community Builder of the Year Award
Melissa Chirino, Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Criminology – WINNER
“Melissa is an honest student who has a passion for helping others. Her vision at Douglas has always been to provide assistance and support to students. Melissa is someone who is a leader but also a team player; she will never make anyone feel uncomfortable or feel like there is a hierarchy. During COVID, Melissa – along with others – had to bring the Douglas community online. She thought of ways to interact with students, especially those joining in from other countries. She hosted Netflix parties, game nights and much more.” — Gurpinder Gaidu, DSU Women’s Representative, Criminology student (nominator)
Nikiel Lal, Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching – WINNER
“Nikiel has been involved in several departments around the school, he was a Campus Representative at the Douglas Students’ Union and went on to be the Director of External Relations. He is also the Sport Science Student Council President. He has shown a lot of leadership skills around the College; he exhibits optimism, is a go-getter, kind and enjoys building a community at Douglas.” – Amrita Ramkumar, Campus Representative – NW, DSU (nominator)
NOMINEES for Student Leader Award of Distinction
Congratulations to all the students who were nominated for the Student Leader Award of Distinction.
- Hannah Bakken
- Hemnesh Ramwani
- Jaden Haywood
- Jennifer Way
- Jennifer Tong
- John Paul Escala
- Kristen Apodaca
- Luke Stanisavljevic
- Megan Scott
- Reid Marriott
- Suhakshi Arora
- Sydney Griffin-Beale
Up and Coming Leader of the Year Award
Axel Bernoe, Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing – WINNER
“Axel has been an amazing volunteer with the Student Ambassadors (SA) over the past year. He joined during the pandemic but was noticed by all of us not only for his willingness to help but his dedication to the program. He was recognized for his commitment to the SA program as both SA of the Month and as a recipient of the Student Ambassador Award of Distinction. He had one of the highest numbers of volunteer hours over the past two semesters; while many volunteers struggled to make the reduced minimum hours, he still hit 20 hours. He’s been elected to the DSU board for 2021-2022 and will only become more ingrained within the Douglas community through his bachelor’s program.” – John Kingsley, Future Students’ Office staff (nominator)
Lauren Wittal, Bachelor of Science in Nursing – WINNER
“Lauren is a very strong and positive student who is committed to improving the world around her. She is active in supporting students in nursing through the peer mentorship program. She also supports the community by working with Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister Adrian Dix in creating targeted social media messaging for youth-related to COVID-19. She is a true leader. As a Research Ambassador, she supports students to engage in a community of practice related to research and scholarship via a journal club and supports faculty and fellow students in their own research projects. She helps facilitate the Psychiatric Nursing Research Interest Group as well as the Health Sciences Research and Scholarly Activity committee. She leads by example and is an exceptional student and Research Ambassador.” – Ruhina Rana, Faculty, Health Sciences Research Coordinator/ Nursing, Health Sciences (nominator)
Ariel Ataiza, Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care – WINNER
“Ariel has worked with the Student Life department for several semesters, creating student connection and community on campus. He has been an active student on campus in a number of capacities: as a participant in events and programming, a volunteer, a leader and as student staff. Ariel has demonstrated he has a strong awareness of the ever-changing needs of the student population. His involvement in the community has given him a foundation to develop meaningful programming that supports and engages his peers. In meetings and student group training, he gives space to his quieter peers and demonstrates active listening; giving the floor for others to share their thoughts and ideas in a judgement-free zone. Not only is Ariel a valued member of the Student Life team, but he is also a part of the Douglas College Education Council and Director of Membership at the Douglas Students’ Union.” – Andrea Tran, Student Life Coordinator, Student Life (nominator)
NOMINEES for Up and Coming Leader of the Year Award
Congratulations to all the students who were nominated for the Up and Coming Leader of the Year Award.
- Arnaldo Fragozo
- Megan Scott
- Tanisha Soni
Outstanding Contribution to Student Engagement by College Faculty Member Award
Marlene Graveson, Student Coordinator/Faculty, Psychiatric Nursing Department – WINNER
“Marlene is a passionate, committed exemplary nurse and faculty in Psychiatric Nursing and a strong student advocate. She cares deeply for her students and instills a sense of pride in the profession. Marlene, in her current role, is committed to truth and reconciliation calls to action; she has developed a meaningful partnership with Indigenous Student Services and has initiated exit interviews with recently graduated Indigenous students about their learning experience. She is a silent partner behind the peer mentorship group, self-care booth, monthly student recognition and journal club. Marlene promotes resiliency and success in the student body. During this time of pandemic stress and uncertainly, Marlene had taken the lead in focusing on student and faculty mental health and well-being, arranging the use of a program called ThriveRU, which provides weekly activities for students to do on their own to help develop resiliency. Marlene is sincere and supportive in every situation, and inspires leadership in our next generation of students.” – Joan Crisp, Psychiatric Nursing Curriculum and Program Evaluation Coordinator (nominator)
“Marlene has worked in a faculty liaison position for the PNUR Mentorship program for longer than I have been in the Psychiatric Nursing program. She models a positive and supportive nursing culture. This has translated into a strong and supportive PNUR Mentorship program. She is always excited to help us support the PNUR student population at large, and pushes our leadership team to achieve greater goals. She is encouraging and vibrant, even during these tough times, and she is always receptive to hearing our ideas about creating a supportive and connected PNUR population.” – Cody Goodman, Psychiatric Nursing student (nominator)
NOMINEES for Outstanding Contribution to Student Engagement by College Faculty Member Award
Congratulations to all the faculty members who were nominated for Outstanding Contribution to Student Engagement by College Faculty Member Award.
- Daniela Pacheva
- Julie Crothers
- Ruhina Rana
- Wesley Snider
- Tina Fusco
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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’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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.