The CSA’s Academics your way: Making a difference

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Written by Peter Miller

Academics your way: Making a difference was an event held by the CSA during Orientation week. It provided students with information about how to take control of their academic career and study what they are passionate about.

It was an event of mostly first years with around 15 students. Presenters included Deaglan McManus, a recent graduate at the University of Guelph who is the Academic and University Affairs Commissioner for the undergraduate student union. He has experience in research as well as choosing one’s own program, graduating in an Individual Studies major titled Community Organizing for Social Change.  Dave Hudson presented as well. He is a librarian at the university, who helps students with research, as well as, conducts research of his own.

The event started with a discussion about how to look up courses at the university that one could be interested in. Deaglan McManus pointed out that webadvisor is not the best place to look for courses to take. Courses that come up on the site are only the ones offered during the semester. An alternative that was provided is going to the academic calendar on the university’s website. Every single course in each department is available to look into on the academic calendar. On the calendar, students can find courses that are not offered very often, and even take the initiative to ask professors to advocate for classes to be offered during the semester. Participants in the event were encouraged to look through the academic calendar and see if there are any courses that they are interested in. One course that is hidden away from students is Introduction to Marx that is offered as an Interdisciplinary Social Science course at the University of Guelph and not offered every semester.

After this discussion, participants were informed about the possibility to create their own degree at the university. Deaglan created his own major under the individual studies program. After reading an article in the Peak titled Designing your own major he met with an upper year student in the program, created an outline of courses he would take for his major, and brought the outline, along with explanations for the reasoning behind each course and how it connected with his unique degree, to a committee. Individual Studies is a way to design a program about something you are passionate about, and participants at the event were interested in the process behind creating a program of their own.

For the next section of the presentation Dave Hudson asked those in attendance what they are passionate about. There was an exercise on how to relate and make connections with one’s passion and one’s particular academic discipline. During the exercise, participants discussed a few examples, including the connections that can be made if someone is interested in local food and psychology. Participants were creative, thinking on the spot and coming up with the idea that someone passionate about those two topics could research community well being and local food, what influences hinder or help people to buy local food, and so on. Dave discussed how he takes part in slam poetry, and often researches about history for his art, allowing himself to connect two of his passions together.

Dave also discussed using the library as a resource. He emphasized that libraries are diverse spaces, with diverse resources that can help students make connections between subjects that they are passionate about. He mentioned that there is a database in the library that focuses on providing articles from alternative newspapers, and also brought up that there are other libraries on campus, including one at OPIRG Guelph, and the Guelph Resource Centre for Gender Empowerment and Diversity. He encouraged students to make the library their own space by taking part in collaborative learning on the first and fourth floor, taking advantage of quiet study space in the rest of the library, and utilizing different resources in the library, including the research help desk.  He did not forget to provide examples about how the community could be a resource, allowing students to get involved in things they are passionate about.

Dave Hudson said that the main thing he wanted people to take away from the event was that “people’s imagination is really important when they are trying to plan out and think about what direction they want to pursue in their academic career. It’s not just what is written in the academic calendar; it’s what you imagine too. I think there are a lot of avenues that you can pursue that allow yourself to be creative; allow yourself to make connections between subjects you are passionate about.”

The event provided a valuable alternative to other events during orientation week that can be heavy on school spirit. When asked about what he wanted participants to take away from the event, Deaglan said, “Don’t give up on what you care about, don’t give up on the questions that you brought to university or that come to you during the course of earning your degree just for the sake of earning a degree.”



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