Renaissance rewards

William Lou
February 12, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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The Drs. Jolie Ringash and Glen Bandiera Renaissance Award is giving three McMaster students the chance to explore the world with a completely different lens.

The award was established by the husband and wife duo with the goal of facilitating interdisciplinary opportunities for students. Each year, up to $25,000 is allocated for students to travel and engage in a project in a field of study unrelated to their own.

Rachel Brain and Maia Stevenson are two of the winners, both fourth-year Arts and Science students who are planning on traveling together for their project. They’ve been good friends since high school and are living together, so the experience of a long-distance exchange trip with someone else is much less daunting for the two.

“It’d be something totally different if either of us were doing it alone,” said Stevenson.

“We really enjoyed the idea of creating a project on our own, not under the instruction of a supervisor, and being trusted to see it through,” Stevenson later added.

Brain and Stevenson’s plan is to spend the first two and a half months with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a labour exchange program that pairs individuals with farm hosts. They’ll be traveling from farm to farm on the west coast, from Vancouver to San Francisco, where they’ll work and learn on the farms in return for room and board.

After, they’ll be returning to their hometown of Sault St. Marie for the last six weeks of summer, where they’ll attempt to follow a 100-mile diet, only consuming products that have been entirely produced within 100 miles.

“One of our big interests was in sustainable food supply chains and how they work in reality,” said Brain.

“There’s a lot of things we have to consider, and that’ll end up being quite restrictive.”

This means that some sacrifices are going to be made.

“Cheese, coffee, wine, chocolate,” said Stevenson, listing off a few of the items that they’ll be going without.

But they’re excited for both parts of the project, and plan on documenting their whole process from the farms to their food intake.

“We didn’t want to jump into a local diet with no practical experience about actual food production. We both also have grandparents who immigrated to Canada, where farming was a large part of their lifestyle,” said Stevenson.

“There’s a bit of a desire there for both of us, at some point in the future, to be able to produce a portion of our own diet.”

Nabil Khaja is the other award recipient; he’s a fourth-year Honours Biology and Psychology student who’s looking to better understand what exactly the optimal healthy lifestyle entails.

“I was like, ‘what metric am I going to use?’ Probably longevity; when you live the longest, evidently they must be doing something right.”

Through this thought process, Khaja found that Okinawa, Japan has the highest rate of centenarians, individuals who live to the age of 100 years. After determining that there wasn’t only a genetic influence on their long lifespan, Khaja will be traveling there for the first two months of summer. There he’ll learn about the Okinawan lifestyle, such as their coping and eating habits.

“I’m kind of going from neuroscience to social gerontology,” he said. “But it’s nice – when you’re stuck in one discipline for a number of years, you get really good at it, but then you also fall into a very specific mold of thinking. It can almost be toxic to your creativity.”

Looking at the literature, Khaja has found that those who successfully age are the ones who are able to continue to find meaning in their lives as the people who surround them leave or pass away. The ability to use “meaning-enhancing strategies”, as Khaja refers to them, is something he sees as relevant to the university student, fresh from high school and struggling to come to terms with their new surroundings and stresses.

“This project just started as a poster on the wall,” Khaja said.

“The point of the project has been to break the mold of what I’m used to doing ... [but] it’s become more of a personal endeavor.”

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