Student Sustainability Ambassador Program connects sustainability student leaders to provide support and resources during COVID-19
C/O Bram Naus
The 2020-21 academic year was like none other, given the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and online classes at McMaster University. Despite the challenges, one program that helped students stay connected and build community during lockdown was the Student Sustainability Ambassador Program.
The program launched in October 2020 after discussions between McMaster Hospitality Services and the academic sustainability programs office recognized a need for greater collaboration between sustainability-minded student leaders.
“We noticed that student groups seemed to be running similar events, pursuing similar goals and tackling similar problems as other groups. We scanned campus and found more than 30 clubs focused on sustainability efforts . . . We saw an opportunity to support these groups in having an even bigger impact through collaboration,” explained Abbie Little, the community relations coordinator and experiential learning for the academic sustainability programs office.
The program was implemented and run by hospitality services along with facility services and the McMaster Students Union. It was started with funding support from the McMaster Okanagan Special Charter program.
This funding was awarded in 2020 to SSAP as it focused on improving the health and well-being of the community, specifically by creating new engagement opportunities for students and empowering their leadership.
The SSAP’s mission is to support student leadership experiential learning while promoting personal and professional development in sustainability initiatives. SSAP outlined three objectives to achieve this mission: increase student awareness on academic sustainability, empower students to be leaders in sustainability through active learning and provide support in their projects and plans of action.
Since its launch, SSAP has gained over 115 members in its private Facebook group, which allowed students to learn, collaborate and support each other’s sustainability initiatives.
“Everyone that runs the program, as well on the faculty side, is very passionate and very supportive of everyone . . . It's been great meeting with them even throughout being online all the time,” explained Callum Hales. Hales is a member of this Facebook group and a sustainability minor student currently in SUSTAIN 3S03 working on a solitary bees project.
Crystal Zhang, another member of the SSAP Facebook group and sustainability minor student echoed Hales’ sentiments.
“I'm part of the Facebook group and I really enjoyed [it] because there are so many different initiatives and so much information . . . they always have a way [for students] to get involved and I really like that about the sustainability department and community,” explained Zhang.
“Everyone that runs the program, as well on the faculty side, is very passionate and very supportive of everyone . . . It's been great meeting with them even throughout being online all the time,” explained Callum Hales.
This year, Zhang was a part of a tree planting project in collaboration with local Hamilton organizations and with support from the sustainability department.
“They really helped us out a lot. [They] showed us the whole tree planting process, even without us actually being there,” explained Zhang, who was able to plant over 100 trees on campus with her team.
Hales described SSAP and the sustainability courses in general to be insightful in broadening your perspective.
“It’s a very good way of bringing together a bunch of different disciplines [to see sustainability] from a multi-faceted view instead of like through a single lens,” explained Hales.
The SSAP is also open to all students across all disciplines and Hales believed that the SSAP program could be applied anywhere across campus.
Hales also encouraged all students to take part in sustainability groups. The student plans on incorporating sustainability in his future career because of the positive impact the student projects have had on him.
Zhang explained that sustainability projects have allowed her to develop critical thinking and writing skills.
“We are going through the climate crisis and I feel like what I’ve learned is really critically thinking about the decisions being made by people in power and where our world is going in terms of sustainability right now,” explained Zhang.
SSAP also hosted monthly Coffee and Collaboration Chats where students shared their ongoing ideas and connected each other to useful resources.
“Students in clubs share their plans and resources and have a discussion board [where they] can post about local and global sustainability topics and event opportunities which helps to form a sense of community. We also offer special project funding to individuals or groups looking for financial support to launch their sustainable projects in their own community,” said Little.
The Sustainability Student Ambassadors Program (SSAP) is offering up to $300 for in Special Project Funding for McMaster...Posted by McMaster Academic Sustainability Programs Office on Thursday, February 18, 2021
“We have several goals we aim to achieve with the program and one of them is to provide educational workshops on topics that students want to learn more about . . . We heard from students that during the pandemic, they wanted to learn about ways they could be active members of their community from the safety of their homes,” explained Little.
Alongside these chats, SSAP provided educational workshops to help build students’ leadership skills.
One such event was the advocacy letter writing workshop held in February 2021, which was developed in collaboration with McMaster graduate Jamie Stuckless, who is an expert policy consultant, writer and transportation professional.
McMaster's Student Sustainability Ambassador Program (SSAP), McMaster's Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability...Posted by McMaster Academic Sustainability Programs Office on Tuesday, January 19, 2021
The workshop included an overview of how students should structure their letters, what specific factors about the audience they should consider, what they should ask for in a letter and the differences between writing on behalf of an individual or a group.
“We looked through a few examples of advocacy letters and then put attendees in a few breakout rooms to practice writing their own advocacy letter on a given topic . . . The workshop was well attended and participants reported in a survey that they found it to be informative, fun and engaging,” emphasized Little.
Throughout the year, SSAP has been a place of community and collaboration for students, despite the pandemic.
“We hope that the impact of providing students with resources and tools will empower them to create positive change in their communities that will reach far and wide. The program itself is an example of what can be accomplished through collaboration, even when collaborating remotely,” said Little.
By: Eden Wondmeneh
As a first-year student living on residence, I had to cough up an outrageous amount of money for a mediocre living experience.
Separate from the fees, incoming students wishing to have a guaranteed residence space on-campus must achieve, at minimum, an 81.5 per cent in their senior year of high school.
It’s as if an acceptance to McMaster is not enough to attend the university, with residence being the only option for many out-of-province students.
Even if you find yourself as one of the almost 3700 students living on McMaster residence, you are expected to move out promptly after your final exam in April. In fact, you are expected to leave residence by 3:00 p.m. on the very next day.
With the average cost of living at Mac being just under $12,000, this deadline does not fit with what students have paid for. It likely exists in order to stagger students’ departure as a way to prevent chaos and large wait times, but for many students it’s an impossible deadline to meet.
As it is an odd request for students to pack up their entire dorm so quickly after their final exams, students with ‘legitimate’ reasons for not being able to meet the deadline can apply for an extension.
Those that can apply for this extension are international and out-of-province students with travel requirements, those with exceptional circumstances or those with academic requirements to fulfill like a new exam or deferred lab. But even if a student has one of these ‘legitimate’ reasons, there is still a chance that the extension won’t be granted.
Ultimately, the terms of the extension application are made so that students who have assignment accommodations, need time before their new lease or sublet agreements take affect, have extracurricular commitments or have storage needs till the end of term have no options and are scrambling to find alternative accommodations.
It’s as if these aren’t legitimate reasons to need to stay in a dorm room, that you have already paid for, until the official end of term.
I am currently struggling to figure out what to do come the end of term. My exams happen to fall on the earlier spectrum of exam season, and since my family is scattered across America during my assigned move-out date, I’m stuck between an alarmingly expensive taxi ride back home or a cheaper but nightmarish, impossible GO bus trip with my 40 pieces of luggage.
My situation is much easier to deal with than those who are from out of town or students with accessibility accommodations, who need to stay in Hamilton for a few days or weeks extra.
The entire purpose of residence is to make university life, both academic and social, accessible and convenient for students; a goal that the move-out policy directly opposes.
Students shouldn’t have to request an extension at all, but for the sake of staggering departure times, students should be able to request and receive an extension for a much broader list of reasons than that which currently exists.
In doing so, McMaster can make exam season a little less strenuous for the students who paid to live on-campus until the end of term.
By: Neda Pirouzmand
On Feb. 27, the McMaster Students Union sustainability education committee began their three day “Compost at Mac” education campaign in partnership with the academic sustainability programs office and the MSU Maroons.
The campaign marked the beginning of a movement to create more opportunities for students to engage with long-term investment towards changing McMaster’s sustainability practices.
The committee set up a booth in front of Union Market in the McMaster University Student Centre for students to take home herb plants for free.
In addition, the committee distributed cards highlighting the locations of the new compost bins that have been installed across campus.
The new bins have been placed on the first and second floors of Mills Memorial Library and the H.G. Thode Library.
Bins can also be found in front of Union Market in MUSC, in Burke Science Building and in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery near the Tim Hortons cafe.
Tasneem Warwani, the MSU associate vice-president (University Affairs) and a member of the MSU sustainability education committee, acknowledges the importance of coordinating efforts within the MSU to achieve sustainability goals.
“I think the MSU definitely plays a role in advocating for issues such as no waste. We represent the needs and wants of our students, and this is definitely an important and topical issue,” she said.
According to Warwani, system-wide changes will only be effective with the combined effort of many teams as the task is simply too big otherwise.
Warwani expects the committee to undertake work in the near future that could set the stage for a wave of change in sustainability practices at McMaster.
Without compost bins, solid and organic waste go straight to landfills. The piling of waste in landfills prevents oxygen from reaching buried food waste, causing food waste to produce methane gas.
According to the Canadian government, methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming.
Diverting organic waste from landfills prevents hazardous effects while simultaneously allowing for the proper harnessing of methane gas for renewable energy.
The Ontario government has publicly available information on its major landfills. Currently, Hamilton houses one of the largest landfill sites in Ontario in the Glanbrook district.
Based on available information, there are less than 200 years left until this landfill runs out of space. This creates another reason to remove unnecessary organic waste from landfills.
In addition to green bins, McMaster also has electronics recycling bin drop-off locations in a number of campus buildings, including the Arthur Bourns Building, John Hopkins Engineering Building, Information Technology Building and the Ivor Wynne Centre.
Created because electronics contain harmful chemicals and cannot be easily responsibly disposed of, drop off centres take products like computers, hair dryers and microwaves.
“We are interested to see what other initiatives we can encourage next year’s committee to run. We got a ton of great feedback about the reusable cutlery,” said Connor Maclean, the chair of the committee. “I think making sustainability convenient for students can get so many people engaged in environmental protection and preservation.”
Over the next few weeks, the MSU sustainability education committee will be taking the feedback it received from last week’s campaign to advocate for more green bins on campus.
By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele
The Student Success Centre is pleased to launch the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network (UPTN), a new network for students to access affordable, quality student tutors, both in-person and online. The platform is powered by TutorOcean, a relatively new start-up company that was selected in partnership with the McMaster Engineering Society. Differing from other academic services available, this network is a chance to connect with another student who successfully completed the course; tutors must have received an A- to provide services.
“Through the Student Life Enhancement Fund, all McMaster undergraduate students who access the network receive a subsidy for the first seven sessions, meaning they only pay $9 per hour,” says Jenna Storey, Academic Skills Program Coordinator for the Student Success Centre. “Tutors are available from all Faculties and an important part of this service.”
Gina Robinson, Director of the Student Success Centre, adds, “Providing quality and affordable tutoring is an important objective of this initiative. Finding sustainable funding for subsidy will need to be part the plan moving forward.”
Understanding that there are a number of gatekeeping courses (mandatory courses for students to complete their degree), the Student Success Centre continues to work with Faculties to ensure that these courses are available on the network. The Student Success Centre has also incorporated measures to ensure that tutors are well-prepared, offering a number of different sessions for tutors to become “McMaster Certified.”
As Jenna shares, “Students are encouraged to find a tutor who has a ‘McMaster Certified’ badge on their profile, indicating they have completed the tutor training session in accordance with best practices. This training focuses on running an effective session, ethical standards, and communication skills.”
The Undergrad Writing Centre continues to be another support available for students, and can be used at any stage of the writing process. All Writing Tutors have undergone training through the Student Success Centre, which has been externally recognized by the College Reading and Learning Association (CLRA).
Students can book up to ten appointments per semester for free. This semester, new drop-in writing support is also available Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Undergrad Writing Centre is located in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library.
Jill McMillan, Academic Skills Program Coordinator of the Student Success Centre, shares, “Writing remains is a key academic and life skill requirement. We are thrilled to have received certification recognition that demonstrates the quality of this peer based service. Students are supported in meeting their writing potential.”
Students looking for quick study tips and other academic support can connect with Academic Coaches, located in the SSC Lounge as well as in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library every Monday-Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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Thou shalt not sit at the edge of the row
Shimmying past a group of seated people is as difficult as an Olympic-grade obstacle course. You have to avoid knocking knees, impaling yourself against the back of the row in front of you and stepping on valuable belongings in the attempt to flail your way to an empty seat. All the while, you’re stiffly leaning forward and praying to God that your backpack won’t accidentally smack someone in the face and give them cause to sue. While there are some exceptions to this golden rule (say, if you happen to be left-handed, or if all the seats in the middle have already been taken, in which case this rule is void), be considerate and move in. Otherwise, if someone backpacks you in the face, it’s only karma.
Thou shalt not hog half the row of seats
While it’s definitely nice to be surrounded by your friends, remember that you’re not in lecture to have a reunion. You’re there to learn, which can be done no matter where you sit, and regardless of whether everyone in your crew is accounted for. Your obligation is not to be the designated usher for everyone you know, but to be considerate of the general public (i.e. your class). So if you decide to look out for your friends, then please, for the love of all that is good, divide and conquer. Don’t be that one person who takes up seven seats. Limit yourself to maybe one or two seats beside you, and meet up with everyone else after class is over. If that ends your friendship, then good riddance.
Thou shalt not leave drinks on the floor
This is Murphy’s Law in action. You’re placing your half-finished coffee in the vicinity of a bunch of limbs whose main purpose is to kick things over. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. Once you spill your coffee (and you will, inevitably, spill your coffee), it becomes a nuisance for you to clean it up. Since a lot of lecture halls are slanted, you’ve not only effectively forced all the following classes held in that lecture hall to wonder which jerk committed this indecency, but you’ve allowed it to spread. So either put it on the seat’s desk beside you or hold it securely. It might even be less of a hassle to wait until after class, where you can actually enjoy your beverage.
Thou shalt not speak over the professor
Nothing is worse than making the commendable feat of actually going to lecture, only to find that you can hardly hear anything the prof is saying. No one wants to hear you gossip about how wasted you got last weekend or whether so-and-so is interested in you. If a lack of general privacy for your personal affairs doesn’t concern you, then ask yourself why you’re in lecture in the first place if you don’t intend to learn. You are in a room filled with bleary-eyed faces, all of whom are copying down notes in attempt to actually be effective with their time. It’s time to have some respect for your peers. So put on your keener jeans and kindly zip it, or take the rest of your conversation outside.
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By: Kaiwen Song
My 2015 winter term was pretty hectic. I had to prepare for two group presentations, three tests, a quiz, a full-day club event and an interview. While that sounds like enough stressors for an entire term, it all took place this week — the week after reading week. The break provides students with a chance to relax and recharge before facing their academic and extracurricular workload for the rest of the term. Unfortunately, it can also cause entire weeks — usually the one after the break — to be chockfull of assessments and commitments. Instead of a more even distribution of tasks over time, reading week concentrates those tasks to a much shorter time span.
The difficult situation that students find themselves in as a result of reading week is by no means impossible to navigate, but it does require committed organization and time management skills. We can take advantage of the ample free time that the break does provide to adequately prepare for all of their assessments. Unfortunately this means we must now be simultaneously prepared for up to five midterms as the break compresses the semester.
Reading week is by no means impossible to navigate, but it does require committed organization.
Entering the break, we often have the false impression that we actually have a lot of time to prepare. A full week without class sounds like ample time. Many use the first few days to relax and unwind, and are then in a constant state of stress for the remaining days of the break. Others feel tempted to use reading week for a week-long vacation and find themselves overwhelmed when they return. The alternative is bringing the work on vacation, although that probably means you’ll fail at both reading and relaxing.
The break also makes group projects harder to complete as many students spend their week away from McMaster, which makes it much more difficult to meet in person.
Instead of feeling refreshed after the break, students experience burnout. We end up performing worse on midterms simply due to the stress that comes with all the assignments due the week back.
Reading week also impacts our exams. Because of the midterm recess there is no break between the end of classes and the beginning of exam period, which certainly doesn’t reduce the pressure.
There is one straightforward solution to all of these problems: remove reading week.
Assessments and extracurricular commitments will no longer be so concentrated, which may reduce student burnout and the intense demand for mental health services in the middle of the term. Students will also have more time to study for each individual assessment when they are spread out, which may result in better academic performance overall.
Best of all, there can now be a week between end of classes and the beginning of exams, a week that students can take full advantage of in order to excel academically.
Photo Credit: Camera Eye Photography
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Although it is only February, 2016 seems to be my year of introspection and big decisions. I am in my third year of the Arts and Science program and although I chose this degree to get exposure to a variety of fields, I pushed myself into focusing on biology — certainly not my favourite subject — with seemingly no pressure from anyone but myself. Unhappy with my schoolwork, this year I decided to change that. I took a step back and asked myself, what’s so appealing about science? Why is my story so common?
McMaster students may be more biased towards the sciences since our university is best known for its scientific research. With so much campus space designated for science students, it’s understandable to crave being part of that community. McMaster made a proactive choice when deciding to build L.R. Wilson Hall, a space for liberal arts students to feel the same sense of togetherness and appreciation that science students experience. Perhaps it will encourage students to embrace their interests and not feel pressured into a stream that doesn’t suit them. Perhaps not.
The way in which many students generally speak about the humanities is relatively simplified. When we talk about the humanities, we should be talking about philosophy, art history, French, communication studies, and linguistics, to provide a few examples. It is misguided and inaccurate to reduce a program to nothing but writing essays and calling that “easy.” Not everyone can communicate effectively enough to get a point across in an essay, just as not everyone is able to work well in a biology lab. Yet, we need both types of people. Part of the reason science is so appealing could be attributed to the seemingly infinite options it presents. But if science can be divided into chemistry, physics, biology, and technology, then let’s not forget to acknowledge the diversity within the humanities. Regardless of the fact that studying the humanities can lead to very successful careers, there is a pressure to avoid them at all costs. Maybe that’s because it’s convenient to pursue the sciences to avoid the usual questions about what on earth you’re going to do after graduation. If you’re in the sciences, you tend to get off easier because there’s always med school, right? However, if you’re in the humanities, people often forget the boundless options that exist because they forget how vast a field it is.
Studying science gives the illusion that there’s an obvious answer as to what you will be doing next. There’s either research or medicine, and that’s all. That, too, is a dangerously singular way to think, and yet, this seemingly clear path could be what attracts so many students. Tunnel vision is an interesting thing when it comes to education. On one hand, you may love it because it steers you in a defined direction. On the other hand, you could hate it because you may find that direction doesn’t fit you. The important thing is to take a step back once in a while and ask yourself what you find appealing about your field of study. If nothing comes to mind, it might be time to explore a bit more.
Studying science gives the illusion that there’s an obvious answer as to what you will be doing next.
The reality is that this pressure we feel to study the natural sciences isn’t solely because of McMaster’s reputation, but rather, the wider growing obsession with scientific and technological advancement. While it is important for us to study science and develop technologies to better our world, it takes all sorts of people to better society. We fail to recognize that this growing culture of praise for science and technology is giving us tunnel vision when it comes to our education.
At the end of the day, university education has become the new baseline for future career prospects. The majority of us, no matter what we go into, will have to continue our education. Therefore, if you find science to lack the appeal it’s hyped up to have, then you should explore other fields of study. It would be short-sighted to limit yourself so early in your education and feel pressured to pursue something that has just as many prospects as other fields of study. As a fellow Marauder, I urge you to remain open-minded about other faculties and programs and take courses outside of your comfort zone. You’ll never know what you’ll find intriguing.
Photo Credit: The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore
This past week, the full staff of The Silhouette attended an annual journalism conference hosted by the Canadian University Press. We had a great time; we got nominated for a few awards, met amazing leaders in the industry, got super drunk and danced to Drizzy, the list goes on. We were there for four days, and when we returned, our student staff members were ready to get back into the swing of classes. Everyone was attending their classes like normal, feeling out their course selections, and then, like magic, almost out of nowhere, course add/drop day popped up on our calendars.
In that short, one-week amount of time, students were required to make a decision about how their education for that term would be shaped. Changing a course doesn’t necessarily sound like a huge issue, but consider how one hated course could affect your transcript, or how one selection from a list of suggested courses could lead to you missing a prerequisite for a seminar?
Aside from these hypothetical situations, consider this issue: how can someone properly assess a course when they’ve only had the opportunity to attend one lecture?
I understand that classes need to get started and students need to be learning course materials as soon as possible, but as of right now, there is no way for a student to become acquainted with a course without attending it (unless of course they want to trust outdated information on MacInsiders). Could it be an option for students to add courses to their schedule by a certain, early date, but be able to drop them later on without a charge? Could a solution like this allow students the luxury of trying new courses without being concerned with the financial effects of dropping?
Ours is one of many universities that is currently working to implement more interdisciplinary programs for its students. Programs like Sustainability, Health Sciences and Arts and Science have given students the chance to branch outside their predicted fields and try courses from different programs and faculties. With this in mind, shouldn’t McMaster be working to provide this privilege for the rest of its students? Giving students the chance to try courses for a longer length of time while still being allowed to drop them (without a fee), could encourage students to broaden their horizons and gain the full interdisciplinary experience McMaster is striving for.
Our current course selection structure should strive to make education accessible.
It’s easy to say that you didn’t do well because the instructor was an asshole, but there’s usually something on your end as well. Be critical about your study habits! Sometimes the reason is not as obvious as “I just didn’t go to class and crammed everything in the last week.” Maybe it’s because you’re studying to music with lyrics and you need to listen to ambient sounds instead. One of the best apps around is called “Noisli;” download it onto your phone and get ready to focus like never before.
Learn to adapt
There’s no one way of studying that will get you a 12 in all subjects, so make sure your study method is appropriate for what you’re trying to do. This will increase your likelihood of success and minimize wasted time. If you need to memorize a boatload of notes, you want to test yourself with cue cards (or the like) and not just read your notes. If it’s a problem-based course, you want to do as many practice problems as possible instead of focusing your time on reading the textbook.
Time to get organized
In your planner or calendar, mark down all the quizzes, tests, and assignment due dates for all your courses. This way you can plan ahead and know when you cannot afford to go to Motown. If you want to be even more detailed, set your own due dates for when you want a part of your assignment, or a reading, to be done. That way you won’t have a revelation at 2 a.m. that you have a 2,000 word essay due in a week.
Get a fresh start
If you need to get the sour taste of those 6s from last semester out of your mouth, get a fresh start by getting a new set of stationary and notebooks. Clean up your room and start a new routine. These changes require time, preparation and commitment, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t succeed initially. Actually sleep at appropriate times. Don’t fixate on your bad marks, because you can’t change those and they just add an unnecessary pressure.
Pencil in a break
Your mind tends to become petrified into stone when you continuously focus on one task for too long. Take 10-minute breaks for every 40 minutes of studying. Switch subjects every few hours. Go to the gym or even the grocery store. To ease your guilty mind when you’re not studying, know that your break can still be productive in some way. Try downloading the Pomodoro Timer on your laptop or phone, a great app to help you keep track of your work and of your breaks.
After paying a couple grand for course enrollment per year, students have to dole out another hefty sum to purchase courseware. Many classes require textbooks, with midterm and exam questions being drawn from their pages. Reluctant to spend what is often upwards of $100 on a textbook that is likely to be only opened once or twice, students are forced to either forego the textbook marks or pay the cost and walk out of the campus store textbook in hand.
MSU President Ehima Osazuwa has been very vocal about his hope to reduce tuition, and now he turns his attention to the other major absorber of student funds: courseware.
“We tried to see if we can tackle the issue by having more courseware printed at Underground, because right now the majority of courseware is printed by the University and it is significantly more expensive than printing through Underground,” Osazuwa explained.
Printing through Underground, a full service media and design center located in the Student Center, would reduce costs per textbook by around $20 according to Osazuwa.
Ultimately, however, it is at the discretion of professors to decide to make the switch. The biggest challenge lies in incentivizing professors to print through Underground.
“We are trying to tackle the issue as a one-on-one relationship with the professors, especially those who teach big classes and have a lot of students.”
Implementing this philosophy is up to the President of VP Finance Daniel D’Angela as well as Underground employee Justin Barnes, whose goal has long been to increase courseware printing.
“Last year we ended up with $19,000 in sales from courseware, with the first semester making up only $3,000 of that portion,” said Osazuwa. He hopes that the increase will continue in the years to come.
Yet Osazuwa does not want to stop there. “The second thing was to make a Materials/Textbook Committee, because in my opinion the future of textbooks is online.”