With employers seeking graduates with increasing professional skills, the university standard of required courses is not cutting it.

Co-op, placement courses, research practicums and internships are some of the experiential education opportunities the faculty of science offers its students. Although there are various opportunities for science students to gain an experiential education, this is not necessarily the most known option as students begin their university careers.  

Unless a student begins university intending to partake in co-op, these learning opportunities are not widely discussed. Luckily, McMaster offers courses such as LIFESCI 2AA3 and SCIENCE 2C00 spread awareness about the opportunity and benefits of experiential learning.  

LIFESCI 2AA3 hosts a lecturelecture dedicated to having a panel of third and fourth-year science students speak about their experiences in an experiential learning course. At the same time, SCIENCE 2C00 is a prerequisite course for students to develop professional skills before entering co-op in their third year.     

Although not many experiential educational courses are offered to science students, the different learning methods that are offered allows students to get involved in the ones that best suit them.  

For example, co-op is provided to a limited number of programs within the Faculty of Science here at McMaster. Whereas there are only 16 different experiential education offered to all science students. 

The traditional co-op route entails students adding an extra year to their degree. For many students, this is not attractive due to the length it takes to complete as well as hindering their professional school plans.  

However, by making experiential education courses mandatory, students can receive the benefits of co-op without committing another year to obtain a degree. These courses are created like a regular course in the sense that they are unit based. Thus, experiential education courses count towards the unit requirement of a degree

However, by making experiential education courses mandatory, students can receive the benefits of co-op without committing another year to obtain a degree. These courses are created like a regular course in the sense that they are unit based. Thus, experiential education courses count towards the unit requirement of a degree

Breanna Khameraj

Some of the specific alternatives offered in place of the co-op are SCIENCE 3EP3, a placement course; SCIENCE 3RP3, a research practicum; and SCIENCE 3IE0, an internship course.  

Regardless of the limited courses offered within the faculty of science, the importance of these experiential education courses is prominent. These opportunities allow students to gain real-world experience in their field of choice.  

According to a study published by two archeologists, student interns engaging in experiential learning gained transferable skills and apply their learned knowledge to society. Their internship enabled them to become educators within their community and made these students well-rounded individuals prepared to enter a working environment.    

Experiential learning provides students with the opportunity to gain technical and transferrable skills they may not have been able to gain until post-graduation.  

By making experiential education courses a requirement to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree, science students are given more incentive to engage in opportunities that will provide them with the necessary experience for the working world.  

Through these courses, science students are required to learn professional skills, research, and lab techniques, as well as resume/interview skills.  

The benefit of making experiential education mandatory goes beyond students gaining attractive employable qualities; it also does not deter students from graduating “on time”.  

Universities should make courses under the experiential education category mandatory for all science students. Students will gain experience academically relevant within their field of choice providing them the opportunity to develop transferable skills. Fortunately, this could all occur without extending their graduation date, allowing them to indulge in the best of both worlds.    

Universities should be more mindful of more hands-on learning options and start discussing on making courses such as these mandatory for all science students. 

The new course is the first phase of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute’s Prison Education Project

The Silhouette sat down with Savage Bear, Director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute, to discuss her new course set to start in January 2023 taught at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener.  

The new course is part of the Walls to Bridges National Program where Bear sits as co-director. The program aims to implement post-secondary education in prisons and jails nationwide, offering classes that both incarcerated and non-incarcerated students can attend. The program values dismantling stigmas and creating collaborative spaces for incarcerated students.  

“There are a lot of stereotypes, and we carry misconceptions about what happens in a prison and  what incarcerated folks are like. At the same time, incarcerated folks also have ideas about university and the students who attend. So we bring these two groups together to break down those boundaries,” said Bear. 

“There are a lot of stereotypes, and we carry misconceptions  about what happens in a prison and  what incarcerated folks are like. At the same time,  incarcerated folks also have ideas about university and the students who attend. So we bring these two groups together to break down those boundaries,”

Savage Bear, Director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute

Working with the Edmonton Institution for Women, Bear and her team implemented the Walls to Bridges program during her time as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Native Studies and Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Alberta. She made continuing her work of implementing post-secondary education in prisons a priority when appointed as the director of McMaster’s Indigenous Research Institute in July 2021.  

“You have 10 students from the university and 10 students in the [prison]. We hold a classroom in the prison, it’s a three-credit course like a regular semester. It's a normal university course in every other way, except it's in a prison and half your classmates are incarcerated folks,” said Bear. 

“You have 10 students from the university and 10 students in the [prison]. We hold a classroom in the prison, it’s a three-credit course like a regular semester. It's a normal university course in every other way, except it's in a prison and half your classmates are incarcerated folks,”

Savage Bear, Director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute

Bear described the course as covering historical Indigenous tragedies and how communities preserved their cultures and traditions. 

“We are looking at Indigenous peoples who have resisted and subverted colonial policies, and legislation like the Indian Act — all those types of oppressive structures that pushed back against them historically... We have to recognize that Indigenous people were never passive participants in these colonial structures. They fought back in brilliant and courageous ways,” said Bear. 

Bear and co-facilitator, Sara Howdle will facilitate the course with group discussions and group projects between incarcerated and non-incarcerated students. She characterized incarcerated students that register for courses as eager with an appetite to learn. 

“I've rarely come across a university class where all the students do all the readings all the time. My incarcerated students have an incredible thirst for knowledge. They make notes of what they liked and didn't like about the articles.  Hands down they're some of the most critical thinkers I've ever come across in my entire teaching career. It is such a pleasure to have such engaged and thoughtful minds in the class,” said Bear. 

The Walls to Bridges Program is the first of a three-tier plan for the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute’s Prison Education Project. The second tier involves support for post-incarceration students living in transition houses to attend courses on campus for either a credit or an audit. Tier three is a mentorship program that provides supports to formerly incarcerated people to apply for university. Bear described the project as a pipeline for incarcerated people, from prison to transition housing to post-secondary education. 

Bear highlighted the value of this unique course setting and structure as life-changing for university students. 

“It is a life-changing course. It is something you rarely come across in your life. Walls to Bridges has been like that for students since its inception 11 years ago. If you want a dynamic course that's going to challenge you, make you uncomfortable, but be incredibly rewarding, then this is the course for you,” said Bear. 

Applications for McMaster students to register for the class are due Nov 15th. 

How Indigenous education for international students can help empower a generation of professionals committed to reconciliation 

At the start of all campus events, gatherings and classes, the following words have become ingrained as an important symbol of respect: “McMaster University recognizes and acknowledges that it is located on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations and within the lands protected by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement.” This land acknowledgment holds meaning and familiarity for students who have spent their lives in this country, but for international students, it can be challenging to appreciate these words in the same way. 

As newcomers to Canada, international students require educational support to better understand and learn about Indigenous peoples and their past as the original inhabitants of this land.  

Without recognizing the deep-rooted history of colonialism, oppression and racism Indigenous communities have and continue to endure, international students fall prey to the notion that Canada was always dominated by western, Eurocentric culture. These preconceived notions are harmful in and of themselves, but they also perpetuate harm against Indigenous peoples. 

Home to over 600,000 international students, Canadian universities have a duty to create awareness of these issues among students who have not had the opportunity to learn about the history of Canada prior to post-secondary education.  

In the 2020-21 school year, international students composed more than 15% of the McMaster student population. Yet there are little to no existing supports designed for newcomers on campus who may be interested in learning about Indigenous history. 

As an educational institution that strongly promotes every individual’s right to the truth, McMaster must create and develop education to equip international students with the appropriate resources and tools to initiate meaningful discourse on Indigenous history, culture and contemporary realities. 

McMaster University’s Indigenous Strategic Directions, created in accordance with the 94 Calls to Action by the Indigenous Education Council, outlines goals and approaches to improving Indigenous research, education, student experience, and leadership on campus. However, the directions for Indigenous education currently remain focussed on enhancing the delivery of Indigenous studies and courses, which may not be accessible to students in all fields of study.  

While the Indigenous Education Council is taking crucial steps toward reconciliation, they also have a unique opportunity to educate the international student body of the atrocities experienced by Indigenous peoples. As such, partnerships between McMaster’s Indigenous Education Council and International Student Services could offer international students an important opportunity to reflect on and recognize their privilege and responsibilities as guests on this land. 

With the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation having passed on Sept. 30, we face a stark reminder of how much there is yet to accomplish for the progression toward the reconciliation between Indigenous communities and Canadian settlers.  

Canadian universities cannot cultivate a generation of leaders who will advocate for Indigenous peoples and do their part for reconciliation without sharing the truth. Mandating, proactively involving and providing international students with an orientation to Indigenous history on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and at the beginning of each fall term is a necessary step towards fostering safe spaces for these students to learn and build bridges of mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation. 

Though most of our educational institutions currently fail to promote awareness of Indigenous history among students new to Canada, I believe domestic students also have an important role to play in honouring Indigenous history and highlighting the structural inequities Indigenous communities continue to face. Meaningful conversations and sharing insightful resources are just some of the ways we as domestic students can encourage our newcomer peers to seek out the truth.  

Currently, Indigenous history, including topics such as the legacy of residential schools, is embedded within the curriculum for grades 4 to 10 in Ontario to inspire generations of advocates who are ready to support Indigenous peoples and their rights. Of course, international students will not receive the years of education that domestic students possess, but with the right education and support, they can be involved and empowered to take action. 

By igniting a commitment to supporting Indigenous peoples and reconciliation among international students, we can help prepare future professionals who will advance sustainable equity, diversity, and inclusion in their lives, workplaces, and Canadian society.   

C/O Yoohyun Park

The key role of community-based education in sexual health 

By: Ahlam Yassien, Contributor 

Education and promotion of sexual health are just as important as the education and promotion of nutritional and physical health. However, conversations about sex education often occupy little space in homes or classrooms as this topic is still seen as taboo.  

Despite this, many believe it is the responsibility of schools to teach kids about sexual health. In 1979, an overwhelming percentage of sex educators argued parents were not providing their children with the right sex education, with just under half believing this education was properly supplemented in schools. While the data obtained in this survey is reflective of the opinions on an outdated curriculum, it is also indicative of a larger pattern — the constant battle between parents and schools about the responsibility for sex education.  

Flash forward nearly 40 years and parents have protested and threatened to pull their children from classes due to the introduction of a newer, more focused curriculum. While studies indicate that family-centred education programs reduce poor health outcomes and shame, conversations on sexual health are still too often ignored, usually treated as something you should already know and never ask about. Additionally, when considering the implications of different cultural and religious values, these conversations can be uncomfortable and daunting for both parents and children.  

Like many other second-generation immigrants, I did not have these conversations at home. However, in 2015, when Ontario announced it would be updating its sexual education curriculum for the first time since 1998 to include conversations about explicit content online and gender identity, my mom was among many who insisted these conversations could be taught at home.  

Despite this, I still went to class and learnt about consent and internet safety. I engaged in discourse with my classmates and teachers and then came home, assuring my mom that we were not watching explicit content in class.  

While I learned about sexual health at school, this education was supplemented by that enforced by cultural perspectives taught at home, both of which have grown to hold an important place in the ways I choose to go about my personal health.  

They have also served to reinforce the importance of having these conversations at home, at school and between classmates. I had not realized it then, but I had been actively engaging in discourse with various people from different communities and these discussions helped frame the ways I approach conversations with people holding opposing beliefs.  

I had been deeply embarrassed by my mother’s disproval and immediately sided with those who called parents too conservative. However, I, along with those who took on this view, had been actively ignoring the role social and cultural determinants played in the introduction of sexual education in many households. The importance of diversifying education and considering these perspectives has become immensely clear to me. By considering these perspectives, we can reframe the conversation and the ways we view the various actors in these conversations, particularly those we might consider “too conservative.” In many cases, the term “too conservative” itself ironically appears too conservative and narrow to encompass the perspectives and thoughts of the individuals in question.   

I had once believed sex education was a responsibility of the curriculum while my mother believed it was a parental responsibility. Now, I am not sure it is either.  

In thinking about the continuous disagreements between educators and parents, I noticed the importance and responsibility of healthy eating and exercise are not something commonly debated between parents and teachers. I knew the dangers of smoking and doing drugs before I learnt about the importance of consent. I learned about the value of consistent oral hygiene before I had learned about vaginal hygiene.  

But if I were asked to pinpoint where I had learned all these things I would not be able to give a definitive answer, mainly because these principles had been swiftly introduced and reinforced by various actors in my life. From family members to teachers, I had been taught about these things by the communities around me. As a result, I can make decisions regarding my health with these lessons in mind. Similarly, I think the goal for sex education should be to implement a curriculum not only taught at school or at home but also consistently enforced and endorsed by the community at large.  

C/O Yoohyun Park

Concerns raised surrounding clean drinking water access in Indigenous communities

At the beginning of October, Iqaluit residents began noticing an odour in their tap water and some expressed feeling ill. After an initial inspection of the treatment plant and water samples on Oct. 4, the city of Iqaluit determined that the water was safe to drink. However, a second investigation on Oct. 12 yielded different results. 

Since Oct. 12, Iqaluit has been under a state of emergency and residents have been advised not to drink tap water, even after boiling or filtering it, due to a presence of fuel in the water supply. 

Since Oct. 12, Iqaluit has been under a state of emergency and residents have been advised not to drink tap water, even after boiling or filtering it, due to a presence of fuel in the water supply.

Amarah Hasham-Steele, News Reporter

On Oct. 24, the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in Iqaluit to set up a reverse osmosis water purification system. The CAF is purifying water from Iqaluit’s Sylvia Grinnell River and transporting it to a city water truck, which then transports it to water filling depots. 

Until the arrival of the CAF, residents were receiving bottled water from distribution sites and collecting water from the Sylvia Grinnell River. 

While the CAF is providing residents with potable water, trucked water deliveries in Iqaluit will no longer contain potable water as of Tuesday, Nov. 9. While residents can still use trucked water deliveries for bathing, laundry, handwashing and dishwashing, they are no longer able to drink it. 

The state of emergency in Iqaluit is currently set to last until Nov. 23. 

At McMaster University, Makasa Looking Horse is actively involved in projects that address water needs for Indigenous communities. One such project is the Global Water Futures project, which Looking Horse is the educational lead for. 

Global Water Futures is a Canadian university-led research project aiming to manage water futures in areas with cold climates, such as Canada, and landscapes changing due to global warming. 

“Global Water Futures aims to position Canada as a global leader in water science for cold regions and will address the strategic needs of the Canadian economy in adapting to change and managing risks of uncertain water futures and extreme events,” stated the Global Water Futures website

Looking Horse highlighted that water crises in Indigenous communities are not uncommon and that they can happen for a multitude of reasons. She explained that water crises occur when there are problems with treatment plants and when there are problems piping water from treatment plants to households. 

“Infrastructure within Canada for Indigenous communities is in really bad shape,” said Looking Horse. 

“Infrastructure within Canada for Indigenous communities is in really bad shape.”

Makasa Looking Horse, Educational Lead of the global Water futures project

In 2015, 126 drinking water advisories existed in First Nations, prompting the federal government to commit to resolving them by March of 2021. However, inadequate funding was allocated to meeting this goal and many advisories remain in effect. Water-borne diseases occur within First Nations 26 times more than the national average and people living on reserves are currently 90 times more likely to have no access to running water compared to non-Indigenous people living off reserves. 

On Nov. 3, the Cooperative Indigenous Students Studies and Alumni at McMaster shared a post about the Iqaluit water crisis and noted how the federal government has not kept their promise to eliminate water advisories in Indigenous communities. 

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A post shared by C.I.S.S.A. (@cissaatmac)

Mainly, CISSA referred to the fact that 58 advisories still remain despite prime minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to eliminate all long-term boil water advisories by March of 2021. 

“It has become abundantly clear that one cannot disentangle social conditions from health conditions and that the causes of recurrent Indigenous water insecurity are rooted in sociopolitical neglect. The lack of access to clean, safe water is a reflection of long standing political and economic marginalization,” stated CISSA in their post

For McMaster students, Looking Horse noted that there are always ways to help make clean water more accessible in general.

“Whether it's donating water to the food bank or cleaning up [garbage], whatever you want to work on, whether that's writing or doing something physical, you can definitely do something to make a difference,” said Looking Horse. 

“Whether it's donating water to the food bank or cleaning up [garbage], whatever you want to work on, whether that's writing or doing something physical, you can definitely do something to make a difference.”

Makasa Looking Horse, Educational Lead of the global Water futures project

Looking Horse has extensive experience protecting access to water for Indigenous communities. Beyond her role in Global Water Futures, she did a lot of advocacy work to protect the Six Nations water supply when she found out that Nestle was taking 3.6 million litres of water from the Six Nations aquifer without the community’s permission. 

Within Global Water Futures, Looking Horse has been part of multiple community projects, such as tracking snapping turtles on Six Nations to collect more data about the environment. 

“This kind of project really hasn't hasn't existed before and so we're super proud [of it]. It's a water project on Six Nations that all of these different professors at McMaster University and other universities and different departments are working [on] together,” said Looking Horse. 

The water crisis continues to be a significant issue in Iqaluit and across Indigenous communities, with many long-term water advisories still in effect and goals to resolve them not being met. McMaster students interested in taking action can refer to CISSA’s social media posts with more information on petitions to sign and links where donations can be made. 

Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator

It’s time to kick the arbitrary four-year timeline to the curb

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

Post-secondary educational programs are often presented as allotted timelines that correspond to annual requirements. For example, a four-year bachelor's degree assumes five courses a semester, or 10 a year in Ontario. Yet, these are only guidelines and are not set in stone. 

There are benefits to both shortening and prolonging a degree, along with costs. Unfortunately, the latter is often met with criticism in our increasingly workaholic society. This stigma needs to be reevaluated so that students can achieve success at their own pace without undue pressure.

Firstly, it is worth noting that there are multiple benefits to extending the time one takes to complete a degree. For one, with fewer courses at one moment in time, there are more opportunities to pursue extracurriculars, work and social activities. The former two are highly valuable in adding to one’s resume and expanding future job prospects, but the latter is also important in encouraging a strong life balance. 

It is worth noting that there are multiple benefits to extending the time one takes to complete a degree.

With the unfortunate increase in mental health disorders today, striving for such a balance is even more crucial. Additionally, focusing on fewer courses means there is a greater chance of savouring course content, as opposed to working only to meet deadlines. Given the exorbitant time, energy and money that education demands, one should take every chance to get the most out of their education. 

One should also consider that there is a positive correlation between time spent completing a degree and the graduation rate. For instance, Harvard’s four-year graduation rate is approximately 85% whereas the five-year graduation rate is almost 95%. To put it into perspective, this 10% increase represents about 700 students at Harvard and 3000 students at McMaster.

If extra time spent on your degree makes such a significant difference, then why haven’t we yet accepted taking your time? Especially in a society where degrees are progressively becoming more valuable. Overall, there are a myriad of benefits to slowing down one’s education instead of trying to relentlessly pursue the socially-accepted completion time. 

These benefits are met with only a few consequences. Firstly, prolonging one’s studies could eventually dispel motivation. One may start eager to learn, but eventually become apathetic and neglect coursework by the end of the study period. Moreover, the jobs one may obtain in their extra time, or even school guidelines, may lower the amount of scholarships available. This is most distressing for those who have high financial need, but not as much for those who already obtained sufficient scholarship funds at the beginning of their education. Individuals considering a longer study time should reflect on the benefits and costs to decide the right course of action for them. 

In our increasingly competitive world, part-time studies — or any form of studying that takes longer than what is outlined — seems to be frowned upon. Individuals might believe that such a person lacks the time management, productivity skills or even basic intellect to finish a degree at the same time as others. 

However, this is far from the truth. It takes a high level of honesty to commit to putting oneself first in a time where there is a binary between an actual person and their work. Taking the time off to focus on self-development and maintaining balance in one’s life will pay off more than attempting to fit in with the status quo. In this way, such individuals should be revered for their courage as opposed to being discriminated against. 

It takes a high level of honesty to commit to putting oneself first in a time where there is a binary between an actual person and their work.

Everyone is incredibly unique and one’s education should follow suit. There is no reward in joining the same race as everyone else if one would be better off running to the beat of their own heart. So, instead of discouraging the truth in our manipulated and photoshopped society, let’s reward those with the courage to defy it. 

We are stronger together when we love one another

C/O Jon Tyson on Unsplash

In 2020, I was given the insurmountable task as Arts and Culture Editor to create and produce the Silhouette’s annual love and positivity issue, Sex and the Steel City. A tradition for each person in my role, the beginning of SATSC dates back at least 10 years ago.

While it has evolved over the years with each A&C Editor giving it their own spin, the core values remain the same: to give the McMaster and Hamilton communities a creative outlet to talk about sex, body postivity, identity and love. In recent years, SATSC has focused on diversity, self-identity and this year, we focus on education — both formal and informal.

Over the last three years, we have seen a regressional way of thinking from our provincial government. One of the first acts that Premier Doug Ford enacted when elected was to repeal the then-new sex education curriculm.

Updated in 2015 by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government, this was the first revision sex-ed had seen since 1998. Topics surrounding 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, sexting, gender identity and consent were added to better keep up with modern values. Instead, the Ford government proposed a new curriculum; however, after much lobbying by students, little was changed.

In the United States and around the world, homophobia and transphobia still run rampant. Sex work continues to be criminalized. Many still wonder if they should teach their kids about “taboo” subjects. While these are issues that are larger than any one person, these are topics that are explored in this year’s Sex and the Steel City. Our way of acknowledging and bringing awareness to these issues that continue to plague society.

Now more than ever, we need unity. We live in a divided world. We live on a divided continent. We live in a divided nation. We live in a divided province. Now is the time to take action, to stand up for what you believe in. Now is the time to unite (albeit virtually) to create change and to be a voice for the voiceless.

Sex and the Steel City is a small annual reminder of that unity that we should all strive for. I hope you take the time to read through the 36 pages of this extended special issue. May this issue serve as a reminder: a reminder that we are stronger together when we love one another.

National Society of Black Engineers increases representation and supports for Black students in academia

Addressing anti-Black racism has been an urgent need for increased equity for Black students and professionals across academia, especially in traditionally white male dominated fields like engineering.

To tackle one of these barriers in education, the National Society of Black Engineers, McMaster Chapter has launched an annual entrance scholarship for Canadian Black students entering the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster.

All incoming first-years who self-identify as Black students, demonstrate strong leadership and have positively contributed to their community will be eligible for the award. The scholarship will provide each recipient with $2,500, along with a position on the NSBE executive team.

All incoming first-years who self-identify as Black students, demonstrate strong leadership and have positively contributed to their community will be eligible for the award.

The NSBE is a national student-run organization that aims to increase the number of Black engineers who excel both academically and professionally, while demonstrating valuable leadership to make a difference in their community. The NSBE team also includes other engineering graduates and professionals.

Founded in 1971, the society has over 31,000 members that span over 600 active chapters in Canada, the United States and other countries around the globe. They provide academic excellence programs, social connections, leadership opportunities, additional scholarships and career networking to support Black students in engineering.

The McMaster chapter is spear-headed by an executive team of McMaster engineering students. The current president is Feyisayo Enuiyin, a chemical engineering student in her final year. The chapter’s aim is to provide Black students with academic support, professional development and networking opportunities.

[/media-credit] NSBE McMaster Chapter President Feyisayo Enuiyin

“For many Black students from underprivileged communities, they don’t think engineering is a space for them,” said Enuiyin. “This scholarship was created for students who didn’t even know they wanted to study engineering. It creates hope for students to show they are going to a school that supports them.”

“For many Black students from underprivileged communities, they don’t think engineering is a space for them,” said Enuiyin.

The NSBE McMaster Chapter’s goal is to raise $62,500 for the award. The number of scholarships will be dependent on the funds raised. If they exceed their goal, they will provide more scholarships. They are currently accepting donations, with hopes that this award will inspire and encourage more Black students to apply to McMaster Engineering. 

Enuiyin explained that the scholarship aims to provide more than financial assistance the award will also create a larger scale for representation, further showing Black students that institutions like McMaster actually care about them. 

“Once I was able to feel that McMaster, including the staff and faculty, really supports me, it made me feel more confident because I know that I go to a community that has my back,” said Enuiyin.

“Once I was able to feel that McMaster, including the staff and faculty, really supports me, it made me feel more confident because I know that I go to a community that has my back,” said Enuiyin.

To Enuiyin, this representation within the university at large, especially in academia, is important because it creates confidence.

“It creates a sense of self awareness so that when you step into a place and you see people like you doing what you aspire to do, it gives you encouragement and motivation to know that you can do that too… When you feel represented in a space, like in an atmosphere of a room, you don't think about complexion. It doesn't even cross your head,” said Enuiyin.

"When you feel represented in a space, like in an atmosphere of a room, you don't think about complexion. It doesn't even cross your head,” said Enuiyin. 

Enuiyin expressed gratitude towards the Faculty of Engineering for supporting the NSBE McMaster Chapter and said that the scholarship is a step in the right direction.

“[The scholarship] will help us move towards a more inclusive environment where a range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation,” stated Professor Iswhar K. Puri, dean of engineering, in a McMaster Daily News Article. 

Other efforts for inclusion by McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering include the recent launch of The Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships. These fellowships were created in collaboration with faculties at the University of Waterloo, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Western University.

These fellowships will provide Indigenous and Black recipients of the award each with $25,000 over the span of four years to support them with their graduate studies and engineering research.

Similar to the NSBE scholarship, the IBET doctoral fellowships were launched with the hope to reduce the financial barriers experienced by Black and Indigenous students. 

These efforts for inclusion are paired with McMaster’s announcement of a new commitment to Black academic excellence, such as the commitment to hire a cohort of up to 12 Black faculty members. This is the first initiative under the new Strategic Equity and Excellence Recruitment and Retention program, which is part of McMaster’s larger equity, diversity and inclusion strategy.

“It’s not just about being Black or being in engineering. It’s bigger than that… It’s about people.  When one individual progresses, the whole community progresses,” said Enuiyin. 

Other efforts at McMaster include the development of a yearly bursary of $800 in perpetuity for Black students with financial need in the McMaster Health Sciences program. The bursary organizers include McMaster University and Mohawk College alumni and are currently also fundraising.

When asked what else academic institutions can do to alleviate barriers for Black students, Enuiyin highlighted the importance of outreach programs along with financial assistance. These outreach programs should be delivered in underprivileged communities, especially for high school students.

“When students are already in universities, it is hard to change their perspectives. [By starting in high school], you can start to show them options as to what they have,” explained Enuiyin. 

When discussing how McMaster community members should view this scholarship, Enuiyin highlighted its importance on our society as a whole. 

“It’s not just about being Black or being in engineering. It’s bigger than that… It’s about people.  When one individual progresses, the whole community progresses,” said Enuiyin.

Donations for the scholarship funds are currently being accepted on the NSBE McMaster’s iFundMac website. 

Struggling to connect with one another through virtual classes, first-year students found community on social media

After four months of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, McMaster University students can finally say that their first semester of online learning is behind them. Some students, however, have only ever experienced McMaster online.

Since September, first-year students at McMaster have experienced a virtual transition to university. As residence is closed for the majority of first years, most have had to meet their peers virtually. However, the opportunities for socialization are different and more limited in an online classroom setting.

Navya Sheth, a first-year arts and science student from Oakville, Ontario, reflected on her first semester. For her, the hardest part of online school was forming connections with her peers through the screen, rather than the new academic challenges.

For Navya Sheth, the hardest part of online school was forming connections with her peers through the screen.

In anticipation of the social challenges that come with an entirely remote school year, McMaster tried to foster community among first-year students by adapting orientation to fit the online environment. This orientation involved a virtual Welcome Week and a new program called Archway, which was designed to help students access resources and meet new friends.

Saumyaa Rishi, a first-year life sciences student from Ottawa, Ontario, was grateful for the effort put into Welcome Week. Nonetheless, she found it difficult to connect with other first-years in that setting. 

“When you do these online [social events], there’s always a bigger group of people. It’s not like in-person where you can just talk to the person standing next to you,” Rishi said. 

“When you do these online [social events], there’s always a bigger group of people. It’s not like in-person where you can just talk to the person standing next to you,” Rishi said. 

Sheth expressed a similar sentiment when discussing her experiences with McMaster’s online social events, in particular, the Archway program. While she did enjoy the Zoom events hosted by the Arts and Science program, she found Archway wasn’t a conducive platform for her to make social connections.

Aniruddh Arora, a first-year international student in the computer science program, found that Archway was most beneficial at the start of the semester. “It was helpful for the first one or two weeks,” Arora noted.

“I had my own friend groups on WhatsApp and Instagram,” Arora explained. 

Arora then added that he later stopped attending meetings. Not only did he no longer have time in his busy academic schedule to attend Archway meetings, he also didn’t find it necessary anymore.

“I had my own friend groups on WhatsApp and Instagram,” he explained. 

Arora is not the only first-year student who has found community on social media. Over the last few months, some first-year students at McMaster have relied on social media to connect and communicate.

“When you talked to people [on social media], you knew that they were sort of going through the same thing,” said Rishi.

Rishi described social media as being a positive force in her first semester. “When you talked to people [on social media], you knew that they were sort of going through the same thing,” said Rishi.

According to Rishi, the impact of social media on her first-year experience has been far-reaching. Not only has social media been instrumental in the formation of friendships, as Rishi noted, but it has also helped first-year students to feel connected to the McMaster community in other ways.

Social media been instrumental in the formation of friendships.

Arora, who is attending McMaster from his home in Punjab, India, pointed out the academic benefits of social media on first-year students. As timezones often prevent him from being awake during the same hours as his professors, Arora has found the group chats created on various social media platforms to be a valuable academic support system.

“It really helps if you’re stuck on an assignment,” Arora explained.

As timezones often prevent him from being awake during the same hours as his professors, Arora has found the group chats created on various social media platforms to be a valuable academic support system. “It really helps if you’re stuck on an assignment,” Arora explained.

Social media has helped first-year students get involved with extracurricular activities as well. As an active member of the McMaster Moot Court, Sheth noted that she found out about the majority of extracurricular opportunities through Instagram.

On the impact that social media had on her first semester, Sheth believed Instagram links people to places where they feel connected albeit virtually. However she noted the challenges of a virtual first-year remain significant on students as some feel isolated to figure out how to adapt to online university.

“[Some] upper-years are living together in houses and can see each other, and I’m at home, trying to figure this out on my own,” Sheth said. “And I think that might be something that all first years are struggling with.”

The development of the Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force

As the McMaster community dives into the second semester of an unprecedented academic year, the newly created Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force has also been gearing up for its launch. 

The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force was created from the recommendations of McMaster’s virtual learning task force. The virtual learning task force, co-chaired by Dean of Engineering Ishwar Puri and Dean of Social Sciences Jeremiah Hurley, consisted of over 30 faculty, staff and students that collected feedback from the McMaster community about the virtual learning experience. Feedback included over 3,000 responses from students and instructors to the MacPherson Institute’s Fall 2020 Experience Survey.

The task force’s final report, released in November 2020, provided 21 recommendations to improve the virtual learning experience. Recommendations included immediate actions for the winter 2021 term, especially highlighting the need for stronger supports for mental health and well-being. Although the survey respondents rated their overall learning experience to be fairly positive, many instructors and students shared feelings of being overwhelmed

“These unprecedented times have pushed the task force to rethink what McMaster’s commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together.”

“These unprecedented times have pushed the task force to rethink what McMaster’s commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together,” the report stated. 

The current status of students’ mental health was explained by Connor Blakeborough, health promoter at the Student Wellness Centre. Connor’s role as health promoter at the SWC involves assisting with programming such as mental health services, along with coordinating initiatives like Wellness Book Worms.

Additionally, he is a member of the education and health promotion subcommittee on The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force. The task force is a subsection of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, which is further split into several other subcommittees. 

"There is also just a general fear of missing out on the university experience as it's usually experienced, especially for people coming into their first year and not getting in their first year experience on residence, or being on campus or being involved in the community in a way that's more regular.” 

“Just in the communication that we have with students, a lot of students have been feeling lonely, isolated, overwhelmingly bored. There is also just a general fear of missing out on the university experience as it's usually experienced, especially for people coming into their first year and not getting in their first year experience on residence, or being on campus or being involved in the community in a way that's more regular,” said Blakeborough. 

The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force will address the recommendations of the virtual learning report and explore ways to support the McMaster community through remote learning. This task force is a subsection of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, which was developed after McMaster signed the Okanagan Charter in 2017. 

The charter was an outcome from the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges and developed by interdisciplinary stakeholders from 45 countries. The charter had two calls of action to educational institutions: to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates; and to lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally. 

The mental health and wellbeing task force comprises 10 representatives of students, faculty and staff and is led by Dr. Catharine Munn, associate clinical professor in psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences. 

"The new [Okanagan Mental Health and Wellbeing] task force will help us to understand the needs that have arisen in these new and uniquely challenging circumstances and to identify key solutions, so that we can emerge as a healthier and stronger community.”

Paul O’Byrne, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and chair of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, was quoted in a McMaster Daily News article: “McMaster signed the Okanagan Charter in 2017 to help demonstrate our commitment to integrating health and wellbeing into all aspects of life at the university. The new [Okanagan Mental Health and Wellbeing] task force will help us to understand the needs that have arisen in these new and uniquely challenging circumstances and to identify key solutions, so that we can emerge as a healthier and stronger community.”

Blakeborough echoed the sentiments of O’Bryne. 

I think it will be a great opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing as it relates to both individual and systemic issues, especially those that have become a lot more apparent and prevalent during the pandemic. The task force and the committee will be able to look at the relationships between faculty, students and staff which deal with students on a daily basis and how we can use that relationship and better that relationship to benefit students and their mental health,” said Blakeborough. 

I think it will be a great opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing as it relates to both individual and systemic issues, especially those that have become a lot more apparent and prevalent during the pandemic."

Other suggestions outlined from the virtual learning task force revolved around teaching recommendations, such as reducing workload for students, creating easier navigation of course platforms, providing additional flexibility for assignments and increasing opportunities for classroom connection.

When asked what efforts he would like McMaster to make, Blakeborough recommended incorporating discussions of mental health within current courses and programming, specifically on the social determinants of health, including financial insecurity, housing and food insecurity. 

I think there's definitely a lot of things that could be addressed. But ultimately, it'd be great to see programming or electives which kind of teach self reflection and goal setting,” said Blakeborough.

I think there's definitely a lot of things that could be addressed. But ultimately, it'd be great to see programming or electives which kind of teach self reflection and goal setting,” said Blakeborough.

“[The task force has] listened to the feedback and factored in the results from various surveys when crafting these recommendations,” said Dean of Engineering Ishwar Puri.

“We hope that these ideas resonate with students and instructors so that we can work together to address the ongoing challenges and meet the opportunities that lay ahead for us as a campus community in 2021,” elaborated Puri.

“We hope that these ideas resonate with students and instructors so that we can work together to address the ongoing challenges and meet the opportunities that lay ahead for us as a campus community in 2021,” added Puri.

Resources for mental health and wellness: 

Student Wellness Center
Good2Talk 
Student Assistance Plan 

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