How the Aphrodite Project and similar projects have changed dating

As the pandemic continues to surge and COVID-19 regulations remain in place, many are finding romance and fun. From dating apps to newly-designed matching algorithms, students are being matched by the thousands from the comfort of their beds. This is especially true when it comes to university students in Canada, including at McMaster

Rates of online dating usage have increased since the beginning of the pandemic. Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid and many other apps have all reported increased use.

However, in addition to a rise in online dating app usage, there have been many innovative projects seeking to help students bound to their homes and laptops find a match. 

Perhaps most notable among these projects is the Aphrodite Project. The Aphrodite Project is an algorithm that matches students based on their responses in a long questionnaire.

The project was designed by two University of Toronto exchange students, with the first trial of the software having been trialled in Singapore in 2019. After it was clear the algorithm was a success and full of promise, it was adapted to Canadian universities, starting with U of T and the University of Waterloo.

The site is now open to students across many universities, including McMaster. For many, this algorithm was a success and a way to find love and happiness amid the pandemic.

Among students who found love through this algorithm last year is Karin Lie, a fourth-year student at the University of Waterloo studying psychology. 

“I was very impressed,” Lie explained. “We did get along very well.”

The first batch of matching in Canada was completed in 2020, with thousands of students being matched prior to Valentine’s Day. The developers of the Aphrodite Project even opened up a special version of their algorithm, Aphrodite Project: Pandemic Edition.

This targeted students amid the onset of the pandemic, which hoped to offer students an opportunity to meet someone and be distracted from the gloomy times of 2020. 

In addition to the Aphrodite Project designed by students at U of T, there are similar projects that have been designed specifically for students at Mac. Among these are Match At Mac, which was run over the summer of 2020 and Mac Aphrodite Project.

These operate similarly to the Aphrodite Project designed at U of T in which Mac students fill out questionnaires and are matched with what is calculated to be the best possible option. Students participating in the Mac Aphrodite Project received their matches on Feb. 13, 2021.

These projects are important this year, as the transition to online learning at universities has presented challenges to many, with fewer opportunities available for socializing and romance. For many students, these algorithms offer a more thoughtful and personalized way to meet potential matches that involves more than swiping right or left.

Although romance and love are obviously never guaranteed, these platforms offer a new and unique way to meet people. As an alternative to conventional dating applications, more personalized platforms like Aphrodite Project have the potential to become pivotal to online dating and match-making.

Among the students frustrated with dating apps during the pandemic is Abby Liznick, a second-year health sciences student at McMaster. 

“At a time when we are all longing for a connection and the ability to spend quality time with others, many turn to dating apps to find instant companionship,” said Liznick. “While these connections temporarily fill the social void left by the pandemic, they are just that — only temporary.”

These matchmaking projects are a testament to the adaptability and innovation people have come up during the pandemic. They offer a glimmer of hope for those who are unable to otherwise experience romance or socializing due to the social restrictions, especially those who are hesitant to try online dating apps. 

Marzan Hamid, a second-year health sciences student, took a chance over the summer of 2020 and completed the Match At Mac questionnaire, eventually to be matched with someone later that year. 

“I think it’s really great that students are taking the initiative to connect others, especially during these unique circumstances,” explained Hamid. “It’s nice to find out that there are still creative ways to meet new people even during a pandemic. I’m sure this will benefit many of my peers!”

“I think it’s really great that students are taking the initiative to connect others, especially during these unique circumstances,” explained Hamid. “It’s nice to find out that there are still creative ways to meet new people even during a pandemic. I’m sure this will benefit many of my peers!”

Thousands of people have been matched by recently-made dating algorithms. This is in addition to the huge rise in usage of dating apps like Tinder since the pandemic began. The future looks bright for dating among university students stuck at home.

In late 2017, Ontario experienced its longest college labour dispute when the Ontario Public Service Employees Union went on strike.

Representatives from the student associations of multiple colleges penned an open letter to members of provincial parliament, speaking on behalf of their respective student bodies.

One of these representatives was Nicola Lau, president of the Seneca Student Federation at the time. She led 2,000 students in a protest that gained attention from media outlets such as Global News and CBC — a fact with which she introduces herself in the Facebook description of “OSAP CUT 2019”, a group she created on Sept. 7, 2019 as a means of reaching out to students severely affected by the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) cuts.

Too bad your cuts to #onpse & #osapcuts will make it impossible for many students to experience the great opportunities offered by @McMasterU and other institutions across the province. Your funding changes in 2020 will make it even worse. #cutshurtkids #handsoffmyeducation

— AJ (@MacGirl2002) August 10, 2019

The provincial government announced their planned OSAP cuts in January 2019; this constituted the end of reduced tuition for low-income students and a change in the guidelines for OSAP grant and loan eligibility. In response, student advocacy organizations such as the Students for Ontario, March for our Education and the Ontario Student Action network hosted a march toward Queen’s Park, with student activists and MPPs expressing their intolerance for consequences stemming from OSAP cuts.

When the OSAP changes came into effect in the summer of 2019, another wave of outrage emerged across Ontario as students reported that their OSAP estimates were much lower than previous years. This led to an additional round of protests from several Ontario universities, with some taking to social media to show their frustration.

Lau, now a second year Health and Aging student at McMaster, points out that the protests have since trickled into near non-existence. She feels that the level of outrage has faded into a quiet reaction, a change that she does not believe adequately represents the struggles that students continue to experience every day as a result of the cuts.

“I think that the problem is that when Doug Ford came out last year [with the OSAP cuts], a lot of people were really angry, right? A lot of people were like, ‘Okay, I need to stand up right now. We have to do something about it.’ But quickly, all these actions and things just stopped,” said Lau.

As a student impacted by OSAP cuts herself, Lau is determined to provide a platform for students to voice their concerns. She started “OSAP CUT 2019” with the hope of raising awareness until she has gathered people for a protest similar to what she did as president of the Seneca Student Federation.

Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, the Facebook group has amassed more than 100 members. Most members are students who cannot afford textbooks and school supplies or are on the verge of dropping out because they are no longer financially equipped to continue. The Facebook group has also attracted concerned parents, who are worried about their childrens’ future post-secondary experiences as the full extent of the OSAP cuts gradually become clearer.

Lau is particularly disappointed with what she perceives to be the lack of action on behalf of McMaster students and the McMaster Students Union.

“Why is McMaster, such a big school, not caring about [the OSAP cuts]? Why are we not having protests? I don’t get what they [the MSU] is doing. I don’t get what they’re doing with our student money,” said Lau.

However, Shemar Hackett, vice-president (Education) of the MSU, says that students have indeed reached out to the MSU with concerns about OSAP cuts. As a member of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA)  steering committee, he has also encouraged McMaster’s participation in OUSA’s letter writing campaign, an initiative that calls for students to write letters to Premier Ford’s office to highlight how the cuts have affected them thus far.

“Students aren’t always aware of the issues that involve them, and what they can do about it,” said Hackett, when asked about the student-led advocacy scene in McMaster.

Financial accessibility is one of Hackett’s priorities for the school year, according to his year plan. Much of this, according to Hackett, revolves around gathering as a student community and lobbying for change.

Despite the overlap between her intentions and the MSU’s, Lau questions what has really changed. She does not believe that change is happening quickly enough, she noted that students are beginning to struggle with juggling multiple part-time jobs in order to stay in school and other students having to scavenge rent money on top of their academic responsibilities.

Lau fears it might soon be too late to change the new status quo.

As a response, she has taken it upon herself, as well as the many others involved in her Facebook group, to form a voice on behalf of all those affected by the OSAP cuts. Lau hopes for the group to continue growing and, through its growth, to persuade the government to listen to them before it is too late.

In the group’s Facebook description, Lau writes, “Let’s not [let] these politicians change what will not even affect them … Let’s make a difference together.”

 

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By: Fabiha Islam

I was born on a rainy afternoon in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My birth was somewhat atypical as rainfall is the last thing you’d expect from Saudi Arabia’s dry and hot weather. Strangely, the rain led to many of my relatives making the comment that the desert might not be the place for me.

Unbelievable but true, a simple brochure from my father’s workplace about one of the world’s top universities turned my life upside-down. I got to know about this amazing university with cutting-edge research opportunities known as McMaster, and wanted to be there.

My endless insisting finally made my parents agree to send their daughter to a completely different country in the farthest continent from home.

In the airport, my parents were concerned if I’d be able to undergo the immigration processes myself, as travelling alone wasn’t exactly what a women In Saudi Arabia would normally do.

On my first day in Canada, I faced an unworldly snowstorm. Snow always fascinated me since the only place I would ever see it was in movies. However, little did I know of the harsh weather the beautiful snow brings with it.

When I saw McMaster in person for the very first time, the word “home” was the first thing to come to my mind. The campus had a sense of deep intimacy as it covered a beautiful, little area with all of its buildings so close together.

Despite being covered in snow, everything on campus looked beautiful, and I knew that I made the right choice.

I lived in Les Prince Hall in my first year and was proud of myself for being able to live, eat and even walk alone, without my parents around. Saudi Arabia never let women go out without any assistance, so it may seem strange that I hadn’t even walked alone to the corner store next to my house until coming to McMaster.

Although I didn’t have any problems with the language since I was brought up in an English-speaking environment, it took time to adapt to the weather and cultural differences. I struggled quite a bit in my first days due to constant snowstorms, icy roads, different food and how everything goes quiet after 9:00 p.m.

Back in Saudi Arabia, the city would wake up after 9:00 p.m. as the desert was burning hot during daytime, restricting any outdoor activity. Entertainment was very different from what I experienced before and so initially, I actually struggled to have fun.

In my opinion, cultural differences will forever exist but it is not what should controls our sense of closeness and familiarity. In a new culture, it is crucial to be open to exploring new ideas and trying to find out specific things from the new environment which are suited to your own expectations.

I developed a more positive attitude and felt at home when exploring made me realize that there isn’t any major difference after all.

A major difference is only when there is a change in the key component of our survival, that is, human interaction. Despite different language, food and weather, human beings were always the same to me.

The way you perceive a person is completely subjective and depends on our own minds other than any certain culture and fortunately, my mind and thoughts were still unchanged.

I would like to thank McMaster University for being so dear, inclusive and family-like. The incredible openness and friendly attitude of the campus community makes me feel completely “at home” despite being miles away from my family!

 

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Photo by Kyle West

In Canada there are no National Football League teams, so the way fans choose who they will support is by following in the footsteps of their family or friends, or by becoming in awe of a certain player that leads them to a team.

For Vanessa Matyas, marketing & media manager for NFL Canada, the former is how her journey with the NFL began. Growing up Canadian, Toronto teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Maple Leafs were all she really knew.

That is until she got older and became a student at McMaster University, where football became a part of her social life. But it was not just the social aspect of football that caught her attention, the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees did too.

C/O Kyle West

“I started falling in love with Drew Brees as a person because he just seemed so nice and personable, and that really got me more interested in the New Orleans Saints,” said Matyas. “The year that the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans was the same year they won a Super Bowl, and it really brought back so much joy to that city. That is when I started really to see the magic behind football and really get into the battles in the on-field action and the whole story around everything.”

Though Matyas knew that she had a new-found love for football, she was not entirely sure what she wanted after her undergrad in communication studies at Mac. This uncertainty led her to apply for her Master of Arts in communications and new media at McMaster.

“Part of the reason I decided to do my master’s was because I wasn't sure what my next step was going to be,” Matyas said. “So I thought getting a master’s would help set me apart from other job candidates.”

Following her master’s, Matyas got the opportunity to move to Geneva, Switzerland to work for a non-governmental organization. Although it was an amazing opportunity and everything she thought she would love, her mind kept going back to how much she loved sports and how amazing it would be to work in media or sports. When she returned to Canada, she applied and was lucky enough to land a digital marketing job with Rogers Media.

“While I was there, I was very vocal with my boss about how I wanted to take on other brands if I had the opportunity,” said Matyas. “So just from being partially in the right place and the right time and also being my own personal advocate, I got to expand to other brands which were two sports brands.”

C/O Vanessa Matyas

In Matyas’ three years with Rogers, she focused on working on the skills that would help her do a great job in the sports world. Instead of worrying about not having that dream job of working in sports, she focused on getting the skill set that she needed to apply that to her passion later on.

This ability to focus on the big picture is something she credits McMaster for giving her. Along with education, connections, lifelong best friends and memories, she left with a valuable lesson that ultimately got her where she is today.

“Looking at the big picture of things is what Mac really showed me. I think when you're here, you're so focused on looking at the task at hand, but you don't really see what it is leading towards or what you're working towards,” said Matyas. “I think Mac really showed me the value of the big picture and not sweating the small stuff along the way.”

When she applied for the role with NFL Canada, she had not only the passion for the role, but the actual skills the job required. Now she wakes up every day working for a company that not only she loves, but one where she deserves to be. Matyas works with NFL Canada’s media partners to further promote the NFL in Canada and marketing initiatives such as influencer and public relations programs, player marketing and social and digital campaigns.

#SuperBowlLlll was definitely a weekend to remember! #SBLIII #NFLCanada pic.twitter.com/rKgJqp3dbA

— Vanessa Matyas (@vmats14) February 5, 2019

But one of her most rewarding tasks is that she gets to bring little pieces of the NFL to Canada, so people can bond with the players and ultimately start following teams. One of her most memorable moments so far has been the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta. Not only was being in ‘NFL-land’ surreal for her, being able to bring Canadians to experience the joy of football was something that will stick with her forever.

“The experience and bringing [fans] down is very special for them, but it will always be such a big memory for me too,” said Matyas. “To see what the passion of sports does, helps us to remember why we do what we do.”

When the game becomes more than just a game! 🙌

Tell us your stories Canada, let us know why you love the @NFL! 🇨🇦🏈 #SuperBowlSurprise pic.twitter.com/MhPvZ7bcng

— NFL Canada (@NFLCanada) March 3, 2019

To those who look at Matyas’ journey, it may seem like she had it all figured out, but she constantly reminds those who are just starting out that there are always going to be challenges along the way, and to not let them discourage you from your goal.

“My career wasn't a clear path of sports, so getting back into what I wanted was hard when I was ready to leave Rogers. I was looking for other jobs which was very discouraging because there were many nos before there was a yes,” said Matyas. “That can be really hard to take in especially when you feel like you're prepared for the role and you have a skill set that you need, but you can’t let it get you off your path. Just know that you're working towards something better and all of those nos and let downs are going in a direction that you're supposed to be.”

Matyas’ journey to the NFL is an example for all of us, those who want to work in the sports industry and those who do not. If you work hard, even when it is not what you love, eventually you will see the return on your investment and find the way to be rewarded for your passion.

 

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Photos C/O Katie Benfey

Kyanite crystal allows the creation of new pathways and the opening of one’s mind to new positive possibilities. Lauren Campbell was wearing kyanite when the idea for a bright, quirky store with crystals, tarot cards and other magical items came to her. The name for the store, Witch’s Fix, also came to her in that moment.

At the time, Campbell was working a full-time job in Toronto and wasn’t entirely happy being a commuter and working a nine to five job. She couldn’t get the idea of Witch’s Fix out of her head, so she decided to quit her job and try to make her dream a reality.

On Feb. 26, 2018, Campbell opened an Etsy store and began to sell spell kits and mugs. Throughout the year, she attended craft markets and hosted candle rolling workshops. Exactly a year after her online store opened, her dream of a physical store came to life. The store is located in the historic Treble Hall, which Campbell had had her eye on for some time.

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“Before I even had the Witch's Fix, I'd drive by this space in Treble Hall and I would look at it and… say ‘if I ever have a store, I want to be there because it's so cute’… And one day I was on Kijiji… I saw this space [and] I was just like oh my God… that's my dream space… I'm going to do it,” Campbell said.

“I'm going to take the plunge, take a huge risk and do it because this was the space that I always wanted. It was going to be here or it was going to be nowhere,” she added.

The store is a realization of Campbell’s vision. The storefront is welcoming, with the glass walls serving as a window to an enchanted world. Inside, the shop is charming and cozy with Victorian elements and the feel of a library mixed with a traditional witch’s shop. A playlist of hot jazz, saxophone-containing music and songs from Campbell’s favourite magical movies adds to the ambience of the store and makes it feel as if it is in another place and time.

The store sells a variety of gifts and enchanting items, several of which the crafty shopkeeper makes herself. She makes Abracajava mugs and candles and puts together mystery bags, spell kits and crystal kits. As for the items that she doesn’t make herself, like the tarot cards and zines, she tries to source from independent makers, especially those who are female and female-identifying.

She wants the products to be mostly those that cannot be found in big box stores. While they may be a little more expensive than similar products in other places, her customers know that they are supporting creative entrepreneurs. In the future, Campbell also hopes to rent out the parlour at the back of her store to individuals who do readings to make this type of magic more accessible to the community.

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Honestly when people come in the store, I really just want them to feel inspired… [I]inspiration and creativity are such huge parts of magic for me. So I hope people come in and feel like they can be curious… ,” said Campbell.

“I want to awaken a childish enthusiasm in them that makes them remember when they were a little kid and anything seemed possible, [when] they just looked at everything with wide eyes and believed in magic,” she added.

Campbell has been drawn to magic and magical items since she was a kid. As she grew older, magic became more about having a connection to nature. Campbell understands that the store might not be for everyone, but she wants it to be approachable. Having experienced the benefit of everyday magic in her life, she wants to bring a little magic to everyone else’s life too.  

Campbell put the word witch in the title of her store to help change the perception of the word. She wants to do away with the idea of long fingernails and cackling laughs and replace it with the idea of magic as ownership of one’s human nature and connection to the world around us.

I mean there are so many days where it seems like there is no magic in the world and being able to spot it in the tiniest things… [it] makes my mental health better. It can be as simple as just birds on somebody's front lawn hopping and chirping, like that is magical to me… It's just really about finding things that make me smile and are really accessible,” Campbell said.

Once the dust settles a little more, Campbell will plan a grand opening celebration to mark the fruition of this vision. In the meantime, she looks forward to watching the store grow. With the warm responses that she has received thus far the online and Hamilton community, Witch’s Fix should continue to grow and become the store for all-things sorcery and magic downtown.

 

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Photo C/O @phincoffeebar

By: Natalie Clark

Calling all coffee addicts, there’s a new must try spot in town! Phin Coffee Bar is located at 804 King Street West. The Westdale neighbourhood spot is only a short walk from campus. The owner, Andrew Meas, launched the bar’s soft opening on Feb. 16 and has been committed to serving the Westdale community their best cup of coffee since.

This may be Meas’ first coffee shop, but he has lots of experience in the coffee industry and a lot of love for what he does.

After finishing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto, Meas wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. His grandmother, who owned a café in New Zealand, invited him to make the trip to work for her and learn how to bake and make coffee.

Although Meas wasn’t a fan of the baking aspect of the café, he became intrigued by the coffee. Her returned back from New Zealand and starting working at Smile Tiger Coffee Roasters in Kitchener.  

Soon after becoming a pro at brewing coffee, Meas made the decision to start planning his own coffee shop in June 2018. It was a decision of impulse and instinct, and he admits to a little bit of peer pressure.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt9-J-HgKJh/

This pressure came in the form of the encouragement he had from his friends to take the next big step in career and open up Phin.  

Meas quickly realized that opening up a coffee shop meant more than just knowing how to brew a good cup of coffee. While opening up Phin, Meas ran into some challenges, mostly administrative things he didn’t think of, like cups and insurance.

When choosing a location, Meas knew that the Westdale neighborhood would be the perfect place. The community’s charms and close proximity to McMaster were advantageous to the new business.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BuT7jn-BO-n/

Meas is aiming Phin Coffee Bar at students, professors and young adults, and being in the Westdale neighborhood accomplishes that for him.  

When asked what he believes Phin will add to the Westdale community, Meas mentioned that he hopes it will create a lot of foot traffic, encourage the exploration of coffee and brew a reputable cup of coffee.

Meas sees coffee as a gateway into people’s lives, it’s a part of their routine and lifestyle, and Phin Coffee Bar aims to be that gateway by creating a cozy and approachable vibe in the Westdale community.

 

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The results speak for themselves. After being added as an assistant coach in 2010 to the Ryerson Rams, the team achieved consistent Ontario University Athletics Final Four and Quarter-Finals appearances. The Rams continued to surpass high expectations when he served as interim head coach in 2015-16 to win the Rams’ first Wilson Cup title as OUA champions.

U SPORTS, known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport at the time, awarded him the Stu Aberdeen Trophy as Coach of the Year. Tatham is the only Ryerson coach in its program’s history to be awarded the honour.

He then took a professional development leave from Ryerson for the 2016-17 season to become an assistant coach with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, affiliated with the Boston Celtics. They reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in its short history before losing to the eventual champions, the Raptors 905.

While McMaster has had a successful program in the past, Tatham’s hiring brings a new hope to return to the upper echelon of Canadian men’s basketball programs.

“Patrick has established himself as one of the rising stars among all Canadian basketball coaches and we are looking forward to his building on the great tradition of McMaster Marauder basketball,” said McMaster Director of Athletics and Recreation Glen Grunwald.

This tradition and established history of the program at McMaster is something that Tatham mentioned is on the forefront of his mind.

“I think that anytime you get an opportunity you get an opportunity to leave your mark on a program, especially one like Mac, it’s a no brainer. I can’t even use excited anymore, I’m so elated.”

Tatham also cited Joe Raso, who served the Marauders as the coach from 1992 to 2010 and achieved 12 national championship tournament placements, as a source of inspiration.

Since then, Amos Connolly led the team to a 151-66 record over his seven-year tenure as Head Coach, and received the OUA West Coach of the Year award in 2014 after leading McMaster to a third place finish in the conference. He will remain in the program as a Recruiting Coordinator and Player Development Specialist.

“Changing roles, while it may be unconventional, provides me the opportunity to stay connected to this great program in a way that lines up with my strengths and goals as a coach,” said Connolly.

This ability to recruit is evident when looking back at what he helped accomplish for the program. First-year players Adam Presutti and Rohan Boney won OUA West Rookie of the Year honours in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Presutti also won the Dr. Peter Mullins Trophy as U SPORTS Rookie of the Year as McMaster’s first-ever winner of the award.

“Hands down, there’s an OUA championship or at least an OUA final four birth in the next three years. There’s no ifs, ands or buts, that’s a must.”

 

Patrick Tatham

Head coach

Men's basketball

Though the team had a disappointing season last year, they finished with an 8-11 conference record, became plagued with injuries to top players and failed to make the OUA Final Four, Tatham acknowledged the positives he has to work with.

“The foundation of the men’s basketball program is rock solid…. I think it’s all set up in the right way now.”

Connor Gilmore, who earned a spot on the OUA First-Team All-Star list, and David McCulloch, the team’s minutes leader and a model of consistency, will both return for their fourth years. Tatham steps into his role with a young roster that wants to succeed on a provincial and national level.

Tatham’s resume, the program’s former pedigree and the current state of the team should come with high expectations. Though the team has not achieved an OUA final four since the 2013-14 season, Tatham responded with enthusiasm when asked about his expectations over the next three years.

“Hands down, there’s an OUA championship or at least an OUA final four birth in the next three years. There’s no ifs, ands or buts, that’s a must.”

Moving forward, Tatham will also be working with Canada Basketball as the assistant coach for the Cadet Men’s National Team over the next two summers.

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Correction: Connor Gilmore announced in late April that he will be transferring to the University of Ottawa.

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By: Jennifer La Grassa

As children, we’re told to never talk to strangers. This firm command from our teachers and parents could be what has potentially engrained the avoidant response that we express when confronted by someone who is unfamiliar. When someone approaches me and asks “Do you know where the nearest (insert a location) is?” my brain automatically conjures up the memory of my mom firmly saying, “Don’t talk to strangers!” the first time I ever walked home from school by myself. With my mom’s voice ringing in my ears, my initial reaction to the stranger’s inquiry involves a shoulder shrug accompanied by a headshake, as I briskly walk away. Up until recently, this was the way I handled being confronted by, what I’d hope were, innocent strangers who simply lacked a GPS.

It wasn’t until I entered university that strangers became of great interest to me. Granted most “strangers” you meet in first year aren’t all that strange, as they are also 18 years old and just about as naïve as you are. But it’s not enough to just meet a person for them to no longer be a stranger. I’ve met so many people during my three years at McMaster and yet the most I know about any of them from the conversations we’ve had is their name, program and maybe their hometown. To my team leaders, fellow classmates and professors, even though I may see you every day and exchange small pleasantries with you, you’re still just as much of a stranger to me as I am to you.

Why is it so difficult for us to have meaningful conversations? It’s almost as if we have to wait until we become completely familiarized with a person before we can escape that “small talk” phase of the relationship and actually have a substantial conversation. I recently read a New York Times article whose author expressed how exhausted he was of having meaningless conversations about what someone does for a living or how the weather was that day. If you know me, then you would know that when I have absolutely nothing to say to someone the first thing I’ll bring up is the weather. Even though I know it’s such a poor conversation starter, it’s my go-to line when talking to people I don’t know well enough.

The author goes on to say that it’s really about how we phrase the question that will draw a different response from our co-conversationalist. He claims that instead of asking, “what do you do for a living?” we should ask, “what work are you most passionate about?” and rather than say, “where have you traveled to?” we should ask, “what place that you visited most inspired you and why?” Although this may seem intimidating to some, it is these types of conversations that truly allow us to connect with others.

I decided to test out the author’s suggestions and the universe must have really wanted me to, as it gave me two opportunities to do so recently. On my bus ride to Toronto, I ended up sitting beside a first-year McMaster student who decided to strike up a conversation with me. We conversed the entire road trip through which I learned, among many other things, of his transition into first year, his relationship with his sister and what he found most interesting about his program. We walked to the subway together and before we parted, it dawned on me that I had just learned so much about a person whom I had only known for forty minutes and whom I would probably never see again.

That same weekend, back in Hamilton, I had taken the wrong bus with a friend and at the last stop in Dundas, the young driver looked over at us and exclaimed, “you took the wrong bus didn’t you?” This led into a conversation about how he got to be a bus driver at the age of 25 and how life has so many unexpected turns that lead you to so many unexpected places. The willingness of the bus driver and the young McMaster student to open up and share a small fraction of their life taught me so much about myself and has changed the way in which I will conduct future conversations.

What’s most important is to be open to having these types of conversations. We shouldn’t pass someone off as being weird if they start asking us in-depth questions, unless they start asking for your address or credit card number, in which case quickly walking away in the opposite direction would be the appropriate response. There is so much we can learn from each other, if only we take the time to do so.

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There is a new face in the office of the Dean of Social Sciences. On Nov. 15, Economics professor Jeremiah Hurley will step into the role of Dean following the departure of Charlotte Yates, who was appointed the position of provost at Guelph University.

Hurley specializes in the economics of health and health care systems and completed his Master’s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The idea of Hurley’s new role at McMaster is exciting. He said, “I’m most looking forward to trying to help build excellence in the faculty in teaching and research, support faculty and the university as it moves forward with its agenda.”

Hurley hopes to continue some of the initiatives Yates undertook in her time as the Social Sciences Dean. He cited LR Wilson Hall, a new building exclusively for Humanities and Social Sciences students that is set to open next summer. Hurley hopes it will foster innovative efforts in teaching and making use of active learning spaces. “It’s going to create great opportunities for us to learn from both research and the community,” he explained.

In addition to continuing the initiatives Yates started, Hurley hopes to create more opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. Due to the nature of his specialty, Prof. Hurley said, “I’ve always been appointed between Health Sciences and Social Sciences so I’ve always been engaged in interdisciplinary work.” He added that he plans to discuss strategies for greater interdisciplinary collaboration with other faculty members.

This collaboration process is what Hurley loves most about the McMaster community. “The environment at McMaster is so supportive of interdisciplinary research,” he said.

“When I was on leave at another university and I realized the things I just take for granted at McMaster in terms of the ease of working with others across departments and faculties doesn’t exist everywhere. For me that was a moment of crystallization.”

Prof. Hurley has not confirmed what these new interdisciplinary efforts will look like, but he mentioned the possibility of a greater variety of classes being offered to students in some programs in addition to courses where multiple professors divide a course. He believes this will allow students to learn about a wider range of perspectives, and concluded, “I think we want to be open and flexible about this.”

Photo Credit: evidencenetwork.ca

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Two buildings on the McMaster campus will soon be torn down to make way for a new one. The University recently announced that T28 and T29 will be replaced by a new “Living Learning Center.” The 359 000 square foot building will boast residence space, classrooms, underground parking, and will house certain student and hospitality services. The building will also be the new location for the daycare that was displaced when construction began on L.R. Wilson Hall.

Dean of Students Sean Van Koughnett was excited to discuss the initiative. “There isn’t really a lot of space on campus to put up new buildings so we’re looking at this as an opportunity we have to take advantage of... I’m not sure we’ll have another chance like this in the foreseeable future,” he said.

The project has been allotted a $118 million budget and will be financed by the University. “Similar to how a household would take out a mortgage,” Van Koughnett explained.

The current proposal shows the building to be 12 storeys, eight of which will be residence floors. A total of 500 new suite style and traditional with washroom spaces will be available, which will significantly contribute to meeting the demand for more residence rooms. The remaining floors will hold large and small classrooms and student services, specifically the Student Wellness Center and Student Accessibility Services. The building will also include public space for students to relax and hold informal meetings.

Although the Student Wellness Center was renovated last winter, Van Koughnett expressed the desire to put these services in a more prominent and convenient location. The SWC was renovated to improve accessibility for students in wheelchairs and make reception areas more private so more students felt comfortable seeking help. “These were deficiencies that were important enough to address now and we determined that it shouldn’t wait four years… students entering first year this fall will be done before the building is projected to open,” Van Koughnett said.

While current students will have graduated by the time the Living Learning Center is slated to open in Fall 2019, Van Koughnett emphasized the importance of student involvement in the project, citing former MSU President Teddy Saul’s involvement on the design committee. Once an architect has been hired and details have been confirmed, he said “we definitely want [student] involvement on all aspects of the building.” He is hopeful that an architect will be hired over the course of the summer and that ground-breaking is anticipated within the next year.

Van Koughnett anticipates the Living Learning Center will be a successful and rewarding endeavor. He said, “I’m confident that if we get the right people involved, and we have a student voice that we’ll end up with something we’re really proud of.”

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