After getting my acceptance into the University of Calgary’s Coop Distinction program, my head immediately filled with what can only be coined “Overactive Imaginings”. I saw myself working in a stylish office downtown – where important meetings were held behind closed doors, where Business Formal was the only uniform, and where the fast paced lifestyle would rival that of an episode of Suits. I pictured skyscrapers, shiny cars, high heels and important dossiers…
…I’m nothing if not dramatic.
What I never expected was to find a listing for a Service-Learning Assistant here on campus, a Coop position with Leadership and Student Engagement (LSE). It caught my eye, however, nestled neatly in and among the of other job ID’s that flood Career Link in the month of March. I didn’t apply for it the first time it ran across my screen. I was in Political Science, I had my sights set on Law school, and working with the LSE’s Community Engagement portfolio didn’t look to be a piece that would fit into my life’s overly complicated puzzle.
If I could go back in time and talk some sense into that skeptical third year student, I would do so in a heartbeat.
It wasn’t until a particularly crowded holiday dinner towards the end of the semester that the Service-Learning Assistant position found its way back onto my radar. Though I had applied for multiple other Coop positions, none had filled me with the excitement I thought I craved, none had inspired in me the same feeling that my Coop acceptance had brought. It was at this point that an acquaintance from campus approached me, one with whom I had shared stories, jokes, and little else.
Alycia Lauzon was the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, and had spent the last 10 years of her life connecting students to volunteer and service learning opportunities in a way that shifted many of their lives. While she has now left the University of Calgary to pursue her dreams, she has been replaced by Andrew Barry – my boss, my friend, and an inspiration. At the time, she spoke with me about her position and the fulfillment it gave her, and throughout the night I found our conversation leading me down a path that I had never expected.
I wanted the Service-Learning Assistant position. More than that, I needed it. The thought of helping students connect with their community, the thought of combatting isolation in our city through volunteer projects and intercultural programs brought me joy. For the first time in my Coop search, I wasn’t thinking about what would help my career – I was thinking about myself.
This job has offered me so many opportunities and I am hard pressed to count them without losing track. I have been tasked with sharing some of these opportunities and these tasks with you, but please be aware that no words can accurately describe the depth of what our portfolio truly does.
Day of Service
The Community Engagement portfolio at LSE run two one-day service events throughout the year, the Day of Service and the Night of Service. During these programs students are matched with community partners. The participants spend their day learning about the impact these organizations have on the community, and helping with a volunteer or service activity.
At the beginning of my first Coop term, my coworker Hannah and I were tasked with running the first Day of Service. A program limited to first year students, “Day of Service” is unique in that it marks many students foray into the University, just as it marks the Service-Learning Assistants’ foray into their new position. Hannah and I quickly jumped in to the planning and administrative work involved in the Day of Service – contacting community partners, recruiting Team Leaders, marketing the events to new students. With the success of Day of Service, Hannah and I felt a pride in our work that to this day has been unsurpassed. It was a moment where we realized we could do amazing things, both in this position, and in our futures.
The main programs run by the Community Engagement portfolio, ucalgarycares encompass between five and six immersive programs that run for between 1 and 2 weeks. The programs we ran in the 2017/2018 ucalgarycares cycles are as follows.
- Homelessness at Home: a partnership with the Mustard Seed, Homelessness at Home is a Calgary program that teaches students about the difficulties and barriers faced by those who are homeless or financially burdened.
- Sustainable Cities: our second in city program, Sustainable Cities teaches students about the four pillars of sustainability (Nature, Economy, Social and Wellness) and how our city is tackling these pillars through different organizations.
- Global Citizenship: our only limited program, Global Citizenship sees a group of first year students visiting Toronto and learning about what Globalization means, how it affects individuals, and how they can become responsible and globally conscious.
- Culture and Community Development: Culture and Community Development is currently our only international program. It is also our longest, with participants spending two weeks in Costa Rica, helping volunteer with our partners on La Isla Chira
- Indigenous Leadership and Engagement: a program run in late summer, Indigenous Leadership and Engagement occurs in the Yukon, where students communicate and learn about Indigenous communities and their traditions and culture.
These 5 programs have consisted of the bulk of our work during the past 10 months. I have had the pleasure of being involved with volunteers, participants, community partners and other incredible individuals in the facilitation of these events. Although the workload can vary from slow at times to mind blowingly busy at others, it has never felt less than an absolute privilege to be a part of the admin and facilitation work with ucalgarycares. From recruitment, to organizing workshops, to leading volunteer events, to creating Project Leader binders, the experience has been a thrill.
As well as the Days of Service and the ucalgarycares programs, this job has a beautifully diverse range of programming that students can take advantage of, some of which I am listing below.
- Tzedakah-Sadakah: An Interfaith collaboration with the Faith and Spirituality Centre
- Trick or Eat: A Meal Exchange program wherein students go “Trick or Eating” for food donations that will then be delivered to both the SU Campus and Calgary Food Banks.
- Involvement Advising: Wherein staff at the Leadership and Student Engagement office offer co-curricular advice for students who wish to be more involved on campus.
Fast forward from that conversation with Alycia, almost 12 months to the day, and I am both sad and exultant to be moving on from my time as a Service-Learning Assistant. I am sad for losing the feeling of fulfilment I get every day when on my way to work, sad for the friendships that will undoubtedly change once my daily routine becomes my daily memory, however I am exultant for the student who will receive the same opportunities that I have. I find myself thinking about the individual who will replace me, about the frustration, the pride and ultimately the joy they will feel in this position, and it makes me smile.
Whoever you are, I hope you are reading this, and I hope this position expands your horizons in the same beautiful way that it has for me.
-Meghan Day (PS: That’s me on the right)