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Turn dissatisfaction into action July 21, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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I admit that it’s a lot easier to complain about something than it is to change it. In the last Toronto election, 53 percent of eligible voters turned out. But doesn’t it seem like a lot more than half of the population is complaining? This same pattern is reflected in our own university where last year’s UTSU elections only attracted a voter turnout of only 7 percent!

Political activism is about making an effort to change policies and create better ones. And it begins at home. Every year, you can vote for your representative on U of T’s Governing Council. It’s as easy as logging into ROSI! U of T also offers an elected student union for each program on campus. Whether you’re interested in adding your name to the ballot or just casting a vote, it’s easier than you think.

Voting isn’t the only opportunity for some good ol’ fashioned democratic action! “Political activism is so simple,” says Sane Moyo, a 2011 U of T grad who founded her own charity to protect oppressed communities in Kenya. “It’s not just about joining clubs. When you’re walking down St George, accept a flyer. Take a minute to stop. Engage in conversation! Even if you disagree, dialogue is where it starts.”

And dialogue encourages action. As students, we have spent a good portion of our lives stocking up on information. University is a forum where we share that information with others and form ideas through discourse. What better place to apply these new ideas than at a level where they make a difference?

There are several politically active groups on campus. These range from the party-affiliated like the Campus Conservatives, U of T NDP or the U of T Liberals, to other unaffiliated groups such as the Black Students Association. Sane worked with the BSA to organize events raising awareness about political injustice towards marginalized groups. Cultural and special interest groups are politically active without adhering to specific party politics.

Max Pachecho, a member of the U of T NDP, describes his interest in political involvement as “awareness of what is happening in our world”. Working with the NDP has given him an opportunity to “reach out to the student body and other like minded groups.” Meeting others who share your beliefs gives you the confidence to spread awareness and inspire action.

For those of us who prefer to complain (yes, sometimes me!), there is a way to turn political dissatisfaction into action. The Varsity prints opinion pieces from readers as do the larger city newspapers. If you like to aim a little higher, letters to your Member of Parliament or even the Prime Minister are free to send!

So get out there and be heard! As Sane points out “It’s our school. It’s our campus. It’s our country. If we don’t speak up about it, no one else will.”

– Bethany McKoy, Communications Assistant and Writer, Office of Student Life

How to make your own job July 11, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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Despite the sunshine and warm air, summer can be as stressful as the school year. Every April, the city is swarmed with eager job applicants. Many will find that, despite their qualifications, enthusiasm or high marks in last year’s incredibly difficult 18th Century Romantic literature class, even snagging a job at the local coffee shop can be a challenge.

It’s easy to be discouraged after handing out what seemed to be a mountain of resumes and receiving only a metaphorical molehill of responses. But some students have taken this as an opportunity to extend their creativity and academic studies to a practical level.

Many students use simple home-business solutions to make extra cash in the summers. From tutoring to note-taking to even food delivery, there are a number of creative ways you can make money on the off season.

What’s more, the best ideas are the ones that come when you’re just having fun! Vincent Cheung is a PhD student at UofT who turned “just something fun” into a successful business.

A student of computer engineering and special machine learning, Vincent spent his 2007 summer at an internship in California. He returned with hundreds of pictures that he wanted to share with his fellow interns in a fun, creative way. After spending hours rearranging his photos on his computer, he decided that there had to be an easier way to arrange them creatively.

He designed a computer program that would place pictures into a fun design template chosen by the user. He posted it on his personal blog in 2009 and, at the request of interested friends, he began to promote his program, called Shapecollage, to the top 100 blogs in the world, starting from the bottom. Today, Shapecollage software has had 4 million downloads and has recently been released as an iPhone app.

Vincent advises that when you’re starting your own business, it’s best to start small. Begin by creating a product or service that you can use and appreciate; if you like something, it’ll be easier to convince others to like it too. “Take bite-sized pieces rather than jumping from zero to a million,” Vincent says.

U of T has many resources for the up-and-coming entrepreneur. Take advantage of clubs like the Entrepreneurial Society for help making a business plan or choosing your next steps. Use the bulletin boards around campus to advertise to your peers or even get in contact with one of the many U of T newspapers about their classified listings. Like Vincent, who’s used skills from as far back as grade six, apply your schoolwork to a venture that you can enjoy and profit from.

The Government of Ontario offers grants of up to $10,000 to new businesses. They are always looking for new, innovative ideas to invest in. Their funding programs are listed on their website by industry; they even offer online workshops to help beginners develop business strategies.

There are also awards out there for young entrepreneurs; Vincent won the Global Student Entrepreneurship Award for students taking a full-course load while also operating a profitable business. Awards look great on grad-school applications and real-life experience will put you ahead of the rest in the post-grad work force.

You can be your own boss! Can’t find a job? Make your own and keep your mind sharp and your resume fresh in the process.

-Bethany McKoy, Communications Assistant and Writer, Office of Student Life

Your mid-years can be the best time to get involved July 4, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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It can be hard to stay motivated in your second and third years of study. After all the excitement of frosh week has ended and the first-year programs no longer apply, you may wonder: where is the second year programming? What about the third years? It can be easy to lose motivation with the beginning over and the end so far away. I call this the Mid-Years Crisis.

In fact, your second or third year is the perfect time to get out and get involved! With U of T’s high expectations, those students coming from high school can find it tough to adjust. That’s why second and third year are the perfect times to look for clubs and associations that are going to be both fun outside the classroom, and helpful inside.

“People always think that there’s not enough time,” says Evelyn Romero, a student in Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences who just finished her third year and has spent her mid-years taking part in a variety of clubs and programs on campus. She admits to feeling overwhelmed by the workload in her first year and being reluctant to join any groups.

Evelyn joined clubs that would complement her studies in Health Sciences and get her excited about the practical application of her program. In her second year, she joined the Hart House Social Justice Committee. “It was interesting to take my background in Health Sciences and use it when planning events, organizing debates and helping with the Social Justice Fair”.

During her term as Head of Communications, she even used her Nutritional Sciences background to prepare healthy, organic meals for club meetings.

Once you get involved, you realize how easy it is to find more opportunities. U of T has great resources to help you find a club perfectly suited to your tastes. Evelyn eventually joined the NDP student group on campus, and is now their recording secretary. This led her to other volunteer positions with such groups as Free the Children and the Canadian Blood Services. The best part about participating in clubs is that it motivates you to use the same resources to find employment. Working with Hart House Social Justice Committee was great experience when Evelyn applied for her job at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “It’s all reinforcing itself,” she says about bringing her study experience to the workplace.

Use your second and third years to get out and get involved! It’s a great way to stay motivated in your program and establish a solid resume during your down-time. Take a look at Ulife to see what’s happening on campus this year. Use the Career Centre to find jobs that will complement what you’re learning. And always remember that most programs on campus have councils that deal directly with specific programs. So, no matter what your field of study, there’s something out there to end that mid-years crisis!
– Bethany McKoy, Communications Assistant and Writer, Office of Student Life