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We’re talking ’bout extracurriculars! February 10, 2012

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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Some people see extracurricular activities as a waste of time and without benefits, much like the way  Allen Iverson considers practice. Little does he know, though, that practice makes perfect—just ask Kobe Bryant: he’s won five NBA Championships. Iverson? None.

In the past 185 years, U of T has unsurprisingly produced a long list of successful alumni in vastly diverse fields. A lot of that success has to do with the level of academic excellence that has been in practice here, the positively competitive environment created by a confluence of intelligent people which raises everyone’s efforts to a higher level. However, while learning academic and some life skills inside the classroom is important, most life skills are learned outside of it, either taking part in a students’ union, playing intramural sports, taking part in a student club, volunteering for an event, or mentoring.

There are lots of skills and capabilities sought by employers that can be learned and/or developed from participation in extracurriculars, such as teamwork, leadership, communication and creative thinking, to name just a few.

You may also find your true calling while participating outside the classroom. Renowned director Atom Egoyan graduated from U of T in International Relations, but discovered his love for film in the Hart House Film Board.

Yet another benefit successful alumni have gained from extracurriculars is networking and friendship, because a lot of the people they meet in their out-of-class activities learn those very same skills that employers value so much, yet they are from different background and interests. U of T alumnus Craig Kielburger, founder of the Free the Children Foundation, developed his key networks while studying on the St. George campus.

So when you’re talkin’ about practice, man –  or extracurriculars – you’re talkin’ about your career and what you do with your life.

– Redon Hoxhaj, Communications Assistant, Office of Student Life

What’s Your Green Dot? January 23, 2012

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Leadership, Student Life.
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The Green Dots are here at U of T!

Last week, U of T was introduced to this violence prevention strategy during Green Dot Week, with events across all three campuses to educate students on violence prevention. A Green Dot is any action that furthers the prevention of personal violence, and focuses on ensuring that bystanders play a role.

Bystanders can make a real difference in preventing violence. Think of the bystander effect and its connection to the domino and/or butterfly effects: a charged particle will transmit its charge to particles close by, a hot material will emit heat to other materials around it, and so on. Interestingly, in human culture the bystander effect is usually characterized by not taking action.

The bystander effect was what prompted Dr. Dorothy Edwards of the University of Kentucky to become a leader in her field and develop the Green Dot Strategy, which is solidly based on extensive cross-disciplinary research into social diffusion theory, bystander literature, perpetrator data, and marketing/rebranding research. Says Dr. Edwards: “If Social Diffusion Theory speaks to ‘who’ and Bystander Theory speaks to “what”, then understanding how perpetrators operate in targeting, assessing and victimizing speaks to ‘how.’”

Bystanders can make a huge difference by making the conditions more difficult for potential perpetrators. Potential actions include the “Three Ds”: Direct, by suggesting a change in behavior to get a person out of a dangerous situation; Delegate, by getting someone to take care of a person who is at risk of violence and finding help; and/or Distract, by creating a distraction that will interrupt the flow of the potential violence.

Although Green Dot Week has now passed, you can still get involved. There are still Green Dot events planned at all three campuses. You can keep track of them on their Facebook page.

So, be a leader of your community and take the initiative to cover U of T with green dots and eradicate violence.

– Redon Hoxhaj, Communications Assistant, Office of Student Life

How can you contribute? January 13, 2012

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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As mentioned in an earlier post in our blog, Julia Butterfly-Hill lived in a tree for 738 days and would not come down until she received a guarantee that the 1000-year-old redwood tree would not be cut down.

It got me thinking. Very few of us can claim an accomplishment of this magnitude, and at first glance we might think only a small number can even consider themselves capable of such a feat.

In reading the post, I came away with three things that I think helped her achieve her goals: devotion, a sense of sacrifice, and a supporting cast.

The devotion it takes to get that kind of inspiration and endurance to live for two years high on top of a tree, through the cold of winter and heat of summer, through rain and strong winds, through not-so-infrequent earthquakes in California, is the kind that escalates mountains, crosses oceans, flies to other planets, saves/protects endangered species, lowers tuition fees, prevents talismanic trees from being cut down.

We often hear of leading by example, and to me there is no clearer example than sacrificing two years of your life to save that of another creature. It takes exactly that kind of sacrifice to send a message across loud and clear, to inspire people to follow your cause, to get the attention of people standing in your way.

I do not think anyone can achieve a goal without support from others. Even in an individual sport such as tennis, there are no athletes that succeed without a good coach, trainer, nutritionist, a strong group of friends and family. Support can come in many ways, shapes and forms, but one thing is for sure: a good leader is made so by a supporting cast. Would there be a leader if there was no one to lead?

– Redon Hoxhaj, Communications Assistant, Office of Student Life

Got a good idea? Get to know the GIF December 1, 2011

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By Redon Hoxhaj

You know what GIF is, don’t you? No, I’m not referring to the graphic interchange format that is so useful and versatile. GIF at Hart House stands for the Good Ideas Fund, a student panel that will give you up to a grand in cash to make your great idea a reality.

Before you let your imagination run wild, it might be important to know they won’t fund just any idea. So if you have a brilliant plan for a computer program that hacks into ROSI, don’t expect to receive a warm reception. Here’s what the good people at GIF are looking to fund:

Highlights of ideas funded by GIF in the past include:

–          David Suzuki appearance at Convocation Hall

–          G8 Research Group

–          University of Toronto Health and Human Rights Conference

–          Writer’s Co-op Spoken Word Event – Exchanging Notes

–          Students Against Climate Change—Green Jobs Fair

You’ll need to come up with a brilliant idea first, then fill the GIF application form, and submit it to the committee at least three days prior to their next meeting and four weeks prior to your event.

There has never been a better time to realize your dreams, so hurry and submit your application!

Redon Hoxhaj is the communications assistant at the Office of Student Life.

We Can’t All Live in a Tree… October 14, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Leadership, Student Life.
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But we can do something! That’s a message I try to pass on to students through my work with the Leadership Development Program here at U of T.

One person who actually did live in a tree is Julia Butterfly-Hill. She will be speaking at Hart House on October 18, and will talk about what you can do to have an impact on the community around you. In 1997, Julia climbed 180 feet into the branches of a 1000-year-old redwood tree in California and refused to come down until she received a guarantee that the tree would be protected from logging. She stayed for a very long time.

It’s pretty impressive. Not only did she find the time to get involved in something that mattered to her – protecting an ancient forest from clear-cutting – she did so by climbing into a 1000-year-old redwood tree for 738 straight days! That’s more than two years! In a tree!

There are a million ways to make a difference, and some of them may even complement your studies, your skills and, if you’re lucky, your interests. As a staff member I try and role model that message through my own involvement in my community as well.

But amidst the bustle of classes, clubs, and trying to stay attuned to the latest trends of pop culture, finding the time to seek out that special something that gets your fired up can be the straw that breaks a student’s back. As someone on the other side of a Bachelor’s degree from U of T, I can certainly sympathize. For students and professionals alike, squeezing in the time to make a meaningful difference isn’t always easy.

Now, we can’t all live in a tree, but we can do something! Whether you have ten minutes, or two years, what meaningful contributions can you make to your community? In a sense, what’s your tree?

– Kate Bowers, Student Life Coordinator, Leadership Programs

30 Days, 30 Ways (1): Time to Get Your TCard! August 8, 2011

Posted by ekkellogg in 30 Days 30 Ways, Student Life.
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Welcome New Students! For the next 30 days we’ll be posting a daily tip on how to get oriented at U of T. Entering a new school doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and our best advice is to take things one day at a time! Our tips range from helping you get your fees paid and email account activated to making friends and finding your favourite study space on campus. Looking forward to September!

Here’s a bit of advice: make sure that your hair looks great on the day you drop by the T-Card office. You’ll use your T-Card as a library card and a Student ID card all throughout university. You can also load money on the card to pay for printing, scanning and photocopying. Your T-Card doesn’t expire — so, if you were having a bad hair-day expect the photographic evidence to haunt you until graduation.

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

What you’re doing after class may just be your true path! May 10, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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It can be tempting sometimes to set it all aside and hit the books. The clubs, the student politics, the intramurals – do you feel they’re all just distractions from your studies?

Well, we’re always learning. Not just in the classroom. Check out this video of some renowned alumni – a lot of them will tell you that what they did outside of class played an important role in what they’ve achieved throughout their lives.