Photo: taken by a UPEI student on a field trip to Basin Head 

 

Yes, you should attend your classes and take every opportunity to participate and learn in the context of your courses, but … there is more!

When I was an undergraduate student in the biological sciences at McGill University in the early 1980s, my first year was a bit of a blur, not because I spent my time partying in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, but because I naively assumed my education was restricted to my courses.  Also, in those days (I can’t believe I’m using this language), ‘frosh week’ was not necessarily the most educational or politically correct program of events to orient you to university life.  It was therefore logical for me as a new student to ‘stick to the program’ and fulfill my obligation to my timetable.

I got a passing grade in all my courses and got to go back to my hometown on weekends throughout the academic year to spend time with family and friends. This was comfortable and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, is there?  However, in retrospect, there was something missing.  It was not until my second year that I made this realization.  I was a relatively shy person by nature and I needed to step outside my comfort zone to engage socially with strangers.  

Consequently, it took the coaxing of a classmate to get me to visit the biology student society lounge.  Initially, I was surprised at the level of activity in that small space but most importantly, I was amazed to find out what was going on in terms of events outside the classroom. These included informal field trips, study groups, discussion groups, documentary movie nights; you name it – it was happening.  I met some really keen leaders who showed me what I could achieve for myself.  This was a turning point for me.  

I got involved to the extent that I could and never looked back.  The social networks and friendships I formed were as enriching to me educationally as the best courses I took in my program. Getting to know students from other countries and of different backgrounds was an important aspect of my growth as a person and literally opened my eyes to the world. Throughout my graduate studies, I made it a point to get involved and to be an active member of my university community, in a variety of ways.  

When I became a professor at UPEI, I quickly realized that engagement took on a new dimension, at least in the context of this institution. It was actually a ‘two way street’. As a professor, I got the same enriching experience by engaging with colleagues and students in a variety of activities beyond the classroom.  This included special field trips to the biodôme and botanical garden in Montreal, hikes to the Joggins fossil cliffs in Nova Scotia, accompanying students to conferences, participating in a variety of fundraisers and social events, including yes – even pub crawls! What I like the most about these experiences is that I met great people and I got to fuel their passion and interests.  The reward is that it’s reciprocal!  

For the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of organizing the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life event at UPEI.  This important community fundraiser event has brought together a group of keen and dedicated students on a yearly basis interested in making a difference and raising awareness.  Again this year, I’m proud to say that plans are well underway for our event scheduled to take place in January.  The team of young people at the helm are exceptional individuals!

UPEI is a great setting for you to take full advantage of being a member of an academic community. Get involved!   

 

By: Dr. Christian Lacroix

Professor in the Department of Biology