Reflections On Impact

Last semester I asked my undergraduate and graduate students to begin drafting reflective posts. In particular, I asked them if they would write 500-1000 words about their journeys through their various academic programs. This wasn’t a requirement, and the topic of each post was open to whatever the author felt compelled to draft. And aside from some minor editorial adjustments, the posts you’ve read have all been penned by the students in their particular voice.

My hope was that this exercise would allow me the opportunity to collect a series of experiences that I could share with other students to give them a sense of what it’s like to work in an academic setting, to get involved with community-engaged projects, to do graduate work, and so on. To date, the students have written about their experiences at conferences, their experiences travelling to the Circumpolar North for research, their experiences as an undergraduate research assistant, and their experiences dealing with loss. Each post is unique, is told with a different voice, and provides a different takeaway from whatever experience the student opted to write about.

The post you are about to read is different. It is written by Corey Alexander, a former student who completed his MSc just over a year ago. While Corey’s post will describe one of the awards he received during his undergraduate and graduate training, I think it important to mention that it leaves out several others. These include the University of Guelph Student Life’s Be The Change Award, and nominations for the OAC Class of 60 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, and the Graduate Student Engagement Award. It also fails to mention that he was selected as the nominee for the College of Engineering & Physical Science for the D. F. Forster Medal – one of the highest awards bestowed on a graduating Master’s student.

Regardless, Corey’s post was not what I was expecting. To be brutally honest, I’ve been debating on whether or not to post it because I don’t want it to come across as some sort of self-aggrandizing or narcissistic exercise. And because I worried about the optics, I shared his post with colleagues to garner their opinions. While they understood my concern, they suggested that I should still post his words because what is written represents the true reflection and feelings of one of my students.

Despite my reservations, I’ve decided to post the words – because they are heartfelt, and honest, and because they mean so much to me. On days when I feel like I’ve screwed up everything, or on those days that I feel that I’m leading my students astray, or that I’ve somehow failed them because I wasn’t fully present or at the top of my game, I’m going to try to remember these words. Because it’s often easy to forget the impact we have on other people.

Corey – thank you so much for what you’ve written. I can’t even begin to explain how much this means to me.

I’m not really sure where to begin this blog post. I have never written one before, but Dan asked me to write a small post about something that has impacted me, changed the way I learned or affected me in some meaningful way, and I decided it was the least I could do for a friend. The thing is, Dan is what this blog post is going to be about. During my degree, it was Dan who impacted me the most.

I met Dan in 2013 when I needed a job. One of my friends at the time was working for a professor on campus and said he would introduce me. I was rather nervous about meeting a professor and asking them to hire me for work, but I went to his user interface design class for the entire lecture and then asked him for a job after class. To my surprise, Dan was pretty easy to talk to and this marked the start of a journey filled with adventure, puns, and shenanigans.

Working with Dan helped to increase my confidence in my own abilities while at the same time allowing me to pursue topics of interest to myself. I worked for him throughout part of my third year and all of my fourth year of my undergrad. He offered the chance to do a masters degree with him. At first, I turned this down saying that I would just get a job after school, but I was nervous that I would not know enough or have the skills after my fourth year. Dan saw something in me and kept trying to get me to agree to do the masters degree with him while I continued to tell him I was just planning on getting a job. Dan had other plans.

During the summer of 2013, our first adventure happened. Dan invited me and my friend Lee-Jay to go to Newfoundland for a conference. I had never been to a conference before, let alone on an airplane! It was exciting and I finally got the chance to travel somewhere.

During my fourth year of undergrad, Dan nominated me for the Guelph Mercury 40 Under 40 Award. When he told me about this, I could not believe it. And then a few other friends and I were selected to receive the award. It was unbelievable.

In April of 2014, I finished my undergraduate degree and worked for Dan as a research assistant during the summer while I was supposed to look for work. Close to the end of the summer, I got an interesting message from Dan – “I have signed you up for a graduate degree. It starts in two weeks.” Reading this I was confused, he signed me up for an entire degree without asking me first. A few more messages came in quickly afterwards. “I’ll make sure to help find you funding, you won’t need to take out more loans.” followed quickly by, “This is going to be fun. Adventure!”

He had such confidence in me, more than I did, and then the final message came in. “If you try it and don’t like it you can always stop.” This was the message that finally convinced me. I mean he was right, wasn’t he? What would be the harm in trying? I accepted my fate and was able to make it through the degree.

During my graduate degree, I quickly learned that Dan was someone I could talk to about school-related things, and someone I could talk to about anything in my personal life. He was extremely supportive and it was because of him and other professors’ support that I made it through my graduate degree.

Dan has taught me so many things about life and put so much time and effort into helping me to succeed and become a better person. He taught me to always be curious and to surround myself with people who push me to be better. He inspired me to always be learning, to help people when I can, and never give up even when things get difficult.

I could not have asked for a better mentor and friend than Dan.

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