Fantastic University Services and Where To Find Them!

By Michael Cassar – Peer Employment Advisor

A great athlete once said:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Arthur Ashe, a former World No.1 tennis player, once said this. Unfortunately, Mr. Ashe died in 1992 of AIDS-related pneumonia. He was a champion of many firsts: Ashe was the first male African-American player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only African-American to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.

Before his many successes in sport and his advocacy and charity work to fight and defeat AIDS, Arthur went through the adversity of losing his mother at a young age of just seven years old, and experienced racism and segregation in the USA in the 1960’s with the Civil Rights movement in full-swing.

But Arthur knew that if he could envision what goals he had, what he dreamed to achieve, he could get through it and persevere forward to be successful no matter what adverse situation, hurdle, or problem he was facing. That is the beauty of success; it does not care about race, religion, colour, creed, or origin. If you define what success means to you, the odds of achieving what you want shall always be in your favour.

Being a student whose post-secondary journey did not originally begin at UOIT, each day I am on campus I am inspired and forever grateful for the many student services and avenues for improvement available at the Student Life office (located in the U5 Portable on the North Campus and at 61 Charles Street on the Downtown Campus)! These great services were a large part of the reason why I wanted to transfer and continue my post-secondary journey at a university that is closer to my home and my heart.

One of the big hurdles I often quarreled with during my time as a first-year student attending the University of Ottawa was trying to find a way to balance maximizing my grade point average, attending as many on-campus club and society events of my interests, having a social life with friends and family with those who are around and far away from me, all while managing the sweeping life change that was living on my own for the first time!

Looking back, that was quite a bit of responsibilities and aspirations  to juggle! And the juggling part was not easy, as I have yet to complete my degree from Clown’s College! Hahaha!

I thought I’d throw in some mild clown humour! Someone told me that it’s a nice “jester” to do so…

Okay, I promise I’ll stop with the clown puns (for now).

But back to the story: juggling my life when I was on my own. There were times where school work, my social life, relationships, athletics, eating habits and day-to-day routines felt like a giant blur; all being vacuumed into a black-hole like portal of ambiguity. I am using this outer space analogy because it often felt like that my future is constantly in flux.

There were many things that probably could have attributed to that. Maybe it was that my grade point average was not at the level that it was at in high school and had dropped significantly? Maybe it was the change of sitting at a dinner table without my mother and father right beside me? Maybe it was that for the first time in my life, I got to truly begin being the adult in my own life? Maybe it was the combination of  all of those things?

There are two things I learned from this that have helped me to be the student I am today. First, that a future influx can inspire possibility and not fear, and secondly, that I should embrace my future of tomorrow by taking actions today!

It was in March of 2015, when I had made the decision to change where I was going to complete my undergraduate degree in Commerce. There was this lovely little place close to home known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. It was really  a homecoming of homecomings because not only had I already been aware of this school having lived and been raised near it, but I also was accepted into its commerce program back in grade twelve along with my brother who studies engineering. It was at this point in my life when I learned that no matter where you currently stand, where you used to stand, and where you eventually want to stand, to have any place to stand, you must first rise.

Do you want to know one of the best known secrets in my life? Simple, I know that nobody can get there on their own, no matter where their ‘there’ is. It is interesting to note how the words there and where both have the word ‘here’ in them. In any good story where the protagonist wins in the end, there is always a sidekick, mentor, or friend who has shared their wisdom, empathy and compassion towards them to help keep them motivated along the way.

One cool and interesting story I recall from my time in the nation’s capital is when I spent a night participating in uOttawa’s Long-Night Against Procrastination, hosted by a faction of their many student services, the Academic Writing Help Centre and the Student Academic Success Services in November of 2014. As you all may be very well aware, procrastination often occurs to students who put off, forget about, fail to plan for, or just don’t have the energy to complete a assignment, project, or regular study time for midterms and final exams.

So I was down there, sitting at the table with two friends of mine and passersby I recognized on campus when I was on my way to my classes; I was amazed at just how many people had turned up for this event. The entire Academic Writing Help Centre had become full of students who were talking and engaging with each other about something many people go through in the creative thinking process. Whether it was the fun games and activities we as students all shared and took part in, or whether it was when I was studying with two friends of mine from my first year calculus class, it was a memorable time where student services helped me feel united and connected early in my time in our campus community.

Fast-forwarding from that event, when I would often speak with my older brother, who just a mere eighteen months older than I. He will be returning to UOIT this fall to complete his fourth year of engineering after his internship with a company called Napoleon Fireplaces, a division Wolf Steel Ltd., located in Barrie, Ontario. Back in March of 2015, when I transferring to UOIT and considering the very big decision to transfer to a university that is much closer to my hometown of Bowmanville, my brother was in full-swing of his application for co-op and the internship searching process of finding an employer. Thanks to the helpful and optimistic coordinators and employment advisors I now have the pleasure of calling my co-workers, I am proud to say that he had two offers and he is really loving his experience with a company that offered him an internship opportunity of a lifetime.

It is inspiring to know that we are at a really dynamic time in our school’s history. Being a youthful and new institution, we are very fortunate to have much closer relationships with those who can provide students with the services and resources we may need. I fundamentally believe that the stronger those relationships and bonds are with such resource providers, the greater the student’s potential for success and happiness in their field of studies and life going forward will be.

So today my friends, when you next gaze upon our lovely campus and see the sun shining in the sky, or setting in the west, remember that each every day, as the current one ends, and a new one begins, there is a committed, energetic, and enthusiastic team of people who are looking to provide you with the services you need to succeed in your future! From financial aid to the career centre, from the student learning centre to the conversation cafe, your dreams and aspirations of tomorrow can start by finding and unlocking the power and potential you have to change the world today!

Until the next article, good morning, good afternoon, and good night everyone!

P.S. Much apologies for not having this lovely article up sooner, I just need to wrap my head on what I wanted to write.

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The Plight of Productivity: The Importance of Mental Health In The Workplace

By Michael Cassar – Peer Employment Advisor

“A B C! It’s easy 1 2 3! As simple as, do re mi!”

On February 20th,  1970,  a youthful band known as the “Jackson Five” released the song “A B C”. This would be the launching point of a career for the musician and performer named Michael Jackson. He would go on to make history and change the world through his art and passion for entertainment.

The lyrics from “A B C” not only reflect what strong talent, creativity, and captivating potential The Jackson Five had,  it also became their second number one hit; displacing The Beatles “Let It Be”.

So in the world of competing musical artists and performers, it can be said that it pays to be productive, and then some. Millions and even billions of dollars are to be made. Today’s digitized world is one where human beings can do everything they could do in person through the medium of a technologically sophisticated smartphone or computer screen; fame, productivity, and creativity can have a truly global and international audience!

It is not uncommon to see the YouTube stars of today cash in paychecks that can pay for much more than just rent and a Netflix account. Whether or not such dollars and groundswell will lead to fame and fortune, it is in a lot of ways up to the audience that the individual is trying to connect and establish a relationship with to determine how renowned and globally known that person will become . When you start to think about it, putting your name, your ideas, and your methods of life, work, or perceptions of the world out there can require much effort and time to keep your audience satisfied and engaged.

I have wondered for a long time, what is the main driver or source of such creative and relevant content for others? Whether it be in the social media sphere, the music and entertainment industry, or the workplace environment in general,  I think I can identify it with one word:

PRODUCTIVITY.

Yes, pronounced as [proh-duhk-tiv-i-tee]. From my years of experience as a university student, as a YouTube watcher, as a music fan, and as a consumer, I have personally arrived at the conclusion that if an individual feels and is inspired to be empowered in their workplace environment, they can maximize their potential and utility of knowledge, skills, and abilities!

So when I thought long and  hard about to what to write for this article, I arrived at the realization that a crucial and integral part to any workplace is the mental health awareness programs and services. Now more than ever, especially considering that 1 in 5 of all Canadians suffers from a mental health problem, it is vital that such programs are available for those in their respective workplace environments to continue to provide individuals with the positive and re-encouraging environment to be productive.

I am a commerce student who intends to one day become a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL). This designation would allow me a multitude of opportunities to work with people in a capacity that influences how their work environment functions. I was inspired by the fact that it can take one person to be a positive force of change in the lives of others. There are three crucial areas I hope to make a positive societal change within: recruitment, employee retention, and workplace motivation. That is what inspired me to begin blogging and advocating for the importance of mental health in the workplace, no matter what you define that workplace to be.

In my opinion, being a post-secondary student is a full-time job. Managing five courses and doing it well is quite a challenge. Think of the stress at this time in your life like an aggravated queen bee, coming home to a displaced, defunct, and destroyed hive. Doing well on exams, achieving high grades, maintaining relationships, friendships, and securing employment after graduation are all crucial to defining your success after the fastest-paced four years of your life. However, these same four years are crucial stages in the development of your cognitive and behavioural functions that will define who you will become.

While this is alarming, so is the statistic of how many students lack the simple element of sleep. Sleep is crucial to managing stress, staying energized and ready for the day, and being able to regulate the busyness that is life. I was reading the Dairy Farmers of Canada Project Sleep which has some very troubling facts from the Canadian Sleep Review Study of 2016:

  • 59% of all Canadians are not getting enough sleep (That’s over 15 million people)
  • 40% of all Canadians have a sleeping disorder (Insomnia, sleepwalking, sleeping talking, sleep apnea, nightmares, and teeth grinding just to name a few)
  • 1 in 4 people call in sick to work to catch up on their sleep (The average worker in Canada loses about 11 days of productivity each year from if the suffer from insomnia)
  • It is recommended that 30 minutes before you go to bed that you don’t see or watch any screens. They omit light blueish and green colours that can spur your brain to think it is daytime and stay awake.
  • Studies have shown that by getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week can improve sleep quality by 65%.

With each of these facts in mind, think about how other stress factors can either attribute to or increase the frequency of insufficient sleep.  Whether it is the fear of academic failure, debt and financial struggle, managing and maintaining relationships, all of these challenges in life can present adversity that can keep you up at night.

One verbal phrase and or life philosophy that I live by and use to calm me down when I am stressed is: “Prepare for tomorrow, live for the now, and dream for the future”. I find this sentence to help bring clarity and process-oriented decision making into my life that makes identifying what I need to achieve much easier. As a consequence, that makes me feel and be more productive, confident, and energetic about life. When I need to get a good night’s sleep (which I really need to do more often), I prepare for tomorrow, not just in the figurative sense, by doing well in school and getting involved in the community, but in the literal sense as well. Even if it is a simple task that allows for more time in the morning, such as preparing what I will wear to the office, making a lunch and keeping it cool it in the fridge. This allows me to not only stay in bed a little bit longer, but it then takes away the stress of having to get extra early to prepare for the work day. This can also work towards preparing a gym bag for a workout after work. If you fail to plan, plan to fail. I have learned this to be true in school and life. It is also worth knowing and going back to the intuitive truth that you can’t plan for everything; and that is what makes this world, and life, interesting!

That leads me to my next point about ‘living in the now’. No matter what sort of religious background, personal beliefs or viewpoints we might have or share, everything that has happened is in the past, and everything that is coming is what we define to be the future. Among all of this is the present. This moment! The now! The milliseconds that have gone by after reading this paragraph. It is in all of these moments where we have the most influence. The world is full of possibilities and knowing what you want is the first step to making it a reality. This is only limited by one tenuous and ever-changing factor: getting out what you put in. For example, if you have a group project that is due tomorrow, and everyone within your group (including yourself once in a while) decided to procrastinate, then you will not get your desired grade on that project. When it comes to balancing work and school, however, it is lessons like these that can help you improve on things such as your time-management skills. Living a balanced lifestyle does not have to be a perfect one. That is why it is crucial to do as the language of Latin simplifies well: “Carpe Diem” or Seize the Day.

Then we get to what is known, for most, to be a very scary thought: “dreaming for the future”. In a world as competitive, globalized and interconnected as the one today,  knowing what you want to do in the future will determine, not only how productive you will be in the days, weeks, months and years to come, but also how happy and content you will be with your life. Keeping in mind the obvious interest of financial benefits of working for an organization, in my view, those who are the most content, confident, and enthusiastic towards their current job or intended career path have the best opportunity of maximizing their happiness. If there is one important piece of advice I would pass on to any student, it is this: take the time to consider the values and beliefs of the organization you are interested in working for in the future. Should their values match yours, let that be a confirmation or indication of what is best for you going forward.  So as cliche as it may sound, if you truly do what you love, and love what you do, you can spend your entire career never having to ‘work’ a day in your life.

Even though I might not release a song or album  anytime soon that will be at the top of the queue on the radio, or have over a million subscribers on a video game YouTube Channel; I know that I can make it anywhere so long as I live, love and appreciate the work that I do everyday. I am confident that if I ever need any help, clarity, or  just someone to hear me out, I know that the Student Life staff in U5 portables are there for me. Everyone is really friendly, and they can help you find more ways of getting through tough decisions or times of adversity that you may face during the roller coaster ride that is university.

This is Michael Cassar, wishing you all the best! Until next week: good morning, good afternoon, and good evening!