Category: academics (Page 1 of 7)

Facilitating peace education in Virginia

Laura Carr-Pries at Brethren Woods camp in Keezeltown, Virginia.

As a student, I always try and find ways to connect what I’m learning in class to “the real world.” So, when I received a job description for the position of Peace and Justice Director at Brethren Woods camp in Keezletown, Virginia, I realized that this was not a job I could turn down.

While I knew that I wanted to explore peace education, I was afraid that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, going to an area of a country that I know carries a wide range of perspectives on peace and justice.

Despite my hesitation, I decided to go for it. I had the opportunity to create a peace education curriculum, where I taught conflict resolution skills, and explored what the Bible says about peace.

We read stories, played co-operative games, and asked questions about why we act with violence. We made peace quilts and brainstormed how we can become peacebuilders in our own communities.

I quickly realized that I would not be able to do what I did without all of my CMU experience.

The hands-on learning that I experienced in my classes taught me how to engage different learning styles and the content of classes gave me ideas for different topics I could teach.

Over the course of the summer, I worked with campers to create a Peace Path. Each camper had a stone which they painted with one step they could take to make the world more peaceful, their stepping stone for peace.

Laura Carr-Pries at Brethren Woods camp in Keezeltown, Virginia.

Their answers ranged from smiles and friendship, to tolerance and generosity. After the stones were painted, each camper laid their stone on the path with a recognition that peace is not the responsibility of one person, but is dependant on many people working together. 

These stones now line a path, where there is a prayer for peace in the world and in our communities.

In light of recent events in Charlottesville, which is an hour away from the camp I worked at, I am hopeful that our world is not stuck in pain and violence.

Throughout the summer, campers asked me about the situation in Charlottesville, and questioned why people respond to hate with more hate. These young voices shared their hope that people with differences would have conversations and recognize their common humanity.

I feel honoured to have walked with these children as they have learned a language of peace and I am hopeful that they will become agents of positive change in their communities.

This fall, Laura Carr-Pries enters her fourth year of a PACTS and Theology major at CMU.

Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

portrait of Christina Waldner for post - Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU
When I started going to CMU in 2006 (yes, it’s been that long), I was so nervous.

I had many reasons to be uneasy, one being that I had a physical disability. You see, I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a chronic degenerative disorder. SMA is a complex condition but can be best summed up in the phrase, “The mind says go, but the muscles say no.”

Since the age of three, I have been in a power wheelchair and need physical assistance in carrying out daily tasks. I struggle a lot with fatigue but have been chipping away at my BA one course at a time.

Instinctively I knew I had an uphill battle in terms of professional opportunities, and thus became laser-focused on my education.
 
To me, attending university wasn’t about my social calendar or dorm life. It was about my GPA, the skills I would learn, and studying as much as I could. I felt the need to work twice as hard to open doors in a competitive job market. (Does it sound like I was fun at parties? Nerd alert!).

Perhaps similar to the experiences of international students, first generation students, or students with financial responsibilities, I felt enormous pressure to succeed.

That being said, the faculty and staff at CMU have been nothing but supportive, from helping me find note-takers, to advocating for accessibility on campus, to always offering a word of encouragement.

Once some of the staff found out I was an artist, they were quick to offer support and someone even suggested I sell my cards in the bookstore. Feeling overwhelmed, I turned the offer down. After all, university is strictly about academics, right?

Cristina Waldner with a friend and classmate at CMU. Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

It wasn’t until midway through my time at CMU that I realized how misinformed I was about my university experience. I came to a crossroads where the pressures of perfection were pulling me under.

Recognizing that I had created an idol of my education, I surrendered my academics to God. In this surrendering, I found a peace that was as liberating as it was transformative.

My perspective shifted as I began to appreciate CMU in a more holistic way. My eyes were opened, and my heart was ready for new friendships and new opportunities.

I approached the manager of CommonWord about selling my artwork and to my amazement, she said yes. My cards and paintings are now sold in the bookstore and I’ve been blown away by the positive response.

samples of Cristina Walder's cards on sale now at CommonWord Bookstore. Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

Soon after, Sandra Loeppky asked if I would share about being a student with a disability at forum. Feeling emboldened, I agreed and the morning turned out to be an incredible blessing. Other students shared their experiences as well and I began to realize the power of storytelling.

No longer feeling like I was just “that girl in a wheelchair” on campus, I was now in charge of my narrative. Recently, I started a blog to bring awareness to SMA and build a community-like space where people can relate to my experience in some way.

While health concerns have forced me to take more distance education courses as of late, I’m still a CMU student at heart. I am nearing the end of my studies but have cherished my time on campus.

To every freshman out there, know that there will be stress and probably more exams and papers than you know what to do with. Yet, there will also be experiences that will enrich your life in profound ways beyond the pages of a textbook.

New year. New semester. New opportunities. Let’s get started!

Cristina Waldner is completing a 4-year Bachelor of Arts in Counselling Studies, as well as a 3-year Bachelor of Arts in English.

More than a degree, not just a number

More than a degree; not just a number: Stephanie Wilson on why she's choosing CMU, a relatively small university.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the idea of going to a small university scared me.

My high school was one of the largest in Manitoba, so having swarms of other students around was familiar. I was used to seeing people in the halls I’d never seen before, and not knowing most of the teachers.

I was sure going to a big university was the right thing to do. It’s what everyone else was doing.

At the same time, I was fully immersed in the music programs. I had a tight knit group of friends, and teachers who were more like family than friends.

More than a degree; not just a number. Stephanie Wilson on why she's choosing CMU, a relatively small university.

So when I graduated high school last June, I felt the loss immediately. Certain that my time in small programs was done, I longed for that same small group of people who were there for me when I needed to laugh, cry, or grab a doughnut. That sense of belonging was gone, because in university all anyone is concerned about is getting their degree, right?

Wrong.

One of the things I love about CMU is that as a smaller school, they can breathe programs into existence more readily than a larger university.

As a musician, a clarinet player, I hoped and prayed for a CMU band to join. And when I start this fall, there will be!

Another thing I love about CMU is studying in Marpeck Commons, or the Great Hall, and recognizing the same people time and again.

I love that CMU profs have an open-door policy. It says that I’m as important to them as answering emails, or grading papers. I’m excited to be known by more than just my student number.

Most importantly, I’m loved, accepted, and cared for by my admissions counsellor, faculty, and staff at CMU, and was even before being admitted.

There’s no better feeling than being wanted just for being you. I’m not sure this kind of care and connection exists anywhere else.

Picking the “best” university is subjective. Getting a good education in an environment where you can grow, and flourish into the best possible version of YOU, is what matters most. CMU is that place for me.

I’m a clarinetist. And I’m also a pianist, a singer, a Catholic, a writer, a dreamer, a sarcastic joke maker, and a life-long learner. I can do, and be ALL these things at CMU. I don’t have to put myself in a box just to fulfill degree requirements. I can be me here. That’s something I never expected from a university.

Stephanie Wilson is entering her first year at CMU’s School of Music this fall.

How I found my voice…as a radio cowboy

BRIGHTON

Brighton Thiessen behind the mic at CHVN

Your 18th birthday is supposed to be this great thing. You are celebrating that you are free from the clutches of your parents, and you technically become legal in Canada.

I spent my 18th birthday packing up my things and moving to a first floor dorm room at Poettcker Hall. I felt as though I was still a high school kid who was still too young to understand what goes on at university. That first year, I struggled in class, and I wondered why I even was going to school in the first place.

I considered dropping a couple of times, but there was that little itch in the back of my head saying that I should stay, and that your time at CMU would be worthwhile.

Fast forward to now, and I am graduating this year, and I am currently doing a practicum assignment working as an on-air host at CHVN radio in Winnipeg. I guess it makes sense for me considering I am a Communications & Media major with a Biblical and Theological Studies minor, and CHVN is the only Christian radio station in Winnipeg.

Looking back on my time here, I realized that every course I took at CMU prepared me to be an on-air host, which I didn’t think I could do at first. I guess the moment I realized was in my first-year Media Workshop class. One of our fun end-of-the-year projects was to come up with a cool 30-second audio commercial for the Carnaval BBQ restaurant at the Forks.

For some odd reason, I got picked to speak in a ridiculous cowboy accent.

So I am sitting in the recording booth and it’s not going very well. I decided to take it one step further by just overdoing the accent. Communications & Media Professor David Balzer comes over the loud speaker and says that was too much, but the whole class said, “No that’s perfect.” In that moment, I felt like I truly found my voice.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of the CMU community as well. I’ve had the chance to learn from great professors, great staff members that will drop anything that they are doing to talk to you and to see how your day is going, and my fellow classmates who turn what could be a regular old university class into a fun-loving environment that you can immediately feel comfortable in. I don’t know if there is a better community than CMU.

I recently had a conversation with the program director at CHVN. He said, “When I first met you, I wasn’t sure this was going to work because you were  quiet reserved individual who liked to keep to himself. Now, three months later, you are doing lots of on-air stuff for us, and it’s really worked out.” And then he said, “I like you a lot, and I kind of don’t want you to leave.”

Right now, I don’t want to leave CMU, but I know that my journey here is complete, and I have grown from a high school kid who sort of knew what he wanted to do, to being able to see that I can do anything that I put my mind to.

Brighton Thiessen is graduating in April from CMU’s Communications & Media program

Dear High School Student

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Picture this: you’re sitting in English class when suddenly the teacher says something incredibly profound. Jaw dropping. Brilliant. It sparks a thought for you, reminding you of a song you once heard, and you wonder out loud if the song could be alluding to this concept. You and your teacher have a rapid back-and-forth discussion, and then… you realize that you’re the only one getting into it. You shrink back into your seat, embarrassed by the scene you’ve just made and the interest you’ve displayed.

Sound familiar? That was me a year ago, always first to be interested in something, always wondering if people thought less of me for it.

It’s not a good headspace to be in; I seriously do not recommend it. But sometimes high school is just like that. It’s hard to avoid.

Well here’s some good news: since coming to CMU this semester, I’ve found a new way of looking at things, and it’s affecting the way I interact with others and especially the way I learn.

Take for example, my Biblical Literature and Themes class, taught by Dan Epp-Tiessen. This class looks at the Bible as a narrative, putting together the pieces so we can understand each one in light of the other pieces and the whole.

For a few years now, I’ve disliked studying the Bible, and it’s been boring and unfulfilling for me. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, I used to find a lot of joy in it. Well, in Bib Lit, I’m rediscovering that joy. Perhaps it was there all along and I just needed permission to uncover it again.

Dan so clearly loves teaching the Bible, and talking to him after class is always stimulating. As a naturally exuberant person, I can’t be in a class with a professor who loves teaching without loving learning.

I’m so grateful to be able to rediscover this delight in studying Scripture, and along with it a renewed enthusiasm about Jesus. By grabbing onto and owning my own excitement about learning instead of pushing it away, I’m able to become a better version of myself.

I’m learning to view education as a privilege, and I encourage you to as well. You might be surprised by how many lightbulbs turn on. Perhaps you, like me, will be able to give yourself permission to be passionate.

Guest blogger Marnie Klassen is a first year student and a learning enthusiast

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