Category: 2022-23

Ukraine and armed conflicts: Pursuing justice and peace | Jillian Recksiedler and Danika Warkentin

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the United Nations (UN) held a student seminar in New York City this past November called, “Ukraine and Armed Conflicts: Pursuing Justice and Peace.” This event was created for undergraduate students in Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies or other related fields. As two CMU students who took part in this seminar, we have written a reflection on the event.

We stepped out of the elevator on the second floor of the Church Center of the United Nations in New York City, where Travis Dyck, one of the organizers of the seminar, welcomed us. The room’s large windows looked out directly onto the 193 flags that embellish the looming and glorious buildings of the UN headquarters. As we gawked, other undergraduate students trickled in and found their seats. Soon, the seminar was underway.

We had no idea what to anticipate in attending the MCC/UN Student Seminar. The purpose of the event was to bring together students to wrestle with the central question: “How do we pursue justice and peace in places of armed conflict, such as Ukraine?” It was difficult not to feel intimidated by such a complex question. At times, we wondered why MCC and UN representatives chose to devote their time to university students with no authority. With more time, it became clear that the seminar existed to communicate that, regardless of authority, we are relevant stakeholders.

CMU students Jillian Recksiedler (left) and Danika Warkentin (right) in NYC.

Our time in New York was quick and a whirlwind of new experiences and opportunities. Every morning, we walked to the seminar through the lively and bustling streets of New York, attempting to take in as much as we possibly could. In the evenings, we met up with other students attending the seminar to explore the city. Although we all came from different contexts, holding unique sets of experiences, a sense of community was immediately established as we navigated through these exciting experiences together. One evening, we took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and get tacos. As we stood outside on the balcony of the ferry, looking out at the city lights, we were able to unpack the different stories and messages that arose throughout the conference.

Over the three-day seminar, seven different presenters informed us on their approaches to peacebuilding from their own contexts, several of which are countries currently facing violence, including Ukraine, Myanmar, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the end of each day, we all gathered in small groups to reflect on what the presenters had talked about. This was a great way for us to make meaningful and more personal connections with other students. Discussing peacebuilding initiatives with them was uplifting and hopeful. The conference became a space where honesty, questions, and difference in opinions were welcomed.

It is difficult, yet critical, to retain optimism in peacemaking work. Some of the speakers who presented to us spoke honestly about their pessimism regarding violence in Myanmar and Ukraine. Although this was hard to hear, there were also many speakers who shared experiences of faith in nonviolent practices. We take hope in knowing that there are knowledgeable, intentional people in government and UN roles, and thoughtful, justice-oriented young people moving into the working, peacebuilding world in Jesus’ name. In this way, communities of faith are working toward transforming conflict all over the world.

Jillian Recksiedler (second-year) and Danika Warkentin (third-year) are Bachelor of Arts students, majoring in peace and conflict transformation studies.

Stories from the Estamos program’s first cohort

CMU recently introduced a new intercultural program for undergraduate students called Estamos. This past fall, six students joined the program and made their way to Guatemala, where they lived, worked, and studied for three months. Upon their return, the Estamos cohort had the opportunity to share their experiences with the community, inspiring other students to enroll in the program for fall 2023. Here are some highlights and memories from their time in Guatemala.

The best part of Estamos was waking up next door to one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. At 1,800 meters of elevation, the rainforest stretches high above the lowest clouds, which slowly drift through the trees and around the mountain ridges. Up in the cloud forest, the air is thick with moisture; orchids, mosses, and bromeliads cover nearly every available surface of the trees. I spent my practicum placement in the last month of Estamos at Community Cloud Forest Conservation, an organization that works to protect these unique ecosystems while alleviating poverty in the communities around them. After learning about the enormous biodiversity of tropical rainforests in classes, it was incredible to see it firsthand and find species every day that I had never seen before. I had the chance to work with people who knew all the intricacies of this forest, who could name every bird by a few notes of their song and could tell you all the traditional uses of any plant you chose. As a biology student, this was definitely my highlight.

– Malcolm Reimer, fifth-year Bachelor of Science, Biology major

Being part of the Estamos program gave me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone on a daily basis and to be ready for anything to happen. The immersion component of the program allowed us all to live with host families, eat different foods than what we’re used to, and use the Spanish we were learning in the classroom as our only way to communicate with locals. We had the opportunity to visit so much of the country, including the Tikal ruins, the cloud forest, Guatemala City, Antigua, the beach on the west coast, and Lake Atitlan. My favourite part of the program was spending a whole month in a town close to Lake Atitlan where I had my volunteer placement. There, we were able to explore the other towns on the lake, travel around in the back of pick-up trucks and visit lots of local coffee shops!

– Peri Wiebe, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, International Development Studies major

When I first heard about the Estamos program, I was interested but I didn’t think it was something I would actually be able to do. It was very outside my comfort zone, something I had never done before… But as time went on, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of going, so I took a chance and went! Now that I’m back, I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got a chance to live independently, away from friends and family back home, and figure out who I was on my own. In doing so, I learnt a lot about myself. I also got to do all sorts of crazy fun things that I would never do here, like climbing ancient ruins or hiking up a volcano, going paragliding or releasing baby turtles into the ocean! All of that, plus being totally immersed into a new culture, made it an experience of a lifetime for me. And through it all, I bonded with the people I travelled with and created strong friendships with them. I am forever grateful for that experience and it is something that I know will stick with me for a very long time.

– Kayla Chartrand, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, Psychology major

A big highlight from my time in Guatemala was exploring its many different landscapes, including mountainous terrains, volcanoes, black sand beaches, busy cities, jungles, rural Indigenous villages, and a cloud forest. For such a geographically small country it is amazing the diversity it has and I feel so lucky to have experienced such a variety of environments. What made these experiences so meaningful was that I was able to experience them alongside my host families and other in-country hosts. One memory that stands out specifically was our time at Community Cloud Forest Conservation, where we were able to explore the cloud forest and learn about the educational programs they were running at their site. We became immersed in learning alongside their teachers and students. One evening, I had the opportunity to participate in a research walk with some local and international researchers, and we found and documented a large venomous snake! The way they included me in their project was really neat and memories like this remind me of how thankful I am for all the people in Guatemala that made my time so meaningful.

– Mia Loeppky, second-year Bachelor of Arts, Social Sciences major

Spending the semester in Guatemala was more exciting and life-changing than I imagined! (Cliché… maybe. True… absolutely!) I went from speaking only English to learning and speaking Spanish! Learning another language in another country and trying to communicate in that language is a totally epic experience. There were so many memorable moments. We were fortunate to travel to many different parts of Guatemala and experience the diversity of the land, culture, and peoples. A highlight for me was when we moved to our host villages and experienced another way of life. This is where I lived with my second host family and completed my practicum in two different organizations. I learned traditional Indigenous ways of life, like weaving, shopping at markets, beading, squishing clay with my feet to build a bench, and cooking meals (there’s nothing like homemade tortillas!). Studying in Guatemala was incredible. I was not prepared to do the crazy activities we did or meet the most humbling people I have ever met or receive the gratitude I did in Panabaj. I will cherish our semester in Guatemala forever. #Estamos #DoIt!

– Ainsley Rowan-Keogh, fifth-year Bachelor of Arts, International Development Studies major

The application deadline to participate in Estamos 2023 is February 28. Visit for more information!

Asians in STEM: Honourable yet onerous work | Katrina Lengsavath

I remember being in grade one, sitting at the kitchen table doing my math homework with my sweet grandma, or “Khun Ya.” Helping me in her lingual mosaic of Thai and English, we added and subtracted pencils, beads, and tamarind seeds. We snacked on pieces of fruit as we drew tallies and diagrams to practice my arithmetic after school.

I remember my grandpa, my “Khun Pu,” a man of few words, who would eagerly sit counting trains with me and my sister as they rumbled by the window of my grandparents’ seniors apartment. He taught me how to fold paper airplanes and boats, showing me how to achieve crisp, precise creases with the edge of my thumbnail. He emphasized to me that experts who designed these vessels for a living must also be very precise in their calculations and very smart. 

These are the memories that come to me when I ponder my early encounters with mathematics. Math and science were my favourite subjects during early school years, until I got my hands on chapter books. Storytelling and writing quickly became STEM’s rival in my life.

Katrina Lengsavath, third-year CMU student
Katrina Lengsavath, third-year CMU student

A familiar stereotype is that many Asian immigrant parents have persuasively prophetic voices over their children’s career paths, considering “doctor, lawyer, dentist” as the sacred trinity of occupational options. Other acceptable paths may include becoming a nurse, pharmacist, scientist, or engineer. Many Asians end up in such professions. 

According to Joan C. Williams et al. in The Atlantic, “…this belief has pervaded American pop culture and media for decades…Since the stereotype ostensibly is a compliment, there’s a temptation to think that pursuing careers in science, technology, math, and engineering is easier for Asian Americans.” At the end of the day, after our families struggled, escaping or immigrating to North America for safety or the potential of success, they want to see their kids succeed in the Western world.

Despite this stereotype and the prevalence of Asians in the sciences, Asians are disproportionately unacclaimed in these fields. How does this dichotomy exist?

Standards set by the National Institute of Health say people who identify as Asian overall are not underrepresented in STEM.* Research spearheaded by Yuh Nung Jan, professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California San Francisco, found that “Asian Americans, who make up about 7% of the U.S. population, are overrepresented in biomedical research in the United States, making up more than 20% of the field’s researchers. Yet [Jan] found that Asian scientists have received just 57 out of 838 [prestigious science] prizes included in the study, which only looked at American awards. Asian women scientists have fared far worse, receiving less than 1% of the prizes.”

More broadly, in a study conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2015, only a mere 4–6% of degree holders in science and engineering are BIPOC women and men, and such degree holders from BIPOC minority groups were less likely to receive federal grants or contracts than their White counterparts within research-intensive institutions.

This gender and racial disparity in STEM shows up in my education. I learned much about Austrian monk Gregor Mendel and his pea plants and Alexander Fleming for his discovery of penicillin, the very first antibiotic. Comparably, it wasn’t ages ago that Watson and Crick were called out for taking more credit than they should have for Rosalind Franklin’s confirmation of DNA’s double-helix shape. Further, many science students have probably studied Okazaki fragments in their classes. How commonly do people know that they were discovered in the 1960s by Tsuneko Okazaki, a molecular biologist and Japanese woman?

2023 Scientist in Residence Poster

Since the days of counting mandarin oranges at the kitchen table with my Khun Ya, I have grown into a young woman of colour pursuing sciences. I am currently a student serving on CMU’s faculty-run Science and Faith Initiatives Committee, and I’m thrilled that we are welcoming Dr. Francis Su into the CMU community as the very first BIPOC Scientist in Residence. 

Dr. Su is an American mathematician, Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, and author of Mathematics for Human Flourishing. I’m looking forward to his discussions on the challenges and opportunities for equity, diversity, and inclusion in mathematics and the sciences. How can we make STEM spaces more just for everyone? Dr. Su will also illuminate the beauty and humanity of mathematics helping us all flourish. I would encourage everyone to check out this year’s Scientist in Residence lecture series at CMU.

I never had to be convinced to like school or studying, and I was naturally inclined towards STEM. I am one of many other first-generation anomalies who never actually felt stereotypical pressure to become the Asian “doctor, lawyer, or dentist” growing up. What does it mean or represent, when I get to choose my fate and go into STEM, anyway? Dr. Su’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the gender gap in STEM asserts how, “…a healthy diversity of deserving winners represents a community’s visible commitment to encouraging its least visible members, who may one day do great things.”

BIPOC individuals and women choosing to go into STEM, whether honourable or onerous, face a glass ceiling of systemic and social biases that hinder access and recognition for excellence in STEM. I don’t know if immigrant or BIPOC grandparents all over the world would have imagined that their grandkids, who they tutored in arithmetic with spoons and raisins in a country and language new to them, would grow up to choose the art of sciences. Students like me depend on initiatives that highlight and pay respect to the STEM achievements of ethnic minorities. Without a doubt, our successes will be their success story, too.

Katrina Lengsavath is a third-year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in Arts and Science with concentrations in biochemistry and music. She also co-leads the CMU Science Students’ Association. Her writing here was inspired by Dr. Su’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

* Some Asian subgroups may be underrepresented, such as Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders. This observation from the National Institute of Health is based on an amalgamation of all Asian groups.

“It’s the people that make you feel at home” | Rosalyn Dao

I was always a quiet kid—quite aloof, utterly idealistic. My time was primarily spent wandering in my own head rather than engaging with the Big Wide World outside the closed doors. So it was no surprise that the idea of me spending my high school years abroad shocked my parents, even more so since I initiated it.

Studying abroad is inarguably a risky financial investment with the hope of securing a better future somewhere else far from home, but in the mind of a 13-year-old, the whole concept was stripped down to “travelling to Neverland” to see with my own eyes what is ever and what is never.

Soon, we found ourselves looking through different options, considering several hotspots for international students, and we picked Winnipeg due to the simple fact of it having lower costs of living. Winnipeg is a pleasant place once you’ve settled in and made amends with it. Now that I’m used to living here, it’s going to take some convincing to relocate anywhere else.

Rosalyn Dao

Despite being a high school graduate in Canada, it was not easy for me going through the transition to a post-secondary institution. Graduating is never an easy step for any of us, really. Not only is it a milestone of academic success, but also the gateway to adulthood. What is it like being an adult, anyway? Peers drifting away, days that seem to last for an eternity now that you’re working, the realization of unrealized dreams and aspirations? No. Most likely, you find yourself back at Base Zero (after ascending to a higher level, of course—it’s like playing games) with a new set of vital choices to make.

One can only imagine how difficult it must be for you—especially the international students—to deal with the additional amount of stress that comes with this trade-off. People handle this situation differently: attend university immediately after high school, take gap years to travel, take on part-time jobs, or learn a new skill. In my case: an uneventful graduation followed by a contagious global virus. Soon after, I fell into the lap of CMU. At Base Zero.

I had no expectations coming to CMU because this was not in my initial plan, yet I was welcomed by the sense of friendliness that is uncommon elsewhere. Despite the scale of our school, it seems like we are constantly working on something more significant than ourselves. Most decisions are made with the consideration of an individual to best accommodate everyone. There will always be someone to talk to if you feel lost. Community plays a crucial role in fostering self-growth and individuality, which is characteristic of the university.

Many foreign students grew up in urbanized areas of our home countries, which adds an extra layer of challenge to the adjustment phase at CMU, if not outright culture shock. It’s going to get easier; I promise. You will become more in-tune with the rhythm of this mid-sized city in the Canadian prairies and its people. Sometimes it’s the people that make you feel at home, not the house itself.

The 15-year-old me would never have imagined that I would be at CMU, writing this blog post. All living things depend on their environment to supply them with what they need. However, in order to thrive, they have to push themselves out of their comfort zone, just as a caterpillar sheds its cocoon and spreads its wings to become a butterfly or moth. The choice is yours.

I hope you find your place in this Big Wide World.

Rosalyn Dao is an international student in her first year of a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

Returning to the classroom after 25 years | Janice Gibson

Coming back to university mid-life, I wasn’t sure what to expect. CMU was the obvious choice for me because of its smaller class sizes, more personal atmosphere, and the opportunity to pursue biblical studies. I remembered the vast isolation at the larger institutions I attended 25 years prior, and I was ready for a more local experience.

When I began at CMU, not only did I trade a large university for a smaller one, but I also changed fields of study. Once upon a time I studied mathematics and here I was enrolled in the social sciences. I did not anticipate the opportunity to learn from such exceptional professors whom I encountered at CMU. My favourite courses (which I highly recommend) were Interpersonal Communication, Positive Psychology, and The Pentateuch.

As much as I appreciate the chance to return to studying, I can’t help wishing I had just finished my degree the first time—but then I remember how much has changed in 25 years (and how much I dislike math). I often notice the date of academic publications and realize that I wouldn’t have encountered much of the ground-breaking material, even in the right faculty, if I had completed my degree in the 90s. Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score was not written then; neither was Karen O’Donnell & Katie Cross’s Feminist Trauma Theologies.

As well as up-to-date research information, another major advantage I have discovered to studying in 2022 is the paradigm shift in recognizing that we live in a post-colonial society. We of course lived in a post-colonial society back then too, but we did not routinely acknowledge how that negatively impacted our world. When I left university the first time, residential schools had not been shut down and ignorance surrounding Indigenous issues was commonplace.

I expected to enjoy studying at CMU; I like learning, discussing ideas, and being challenged. I expected to do well in my courses; I have always been a diligent student. I didn’t have any expectations regarding my classmates. My first year back coincided with the pandemic and the isolation felt completely normal to me. As classes started returning to campus, I began to get to know some of my fellow students. Through listening to their ideas and goals, I am developing an immense appreciation for this generation of young people.

I was not expecting to encounter an entire cohort of individuals with vision, passion, and commitment to a better world. I regularly meet young people, brimming with potential, receiving a high-quality education, and determined to shape the future. I hope my classmates complete their degrees and go on to improve the world… but if for some reason they can’t, I recommend coming back in 25 years.

Janice Gibson is a mature student in her third year of a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in social sciences with a counselling concentration.

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