Category: academics (Page 1 of 13)

A reflection on the loving and eating in Eat, Love, Reflect | Mike Thiessen

When John Boopalan gave a 90-second pitch of his upcoming course, Eat, Love, Reflect, at the annual course launch forum back in April, I knew right away that it would be the only possible option for me to wrap up my Biblical and Theological Studies requirements at CMU. It was just too good to pass up (a thought many other people also had—the course apparently filled up within several hours of registration opening).

In the course description of Eat, Love, Reflect John asks, “What would it mean to engage head, heart, and taste buds in the pursuit of spiritual and social transformation?” Paired with this is a notion that is central to the course: balancing love of God, love of self, and love of others through the act of eating. These two main ideas are emphasized every single week. The readings typically consist of New Testament passages featuring Jesus eating with others, theological writings exploring these events, and articles that are not explicitly religious looking at topics such as food insecurity, Indigenous understandings of bodily nourishment, and general reflections on the act of eating.

Mike Thiessen

Eat, Love, Reflect is very much a discussion-based class. There is always a lively lecture component delivered by John (and occasionally other guests), but a good deal of time in class is devoted to talking with classmates, either in pairs, small groups, or all together. This is where a lot of the reflection in the “Reflect” part of the title comes into play.

Of course, it would be complete nonsense to have a course about food and not eat, and we’ve made sure to get our fair share of eating in. We took a trip to a downtown McDonald’s to consider the convenience of food and the intentionality of eating. We ate saskatoon and rhubarb platz on the front lawn of another professor to ponder hospitality. And, most excitingly, we took a field trip to Silverwinds Colony southeast of Carman to share a meal with the Hutterites there, where we thought about the importance of eating as part of a community on a regular basis.

As someone who grew up on a farm with both crops and cattle, I’ve always been very aware of where my food comes from—helping in the garden was always a mandatory summertime chore, and butchering beef and pork at my grandparents’ place has been an extended family affair for my entire life. Historically, I have had a good understanding of and relationship with the food I eat. This class has taken this to another level, however. The philosophy and theology of eating have permeated my mealtimes, with readings and lectures now often coming to mind when I eat. Particularly, I’ve become much more conscious of the love involved in preparing, sharing, and eating food together. Eat, Love, Reflect has been a true joy to be part of, and I am looking forward to the final four weeks, during which there will be even more learning, eating, and loving.

Mike Thiessen is a fourth-year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in English.

“One of the best decisions I have ever made” | Cloe Penner

I honestly don’t know ‘why CMU?’

Cloe Penner

I am an out-of-province student from Ontario. Since CMU is a small university, you might think it’s not heard of in other provinces, much less the world. You would be mostly correct from my experience. I had not known that CMU existed until my mama’s friend mentioned that one of her daughters went there. At that point I hadn’t even decided if I wanted to apply for post-secondary education yet or take a gap year. I knew that eventually I wanted to go and be the first person in my immediate family to go to university, but I had no direction for that desire.

My high school’s guidance counsellors had been breathing down our necks, encouraging us seniors to apply for anything, really, as long as we applied. Apparently in the last few years there had been a decline of students going into post-secondary education, and the guidance department had made it their mission to get that percentage up that year. As this was during the pandemic, I can’t say I’m surprised with that outcome.

Nevertheless, I applied to CMU and only to CMU, after researching possible programs and classes. Looking back, I would say there was a nudge there, as I never really second-guessed my decision to apply. I don’t really have a name for that nudge—it could have been God, or just a gut feeling. I knew that if I got in, I would have to move to another province, and while that was certainly daunting, it was very much a problem for future me. The fact that CMU was a smaller, Mennonite-founded school, and cheaper than almost everything in Ontario, definitely sold it to my parents. The process was scary, but listening to that nudge gave me a great beginning to a new chapter of life.

Obviously, I am now a student here at CMU, in my second year and loving it. The decision to move here, away from anything familiar, was hard; it still is sometimes. Now that I have a year under my belt, I can reflect back and say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The start of my first year was tough. It was hard making friends and settling into a whole new world, rising to a more challenging academic level and having my life so uprooted. That was when the doubt grabbed me. But living in residence brings the community right in front of you. Eventually I stepped out of my comfort zone and found confidence to make friends and develop a life here. That led to self-discoveries and the first steps to becoming an independent adult without my life and community back in Ontario, to really figure out who I am away from all the same influences.

CMU’s campus

Coming to CMU has given me a new perspective on life and changed my life quite literally and philosophically. The academics made me realize how much I love learning when it’s something I actually care about, and the classes are small and interesting enough to keep me engaged and on top of things. (That isn’t to say I don’t procrastinate. I am still a student, it’s part of our ramen-fueled bodies!) So that’s why I stayed. I found a place that feels like home away from home, that allows me to be who I am and be a student dedicated to something I enjoy learning.

Sometimes if we aren’t totally sure of what we’re doing, what’s going to happen, or if the direction we’re taking is the best one, the future has a way of surprising us. And then maybe that unknown future could be one of the best things that helps you become you.

Cloe Penner is a second-year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in history.

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.

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.

The gift of classroom friendships | Katherine Penner

This past semester I had the enjoyment of being in the Ecological Peacebuilding class, taught by Kenton Lobe. We were a small group and over the semester we became a close-knit group of peers with a high level of trust among us. Before, during, and after class we gathered together and engaged in a variety of honest, thought-provoking, and vulnerable conversations to a level I haven’t experienced in any other class.

Katherine Penner says her Ecological Peacebuilding class has been “a wonderful gift.”

One point of discussion that impacted me the most was considering the interdependence of humans, animals, and the environment and what this consideration means for students living and learning on the land CMU calls home. We talked critically about the balance between rights and responsibilities, pondering how we can develop an understanding of receiving gifts from the earth, rather than taking resources as ours to be controlled and exploited. We framed this as striving for a gift economy, as opposed to a Wiindiigoo one, the Wiindiigoo being a ravenous cannibalistic creature from Indigenous stories cautioning against greed.

In this learning we consulted a variety of voices including an Indigenous water protector and settlers who hold deep affection for the land, the creatures that inhabit it, and also the stories it holds. This was a unique opportunity to learn and explore course material and current issues together in a deep way that we all agreed would follow us beyond the semester.

Knowing that the topic of the climate crisis is complex, emotionally evocative, and oftentimes anxiety-inducing, it seemed that each of us entered the space of the course with a willingness to offer our own insights, listen attentively to others, and respond in ways that allowed meaningful and productive conversations to flourish. This approach led to open conversations where we both encouraged and challenged one another, all wanting to participate fully and collaboratively. This class very well may live on in my memories as a particularly special one and I think of this experience as a wonderful gift to have been a part of during my last year at CMU.

Katherine Penner is a fourth year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies.

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