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“Who am I?”: How CMU has shaped me | Guest blogger Natasha Neustaedter Barg

When I was younger, I always loved the game Guess Who. There’s something about having to ask good questions and getting to describe the whacky people that I just found fascinating. So, in honour of my childhood, who am I?

I am not an athlete, yet I work for the CMU Blazers.
I am not a musician, yet I play flute in CMU’s Concert Band.
I am not a scientist, yet I can tell you about the ecological revolution.
I am not a historian, yet I can tell you about the history of CMU’s building, Mennonites, and Christianity.
I am not a pastor, yet I can explain to you the different atonement theories and various feminist perspectives on the Bible.
I am not a book printer, yet I can set my own type and create my own stamps.
I am not a winner of the leadership scholarship, yet next year I will be CMU’s Student Council President.

Who am I?

I am a writer and an editor.
I am a friend, colleague, student, employee, teacher, speaker, and traveler.
I am a leader and a dreamer.

I am *drum roll please* …… Natasha Neustaedter Barg, a third-year General Social Sciences Major.

But how is it that I am all these things and more?

One of my two on-campus jobs is doing admissions for home sports games at CMU. Thus, I recognize and can name most of CMU’s athletes and I work for the CMU Blazers.

I also work for CMU’s Admissions Team as a Student Ambassador. I call students, inviting them to upcoming events; stuff envelopes to be mailed out; or do other little tasks for the Admissions Counsellors. I also get to give tours at events and learn about CMU’s building. I’ve gotten to learn about its history as a military base, school for the deaf, and all the spooky basement storage areas. I get a free CMU pen occasionally and also get free gelato at CMU’s Open House and Campus Visit Days.

I’m a bit biased, but I think that out of the 42 different on-campus jobs you can have here at CMU, the ones I’ve had are the best. You can also work in the library, clean the lounges, work at reception, shovel snow, and the list goes on. Having an on-campus job has been a great break from the stress of school, fed my Folio Café addiction, and helped me get to know a lot of different people here at CMU.

Through my degree, I take English classes such as History of the Book, where I learn how books were made; or Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies classes, where I learn about restorative justice in education; or Psychology classes, where I learn about trauma and resilience; and the list goes on.

Throughout the past three years, I have learnt how to look at the world through a lot of different lenses. Because of my degree, the jobs I have, and the practicum I did last year, I have something small in common with almost all the students here at CMU. I can talk to athletes about their last home game, to psychology majors about how weird Freud is, to communications majors about David Balzer and his Oral Communication class, and international students about how hard culture shock is.

Last year I did my practicum in Vietnam. For 11 months I taught English at a secondary school and got a small taste of how hard culture shock is and how different school systems can be. Here at CMU everyone is required to do a practicum regardless of what degree you do. These practicums allow us to take what we learn in class and apply it to the world and vice versa.

I am a writer and an editor.
I am a friend, colleague, student, employee, teacher, speaker, and traveler.
I am a leader and a dreamer.

Who am I?

I am a CMU Student.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg is a 3rd year Social Sciences student.

How student advising helps you make the most of university | Guest blogger Malcolm Reimer

University comes with many opportunities to try new things, meet new and different people, and explore unfamiliar areas of knowledge. But all these options can often be overwhelming and confusing. This is where student advising comes in, and of all the choices to be made at university, making an advising appointment is one of the best.

Every first-year student at CMU automatically gets an advising appointment with our Coordinator of Student Advising, Vern Kehler. This initial session helps students plan out their first year of classes and think about the degree programs they’re interested in. But student advising doesn’t stop there.

Malcolm explored both music and science at CMU!

Students can attend near-weekly academic workshops, held by professors and staff, on topics like note-taking, essay writing, speed reading, and many other helpful skills. Personally, I’ve always learned something new at these events!

CMU also offers financial counselling, specific academic advice from faculty advisors, and career advising. I sat down with Adelia Neufeld Wiens, CMU’s on-campus career counsellor, to talk about her work with students.

Malcolm: With all the advising options at CMU, what’s the difference between academic advising and what you do?

Adelia: Sometimes in academic advising sessions, students get bogged down with course choices and degree audit forms, which takes up most of their time. But I get to give students an opportunity to step back and ask the questions, “Who do I want to be? What am I good at? What am I passionate about?” It’s a chance to talk openly about the big picture and reflect.

So, career advising means a lot of resume work, right?

Academic advising helped Malcolm decide what he wanted to study.

Yes and no! From time to time, we’ll look at resumes. But lots of people can write good resumes, and lots of people can coach you on how to write a good resume. A resume can always be improved, but I’m really about asking, “Does your resume reflect who you are? And who are you outside of this piece of paper?” I’m a big believer in asking questions that help students get at that clarity of personality. When you think about these questions, it helps you practice your personal “elevator pitch.” And it’s fun!

What advice do you have for students about to go into university?

Sometimes the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is really more of an obstacle. High school students have heard it their entire lives. People had an answer that came easiest in Grade 2, which became the expected answer in Grade 9, and by Grade 12 they don’t have any other ideas. But university ends up being a reality check — maybe that answer doesn’t match who you are anymore. For some people it crashes and burns, but that’s okay!

I often use the word “strategize.” And the strategizing starts now! Not just in what classes you’re taking, but also in what you’re learning about yourself as you take these classes. The earlier you start, the more deep and meaningful your degree will be for you.

So, you like to take a look at the big picture?

CMU faculty and staff are here to help you!

Career advising is self-examination, but it’s not just “Me, me, me” — but, “Me in the context of other people.” I also encourage students to ask, “Who am I in the face of economic disparity? Or climate change?” And CMU is such a good place to do that.

What do you enjoy about advising students?

I love meeting first-year students. I like learning about what high school was like for them, what their hopes and dreams were and are, and what they’ve learned about themselves after a semester at CMU. And what do they find themselves drawn to now? I love watching when the light comes on.

Thanks for taking the time to chat! Any final thoughts for students?

Career advising isn’t about leaving the meeting thinking, “I know I’m going to be an accountant.” Instead, I like to help students get a better idea of what’s important to them and what their strengths are. And then, you can start exploring some new things.

Malcolm Reimer is a 2nd year Science student.

“A new and unforeseen beauty”: Volunteering with MDS over reading week | Guest blogger Emma Siemens

I have an unfortunate tendency to dread the trips I take before they happen. The Sunday morning I left for Texas to do service with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) was no different.

I had done two MDS trips before; those were some of the best days of my life thus far. This time, however, I was drained from the first half of the university semester.

Emma Siemens (right) took on Texas over reading week, along with her fellow CMU students

To be honest, what I really wanted to do over reading week—if I was to go away—was to be back at home or on a beach, sleeping. But I got up the Sunday morning of departure and met my fellow CMU students at the airport.

As soon as the plane took off, that regretful feeling never returned. When we arrived that evening in Wharton, about two hours south of Houston, I was ready to go. The next morning we were up and working on the job sites.

While other crews completed different tasks, I painted the interior of houses all week long. Although I like discussing, reading, and writing about ideas—the way I normally spend my days—it felt good to use my body, instead of my mind, to accomplish the tasks at hand.

It was also a reminder for me to take better care of myself. As university students are prone to do, I tend to neglect my body far too easily as a student. I don’t eat or drink enough, or get enough sleep. That wasn’t an option while with MDS! Working at painting all week was a valuable reminder that I need to take care of my body at all times. This is something I will remember in the mentally gruelling weeks to come.

Along with a reminder to take better care of myself, I was reminded to continue to be open to new people and experiences.

The group of ten CMU students and staff that went on the trip was diverse, with students from multiple faculties and nationalities. Other volunteers at the project were also different. The female CMU students shared a dorm room with a group of Old Order Mennonite women, and two of the project leaders were American retirees.

In other words, the people I interacted with throughout the week were unlike most people I connect with at home—and it was great. It was a valuable experience to be part of such a varied group of people working side-by-side for the greater good.

I also discovered what it meant for people like our group to come to help. During a conversation with a member of the local recovery committee, I learned how much respect local people have for volunteers who devote time to helping with reconstruction. It made me feel good to have given a bit of my time to MDS.

This week of new and worthwhile experiences came to an end too quickly, and the farewell was an emotional one. The connections we had made and the work we had done together was too genuinely good for it not to be that way. To think that I had been dreading this trip before I left feels strange to me now. I could not have predicted most of the experiences I had on this trip. The work we did, the people we met, and the place we lived filled me with a new and unforeseen beauty.

Emma Siemens is a 2nd year Social Sciences student.

Practicum is a zoo (literally)

Every student who graduates from CMU does a practicum placement. It doesn’t matter what you’re majoring in, whether you’re completing a three or four-year degree, or whether you know exactly what career you want (fun fact: it’s okay if you don’t). Every single student does a practicum. And if you ask any student here about their practicum, they are bound to tell you story after story about why the experience is SO very worth it.

Jana Klassen is one of these people.

Jana is a fifth-year science major, captain of the women’s volleyball team, and a hard-core animal lover. When she walked into the practicum advising office last year, she expected to leave with a bit more direction in her step, but she never expected that these next steps would lead her into the veterinary offices of the Assiniboine Park Zoo. I sat down with Jana for a conversation about her wild practicum experiences…

So Jana, I know that you LOVE animals. How did that begin?

So growing up, we lived in the city (Calgary), we had a dog which was super great, but my cousins lived a few hours away and they had a big farm with horses, rabbits, cats, and dogs. A random assortment of animals was always around. It was through that relationship that I wound up getting my own horse that lived at a family friend’s ranch. I got exposed to even more animals there. They had sheep, chickens, a donkey… I helped out around the ranch, and even got to experience a lambing season which was a great experience.

When did you realize you wanted to work with animals one day?

I think that was something I always really knew. I remember in the third grade I told people I wanted to be a marine biologist, even though I was scared of water. My true dream was to be a vet, though. I just thought marine biologist sounded cooler!

What was the process like when you decided it was time to do your practicum?

It was surprisingly easy! I went to go talk to a practicum advisor and they said, “Okay, let’s talk! What are you studying? What are you interested in?” So I said I was interested in physio or maybe vet, and they asked if I’d be interested in working at the zoo. And I said “ABSOLUTELY – YES!” I met with my supervisor, and everything was a go!

So, what do you get up to at the zoo?

I’ve realized that in the setting of a zoo, there’s not a super structured schedule that vets have. There are a few routine exams, but a lot of it is based on the specific needs of each animal at that moment. Basically, I get to join the vet team and observe, help where I can, and ask questions!

What’s your favourite animal to spend time observing at the zoo?

Right now, I’d have to say the polar bears. I know they’re a classic, but they are just SO cute and SO big. Every time I’ve walked through their exhibit, they are so happy and playful, kind of like big puppies.

How would you say your practicum has prepared you for your future?

Overall, it’s really expanded my knowledge of not only animal health but animal welfare. Also, since zoo settings are more focused on conservation, it goes beyond just the clinical aspect of being a vet. There’s a broader focus on things like climate change and endangered species. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that veterinary medicine isn’t just used for pets or livestock, but it can solve problems on such a broader scale. I had never thought about that before my practicum.

What will you take away from your practicum experience?

Having this much exposure to such a wide variety of species is something I don’t think many science students have experienced before, and aside from how mind-blowing it is to get up close and personal with these animals, the experience also strengthens any resume that I’ll write in the future. Also, seeing how deeply the vets that work at the zoo care about these creatures is something I’ll never forget.

As we know, every single student at CMU does a practicum placement. Do you think this is beneficial?

It is ABSOLUTELY beneficial. This has been the best part of my year. Going into practicum I was like, I’ll find something to do just to get it done and get the box checked, and now I would highly recommend this to everyone. I’d do it again if I could! It’s so much more than checking a box. It’s strengthening an application and providing incredible real-world experience.

Thanks again for chatting with me, Jana. I’ll have to go wander around the zoo again sometime soon!

Chloe Friesen is a 3rd year Communications and Media student.

“A leap of faith”: Why a PACTS student joined choir | Guest blogger Cassidy Brown

If you find yourself wandering the halls of CMU’s south side just after noon most days, you will no doubt hear the voices of one of CMU’s choirs. These choirs offer students an excellent opportunity to perform for their peers, grow musically, and create new university experiences.

But what happens if you aren’t a music student? Maybe you were in choirs or other musical ensembles growing up, but found other academic passions. Not to worry, you can still participate in CMU’s choirs!

My name is Cassidy and I am a second-year student studying Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies. That is where I find that my passion lies. However, I love music and singing and so I decided to take a leap of faith and audition for CMU’s Women’s Chorus. Now I find myself singing with roughly 50 other women every Friday!

Guest blogger Cassidy Brown

As someone who isn’t a music student, I had many apprehensions about auditioning for a choir. What if I wasn’t good enough? Would it get in the way of my other studies? As I began my journey with choir in September, I found these worries slowly melting away. Like other courses, choir does require work and practice outside of the classroom, but for someone who isn’t a music student this is often a welcome break from readings and writing papers. Along with this break from other forms of studying, I found myself building new connections with women who are not in my same academic program at CMU. I did have musical and choral experience prior to joining Women’s Chorus, but even within the first rehearsal I found myself learning new techniques which I was thrilled with.

On top of offering excellent opportunities within CMU, choir gives you access to many other opportunities outside of CMU! For example, just this weekend both the Men’s and Women’s Choruses are working together with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) to perform Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy on March 7! Maybe I’m just a music nerd, but this is an incredible opportunity to have a window into what a professional performance is!

The CMU Women’s Chorus of 2019/2020

Aside from the WSO collaboration, my favourite event on campus is Christmas at CMU. This happens around the end of first semester, and CMU’s north side is transformed into a winter wonderland of music, apple cider, and laughter—an excellent way to finish off the semester. While this may seem like a lot of work outside of your regular class schedule, it’s certainly manageable! As I said earlier, working on choral homework is often a very welcome break from the readings and papers that I’m up to my eyeballs in for my other studies.

All in all, my experience as a non-music student in Women’s Chorus has been incredibly enriching. I’ve made new friends, had new experiences, and grown in ways I wouldn’t have been able to outside of a choir setting. So, whether you’re an incoming student or a current student and you’re wondering if choir is right for you, give it a try! You may end up stumbling on a new passion of yours.

Cassidy Brown is a 2nd year Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies student.

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