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Faith and community at CMU | Cassidy Brown

As a bright-eyed 18-year-old looking at the overwhelming number of universities to choose from, I settled on CMU for one reason that stood out from the rest: the impact of faith on community and vice versa. I knew that finding a community that would simultaneously challenge and inspire me in faith is what I needed to supplement my university experience.

My first year was wonderful for me. I was part of a group that led Wednesday Night Worship monthly and I attended a fellowship group on a weekly basis. And I always had the opportunity to attend chapels during the week if I so desired! I had the ability to grow my faith at my fingertips. Even though my second year was busier, I still felt like I had a solid faith community to hold me as I deconstructed and built up my understanding of my faith.

And now, here we are! With Wednesday Night Worship on hiatus, chapel online, and other extra events either cancelled or happening virtually, I lament what cannot be this year. With a year having passed since we were asking ourselves whether or not Covid-19 would even affect us here in Winnipeg, I find myself thinking that I should be done lamenting what cannot be. But honestly? I don’t think I am yet. Yes, I want to recognize that I have a lot of good going on, and I’m blessed that we have the hybrid learning model! But that doesn’t change the fact that I still feel this sadness that comes with the loss of faith and community in the way I know it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is the right decision. CMU has done an excellent job at creating a healthy space for students to learn and engage with class content in-person. And we must do what it takes to ensure the safety of all students, staff, and faculty. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s hard to navigate both knowing that this is for the best, and wishing it could be another way.

 I’ve frequently had to remind myself that faith is rarely easy, and that I am called to rise to the occasion of engaging in my faith, even when it’s challenging. I went on the search for some news articles, to see what other people and faith communities had to say about this topic. I came across an article from the BBC, and the most compelling part of this article is an interview with Bruxy Cavey, pastor of the Meeting House. “We’ve seen not only the numbers grow, but the kind of people, the people who wouldn’t typically feel comfortable even going to church, or setting a foot inside a new church . . . Covid has slowed us down and destabilised our regular routine. It has become an exploratory time. People are developing new habits, new interests, and finding new ways of just being in this world,” Cavey says in the article.

I also found an article from the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary on what it means to live as Christians in pandemic times. It reads, “Psalm 46:1 reminds us that ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ The psalmist continues by reminding us that God’s presence allows us not to fear the calamities that may befall us. What is not promised is that we will be prevented from experiencing problems and trials. Rather, God’s promise is that he will be our source of strength to persevere and endure through them.”

So how do we allow ourselves to lean on this? I believe that we have the capabilities to create and invest in faith communities, and hopefully it’s not too far off that we can continue harmonizing in the chapel. It often seems hard to dive deep into our faith when it looks so different from what we’re used to, but I continue to find people who challenge and encourage me in my faith.

Even though I wish we could return to everything as normal, I’ve been challenging myself to think creatively in these times. I’m eternally grateful for the ways CMU has helped me through this.

If you’re looking for more places to engage in faith communities, I encourage you to check out CMU. If you’re already a student, read the CMU Daily for all events! Chapels and small groups are an excellent place to start, and there’s bound to be something there for you.

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

You can go your own way: Independent studies at CMU | Malcolm Reimer

Nearly all university students will do research as part of their assigned coursework. But university also gives students the opportunity to do independent studies—to design an original research project separate from regular classes, which can be done over a whole semester and counts for credit. CMU students have done studies in English, behavioural economics, biology, and more! I spoke with fourth year student Olivia Neufeldt about her recent independent study in psychology.

Olivia Neufeldt, 4th year psychology major at CMU

Hi Olivia! Tell me about your project.

I developed a survey that looked into stress, anxiety, and academics in relation to student motivation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 200 students responded, and I presented the results to the CMU community last year.

How did you choose this topic?

I had taken a Psychology of Motivation class the semester before COVID-19, so that was fresh in my brain. I also thought about an idea that would work well during the pandemic, and this would be directly applicable to current students. I wanted to research something every student would have feelings about. And at the time, there were hardly any studies about COVID-19 and psychology, so it was a really new topic.

What did you learn from the survey? I imagine there was probably an increase in stress.

Students are worried! About 60% of students worried more now than in previous years. Generally, those who were more concerned about Covid were also more concerned about managing schoolwork. Interestingly, despite the correlation between COVID-19 worries and academic struggles, most students said that the pandemic didn’t distract them directly.

Did the results match your predictions?

The results are close to what I expected, but it’s nice to be able to show what we might know intuitively with actual data, and for professors to know that students are feeling more stressed than normal. This was near the beginning of the pandemic, so current anxieties may have changed or reduced as well.

Would you recommend students do an independent study?

I would! Especially because you get the opportunity to work really closely with your profs. A lot of other profs were offering to help me, and CMU students were really enthusiastic about participating. It’s a good way to get research experience and to explore a topic you might not be able to cover in class. An independent study looks great on a grad school application—and of course, you get to be in charge of everything!

Malcolm Reimer is a third year Science student.

SALT: The film | Natasha Neustaedter Barg

*IMDB, please don’t sue me for doing a blog post like a movie review*

SALT (2018-2019) 10/10 ⭐️

PG-14 | 8,184 hours or 11 months | Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Documentary | February 15 (Canada, United States)

20-year-old Natasha Neustaedter Barg takes a gap year to fulfill her practicum requirement for CMU, travel the world, and learn and serve as a teacher in Vietnam.

Directors: Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)
Writers: MCC and Natasha Neustaedter Barg
Starring: Natasha Neustaedter Barg, Sun, Rain, Food, and Students

Cast overview, first billed only:
Natasha Neustaedter Barg . . . starring herself


A burnt-out university student wants a change of scenery, so she decides to volunteer for a year as an English teacher in Vietnam with MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. Natasha heads out for a week of training in Pennsylvania, where she meets forty other Canadians and Americans serving worldwide. She befriends people going to Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Honduras, Egypt, Lebanon, South Korea, and South Africa. Fellow ‘SALTers’ will work as librarians, teachers, nurses, baristas, designers, grant writers, editors, and more. In Pennsylvania, Natasha meets Evelyn, another “SALTer” flying to Vietnam with her. Evelyn will also be working as a teacher. It is while bonding over lesson planning that she and Natasha become good friends. Evelyn is not from a Mennonite background, which leads to new conversations between the two friends. Upon arriving in Vietnam, they have language lessons for a month before moving to Viet Tri to begin teaching. Evelyn and Natasha visit cafes, temples, and nature reserves in their area. Natasha teaches kids in grades 6-9 in the morning and grades 3 and 4 in the afternoon throughout the eleven months. As her year progresses, we see Natasha be a judge at English competitions, go on multiple photoshoots with other teachers, and come to love her city. Her year is filled with delicious food, exploring, tons of lesson planning, and discovering that it is possible to call a place vastly different than your own home.

Plot Summary | Synopsis
Plot Keywords: practicum | friendship | growth | travel | food | adventure | teaching

Did you know?

– At CMU, your SALT year can count for up to 9 credit hours and fulfill your practicum requirement!
– You don’t have to be a Mennonite to do SALT!
– Don’t have a teacher’s degree or a communications degree? You can still do SALT!
– Although the application deadline for SALT was February 15, applications will still be considered!
– How do I learn more about SALT? MCC’s website, of course! Visit

– “SALT is awesome!”
– “Are you a salty SALTer?”
– “I can do it as my practicum?? Woah!”
– “Practicums are cool”
– “I am so grateful I got to see how what I’m learning is practical and helpful outside of class too!”

Natasha Neustaedter Barg is a fourth year Social Sciences student.

Scholarships: Investing energy in your future | Cassidy Brown

It’s no secret that university is expensive. Even though CMU does everything to keep costs low for their students, tuition, food, and extra costs all add up! Thankfully, CMU has many scholarships and bursaries to apply for to help you get the most financial help you can. Did you know that over 50% of CMU students receive financial assistance? The beauty of scholarships is that it’s money that you never have to pay back, unlike government or provincial loans.

Katrina Lengsavath

CMU’s prized scholarship is the Leadership Scholarship, worth not $10,000 or $12,000, but $14,000! I took time to chat with Katrina Lengsavath, one of last year’s winners, to ask some questions about what it takes to win!

Cassidy Brown: What pushed you to apply for a scholarship?
Katrina Lengsavath: I figured that any chance was a good chance! That was a big motivator. I think at some point almost every Grade 12 student gets bombarded with a notion of “you should start applying for scholarships,” and so I did! Applying seemed like a natural part of that last-year-of-high-school experience, and I remember hearing a lot of talk about scholarships around school and watched my upper-years friends win them.

CB: What did you write about for your scholarship essay?
KL: I wrote about the artistry of leadership! I think the core of my paper came from what I valued in my own endeavors, and I tried to extrapolate on that to express how leadership – as something you can practice, refine, perform – can look differently for everyone. The big thing I discovered is that leadership isn’t a one-hit wonder, and that it isn’t something that we should expect of ourselves right away. It takes a moment to own how you communicate with others, manage a project, or take initiative, and eventually the rhythm finds you. I found the kindness, social awareness, and commitment to improvement were some elements of leadership I valued the most, and that guided my writing!

CB: How long did it take you to write the 1,000-word essay? Is it as daunting as it seems?
KL: I admittedly started my essay later than I should have and stayed up a lot later than I should have to work on it (but isn’t it so peaceful to write when the rest of the world is calm?). That probably foreshadows an answer for you! Once I settled into my passion for this piece though, it was easy to keep writing and put my all into it. Some papers I write for my classes now are lengthier than any scholarship essay I’ve ever pulled off, and if anything, those applications helped build endurance. When it comes to scholarship essays, I appreciate a longer essay because it gives me more time and space to express and articulate my ideas.

CB: What advice would you give to those who may be unsure about applying?
KL: There are a lot of reasons why someone would be unsure about applying, and I faced my own hesitancies along the way. I applied for the Leadership Scholarship because at that point, I knew I really wanted to go to CMU, and it felt right to take a shot at such an opportunity. There were other applications I passed up because I knew I wasn’t going to pursue a specific program or a specific institution just for the sake of meeting and maintaining their criteria – I just couldn’t see myself there. But if you can see yourself there, that’s a good thing! My advice to students who are feeling unsure about applying for scholarships – who might be overwhelmed about graduating, paperwork, and managing their time – would be to let yourself dream up that “what if” and invest that energy in giving yourself a chance.

Wow! Well said, Katrina. There you have it folks! Instead of hitting that continue watching button on Netflix, consider investing in yourself and your future by submitting your scholarship form today! Remember that you must have your application in as well, and the due date is approaching: February 28. Good luck and may the best entry win!

For more information, visit

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

If the walls could talk, what stories would they share? | Natasha Neustaedter Barg

My name is Founders Hall, but people also call me North, the castle building, and 500 Shaftesbury. This year, 2021, is my 100th birthday! I was built in 1921, but it was only in 1922 that my walls started echoing the calls of students and teachers. The pitter-patter of feet ricocheted off my walls as the boys and girls of the Manitoba School for the Deaf ran between dorm rooms, the girls entering through doors marked with owl and pelican engravings overhead, the boys through doors decorated by chipmunks.

Photo courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society

From 1940-46 my halls were filled with constant “yes sirs” and perfectly timed steps as I became the home for the Wireless School No. 3. The school was designed to teach young men (and a few women) how to become wireless operators, communicating between planes and bases of the Commonwealth in World War II.

It is during this time that other buildings joined my ranks. There were barracks upon barracks, canteens, mess halls, a drill hall, coal shed, hospital, dental clinic, and the list goes on. In 1946, the slow destruction of the other buildings began as I became the home of the Normal School or the Manitoba Teacher’s College, as it became known later on. Once again my building became a place for learning and teaching. The first and second floor were classrooms, with a library, science room, and offices in the wings, and the third and fourth floors were still dormitories.

Photo courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society

My dining hall smelled of shepherd’s pie and echoed with the clatter of forks and knives as the students ate together. The girls would serve dessert and set the tables, as some boys would trudge to the back to wash the pots and pans and peel the hundreds of potatoes needed for each meal. From 1965-95, my dining hall was still used to gather students together, but once again for the Manitoba School for the Deaf.

And now students of Canadian Mennonite University walk my halls, completely unaware of the history I hold and the clues I give them. My entrances are still marked with carvings of owls, pelicans, food, and the words, “Dining Hall.” My basement still holds the outlets for the irons the Wireless School No. 3 used to iron their clothes and the slate boards that marked their attendance.

Photo by Darryl Neustaedter Barg

As the years go on, I will continue to show students the clues of history past and hope they will walk my halls knowing that time passes and that they are part of a bigger story and history.

Perhaps as students are forced by COVID-19 to walk in only their neighbourhoods and pace their homes, they will stop to notice the clues that houses and people are giving them of the bigger picture. Life will go on and what makes it fun is the things we notice and learn along the way.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg is a fourth year Social Sciences student. Much of her research for this piece came from the Manitoba Historical Society.

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