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Scholarship Recipient on Living up to her Award: “A reminder of the values that drive me and that St. Thomas is a community where these values live”

PUBLISHED DATE: Monday, September 26, 2016
Hannah Zamora remembers the moment her life changed.

Her family had just moved into a more affordable house and were taking care of her aging grandfather. Money was scarce and she had begun to worry about how she would pay for university.

But the moment she opened a letter from St. Thomas University, everything changed. She had been offered the Chancellor’s Scholarship, a renewable scholarship which covers tuition and room and board in residence.

 “When I opened the envelope and saw the number, it didn’t register in my brain,” Zamora recalls. “What happened next was a flurry of laughter and disbelief, a few joyful tears, and calls to family members.”

Zamora, from Niagara, ON, says the pride and honour she felt were unbelievable, but the relief she felt was still greater.

“The realization that my years of hard work in high school were paying off, the fact that the next four years of my life would not be spent worrying about finances, the thought that my two younger sisters would have more money from my parents to put towards their educations, the reality that my parents could continue to care for my grandfather without the added worry of how I was going to pay for school.”

She says simply opening that envelope had revealed so many opportunities. Still, she didn’t accept the scholarship right away.

“I wanted to make sure the school I was picking would inspire me, would allow me to pursue my passions, make change, and find community. I thought for a long time, and, here I am.”

Zamora is now in her third year, studying English and Great Books. 

She says the scholarship helped her make her decision, but choosing St. Thomas was about more than that. 

“I realized these scholarships are given for a reason—maybe you were a leader in your school, maybe you stayed awake all hours of the night studying, writing essays, reading; maybe you volunteered hours of your time, because it gave you fulfillment and let you connect with people.”

“I realized this scholarship isn’t just something to ease my mind. It’s a reminder of the values that drive me and that St. Thomas is a community where these values live.”

Zamora remains grateful for the scholarship, and continues to live up to its honour. 

“We are not here by chance; we are here because we are deserving and we are being reminded to try to continue to be deserving. That doesn’t just mean meeting the minimum grade point average each year. It means being leaders and change-makers, strivers who are willing to work hard, to care, and to chase passions that will better the community we are part of.”

Wi-Fi, Smartphones, and Tractors: Dr. Kelly Bronson Explores the Digital Revolution in Farming

PUBLISHED DATE: Monday, September 19, 2016
Farming is undergoing a digital revolution, and farmers are adding technology, apps, and smartphones to their equipment.
 
But Science and Technology Studies professor Kelly Bronson wants to know who is truly benefiting from this new shift.
 
Bronson has just received a Social Sciences and Humanities Council Insight Grant to support her research on the digital revolution and big data in the Canadian food system.
 
There has been little scholarly work done on the digital revolution in farming, so Bronson’s research is unique and will introduce the topic of big data to the social science of food and agriculture.  It will also contribute to the communication studies literature of a much-needed critical analysis of big data.
 
“I will be interviewing farmers, app designers, decision makers, and policy makers, and by doing so, I’ll tell a well-rounded story about what’s happening with the digital revolution and specifically with power relationships in the food system,” Bronson explained.

“Even small-scale farmers are gathering information collected by their agricultural equipment, and many farmers are using information from large datasets to inform decisions about when to seed or how to best target weeds,” she added.
 
“John Deere fits all of its tractors with sensors that stream data about soil and crop conditions and the corporation invites farmers to subscribe and pay for access to information that can help inform decisions such as where to plant crops.”

Bronson believes that the use of large information sets and the digital tools for collecting, aggregating, and analyzing them – together referred to as big data – is poised to either reproduce or to disrupt long-standing and inequitable relationships of power between farmers and agri-business. In her research, she will analyze the material consequences of the uses of big data as well as the context of production of specific tools as they relate to these consequences.
 
“Does it matter who is designing the tools? For instance, if it’s being produced by Monsanto Corporation, the big North American agri-business, or by government, or by a non-profit? Do the context of production and the ideas behind the tools matter for the implications those tools may have?”

Bronson gives the example of an app called Weed ID, which was created by Monsanto. The free smartphone app helps farmers identify unknown weeds and seek advice on which chemicals to use to get rid of them.

“This raises flags for me as an ex field biologist. I’m thinking, this is field research for Monsanto. It’s like crowd sourcing science. I’m sure there are benefits for farmers, but there also might be incommensurate benefits for agri-business. They don’t have to pay agronomists in-house. They have a bunch of farmers doing their research for them for free.”

But Bronson says there are also technologies available that appear to be designed to redress unequal power relations.

“Farm Central is a tool developed by a non-profit corporation called Grain Farmers Ontario and it’s meant to give real time commodity and input prices. The National Farmers Union has tracked that when commodity prices go up on the international market — say farmers in Saskatchewan are getting more for grain products — right away input prices like chemicals, for example, go up. The corporations are in the know enough that they can grab whatever excess profit the farmer may have. But this app is meant to tell farmers across Canada what a fair input price is — what other people are paying. That is an example of a tool that is clearly trying to help farmers.”
 
During her research, Bronson will ask the following questions: What types of big data are currently in use by farmers, governments, and corporations in the agri-food system? What kinds of knowledge about food, farming and farmers are big data helping shape? What power relationships are generated, reinforced or disrupted by the application of big data in the agri-sector?

Dr. Catherine Gidney Part of “Emerging Generation of Intellectual Leadership” as Adjunct Professor Elected to Royal Society’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

PUBLISHED DATE: Tuesday, September 13, 2016
An award-winning historian of education whose research examines contemporary youth culture and children’s physical and mental health has been named to a prestigious national scholarly association.
 
St. Thomas University adjunct history professor Dr. Catherine Gidney has been elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Canada’s only national system of recognition for the emerging generation of intellectual leadership.
 
Gidney’s scholarly work has established her as a leading historian of Canadian education. Her research on youth culture, nutrition, commercialism, physical education, moral education, psychology and student mental health provides greater context for understanding contemporary educational patterns and initiatives. Her other work has tracked the transformation of Canadian universities into modern institutions over the course of the twentieth century.
 
“Dr. Gidney’s scholarship on education, public schooling and Canadian identity not only clarifies what has happened, it addresses issues of current importance to our society and informs public policy in these important fields,” said Dawn Russell, St. Thomas University President and Vice-Chancellor.
 
“It’s an honour to be selected for the RSC’s College and I look forward to the collaborative opportunities that this organization offers,” said Gidney.
 
Gidney, who earned a PhD from Queen’s University and held a Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine Postdoctoral Fellowship and a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Waterloo, has been an adjunct research professor at STU since 2006.
 
In addition to her work on the history of education and health, Gidney has made important contributions to the understanding of the relationship between militarism and national identity in books on the history of war resistance and the connections between feminism, militarism and national identity. She recently shifted her focus to examine contemporary public schooling and is nearing completion of a study on the rise of in-school commercialism in areas such as corporate teaching aids and fundraising and junk food.
 
Gidney is the author of two books and two co-edited collections, and has published 16 peer-reviewed articles or chapters. Her first book won the Founders’ Prize from the Canadian History of Education Association, and her articles have been recognized by the American History of Education Society and the Canadian History of Education Association. She has also taken on a leadership role in scholarly publishing and academic service, and has served as an executive member of several academic associations.
 
Gidney is the second professor from the university to join the Royal Society. Dr. Michael Dawson, a professor in the Department of History, was named to the College in 2014. His expertise is in the comparative history of national identity and popular culture, and the global history of sport.

Diversity Unites Us: STU Recognized for Inclusive Community

PUBLISHED DATE: Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Dr. Christina Szurlej, Felomena Deogratsias, BA ’18, and Dr. Erin Fredericks, BA '06 presented at Anglophone School District East's Respect and Diversity Conference
STU student Felomena Deogratsias, BA ’18, is no stranger to racism and discrimination.
 
There was the time she was told to leave the swimming pool during a school field trip because they thought her dark skin would “dirty the water.” Or the time a stranger yelled at her because she didn’t look “Canadian” enough. Or the time she was told that it was a “historical fact” that black people were more dangerous than white people.
 
Today, Deogratsias chooses to use her voice to raise awareness and help others understand the danger of discrimination.
 
Deogratsias and STU Human Rights professor Dr. Christina Szurlej recently presented at Anglophone School District East’s Respect and Diversity Conference. They spoke about recognizing stereotypes, prejudices, and racism in the context of preventing and addressing intercultural conflict.
 
She shared her personal experiences with more than 200 middle school and high school students, their educators, school administrators and community members at the event, which was organized by the school district in partnership with St.
Thomas University.
 
“Being part of this conference was a healing process for me,” Deogratsias said. “It was therapeutic because I got to tell people about how they can do things differently so tomorrow isn’t a repeat of the past.”
 
Szurlej told the participants that they shouldn’t be afraid of differences. Instead, she said, we should acknowledge that the commonalities linking us through our humanity far outweigh subtle differences.
 
“We all want to be understood, maintain a sense of belonging, and contribute to a greater purpose. Judging others based on perceived group membership, rather than individual merit, replaces facts and knowledge with unsubstantiated, inaccurate assumptions harmful to the targeted group,” Szurlej said.
 
“I think about what an awful place our world would be if we were all the same. Diversity should be embraced and celebrated as a source of enrichment and beauty in our everyday lives.”
 
Deogratsias, Szurlej, and other members of the STU community presented on issues ranging from mental health, the importance of safer spaces in schools for the LGBTQ community, and intercultural conflict resolution.
 
“St. Thomas is a close-knit community,” Deogratsias said. “It’s a very liberal environment. And so we are the best people to really engage in this type of thing and also give a perspective on how things can be different. It’s a school that embraces diversity, embraces differences.”
 
John Tingley, BA ’88, the subject coordinator for positive learning and working environment for Anglophone School District East, organized the Respect and Diversity Conference. He said the conference opened up an important dialogue between the presenters, students, and educators.
 
“Our communities are always changing and social conversations are evolving. Our schools reflect that change,” he explained.
 
“High school students in 2016 are experiencing the world differently than high school students five years ago. The easy access to 24-hour live streaming of the world and all that it offers places us – as educators – in a unique position. Our students are leaders and have a 21st century perspective on these topics. This conference recognized that perspective and gave voice to topics that need to be discussed in the wider community context.”
 
He said the school district invited St. Thomas to participate because the university has a reputation for being an inclusive community that embraces diversity.
 
“When we scanned professional literature and researched best practices, many times faculty members at STU were cited or referenced. Especially Dr. Erin Fredericks with regards to safer spaces and LGBTQ issues and Dr. Christina Szurlej with human rights. So, we did not have to seek out expertise beyond our country or province; we found that expertise at STU.”
 
CREATING SAFER SPACES
To create safe spaces in schools, allies need to understand and empathize with what LGBTQ youth are facing – and usually that means having to come to terms with your own privilege, said Dr. Erin Fredericks, BA ’06.
 
The Sociology professor and the university’s LGBTQIA+ Resource Advisor spoke to the conference participants about how to become an ally and how to create a safe space in their schools.
 
“Sometimes when we talk about diversity, we talk about loving each other. But when we talk about being an ally it’s not just about love. It’s about power,” she explained.
 
“The most important thing you can do as an ally is not spend a ton of time memorizing facts about the queer community but recognize who you are and what your privileges are in society.
 
“Maybe you don’t have to worry about whether there will be a bathroom you can use when you are in a public space. Maybe you don’t need to worry that someone will misuse your pronoun. Maybe you don’t need to go through life worried that someone will ask you about your partner and you’ll have to make the decision about whether it’s safe to come out.”
 
But these are the sorts of issues that some members of the LGBTQ community face every day.
 
Statistics show that a lot of LGBTQ youth are experiencing marginalization in high school, Fredericks added. So what she spoke about at the conference wasn’t new or surprising information for the students in the room, but she said it’s important that the students hear their experiences told and validated by someone with privilege to their educators.
 
Fredericks invited student Al Cusack, BA’18, to present with her. Cusack is a non-binary trans student at STU and knows firsthand the importance of having a support system that includes well-informed allies on campus. That’s why Cusack spearheaded the Queer and Allied People’s Society at STU, which has quickly become one of the most active groups on campus.
 
“Even if people don’t participate in Q&A, they know that they are welcome,” they said. “They know they are accepted. They know there is a place to go if they need to be advocated for and if they need a community that understands where they are coming from.”
 
Cusack said giving high school students advice on how to create safe spaces in their schools is important.
 
“They are the ones who have the power to advocate for themselves and for people in their community. Especially with high school students, they have a collective power. They are not as used to conformity yet. They can collaborate. They are a force for good if you teach them how to build safer spaces.”
 
BUILDING POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH
Renée Comeau, BA ’15, BEd ’16, used to spend two hours every day working out at the gym without a break.
 
“That’s not healthy,” the education student told the conference participants. “In my case, I later found out I had an anxiety problem that fueled this energy to work out. I felt like my sense of control was gone and this was a way of taking control of my life.”
 
Comeau had been dealing with occasional depression and anxiety since she was in high school, but she didn’t know it was a problem until she had a severe panic attack one day. She made an appointment with a psychologist who diagnosed her with an anxiety disorder and helped her recover with the help of natural coping methods and medication.
 
“There is a stigma around medication. ‘You’re not strong enough to do this on your own.’ Well no, I’m not. I need the help of something. And that’s ok… with the medication and self-care every day, I feel mentally balanced and mentally well.”
 
Today, Comeau speaks about her struggles and her eventual recovery to help others recognize warning signs in their own lives and to normalize mental illness.
 
She started a blog (http://rockland92.blogspot.ca/) so others struggling with mental illness know that they’re not alone. She also became a mental health advocate and speaks at conferences and events to help educate others.
 
She said she’s not surprised members of the STU community were invited to speak about mental health support, adding that the Student Services department does a great job supporting mental health on campus.
 
The university provides counselling services. It also regularly hosts self-care events, workshops and engages students through social media around mental health topics. It plans de-stress events during hectic times of the academic year, and supports students in managing the stress they may be facing as a result of pressures in their lives (whether those are academic, personal, financial or otherwise).
 
It also equips student leaders (like peer mentors and residence advisors), faculty and staff with resources on how to support students in distress or in crisis.
 
Comeau hopes that talking about mental illness and removing stigma surrounding it will help students she spoke to understand when they need help.
 
If the participants will remember one message from her talk, it’s that it’s OK to not be OK. But that there are resources available to help them recover.
 
“Be a glow stick,” she told them. “Sometimes you need to break before you glow.”

This story appeared in the spring/summer issue of Connections, STU's alumni magazine. To see the full issue, please click HERE.