Favourite Four Years of My Life
Air Date: November 9, 2020
#10 Favourite Four Years of My Life
Nov. 9, 2020
0:00 Sara Darling, Coordinator, Community Service-Learning, Teaching and Learning
11:02 Digital Media and Journalism student Sara Mathov-Olszewicki interviews Game Design and Development alumnus Shayne Ganness
18:50 Anh Ngo, Assistant Professor, Social Work
Thank you to Serena Austin, One Market Research Assistant, Melissa Weaver for graphics, and Nicole Morgan for campus promotion. Music by Scott Holmes.
Bruce Gillespie 0:03
Welcome to One Market, keeping the Laurier Brantford community connected. I’m Bruce Gillespie. This week we hear about some innovative ways community partners are working with students in a remote learning environment. Then, we check in with a recent Game Design and Development graduate who had to close up the Brantford studio he’d opened a year ago because of the pandemic. And finally, we hear from a Social Work professor about some research she recently completed for the Brant United Way about the need for connection in our community. All that and more coming up on this episode of One Market.
Our first guest is Sara Darling, coordinator of Community Service-Learning at Laurier Brantford. As the person who plays matchmaker for instructors looking to bring the real world into their classrooms via community partners. Sara has been busy since March, working to find new ways of doing this in the remote learning environment. But, before she tells us about those new experiments, I asked her to explain what community service-learning is.
Sara Darling 1:07
Community Service Learning, you might often hear it referred to as CSL, is really about giving students a chance to engage in the community as part of their course. So, by that we mean, sometimes it’s a placement in the community, it’s a project. It’s experiential learning outside the classroom, and it is curricular based. So, we work with, I think the list is about 22 different courses that I help coordinate for now, that have a CSL component in them, doing all sorts of different things. So, that’s what community service-learning, kind of, in a nutshell is all about.
Bruce Gillespie 1:42
I think to me, that’s what’s the most fun part of CSL is, that it’s all these different things that are really, can be tailored really specifically to a particular instructors wishes, to a particular class. It’s really quite adjustable.
Sara Darling 1:55
That’s right, yes. We’ve done so many different things and really it comes down to, sort of, working with a faculty member’s ideas. And then, coming up with a plan and connecting with community partners to see what is doable and how we can go about meeting the goals, and also always making sure that it’s reciprocal. So, a big part of our work is working with the community, and hearing their needs, and seeing how we can work together to, kind of, for the win-win outcome.
Bruce Gillespie 2:24
So, the next natural question is, in the past six, or seven months, presumably you’ve had to adapt a lot of what to do since we’re not having in person classes, we can’t meet in person. What’s that been like? How has your usual, sort of, way of working changed during the pandemic?
Sara Darling 2:39
Oh, well, it’s been an interesting time for sure. But, what I can say is it has given us a chance to get really creative, and reinvent and reimagine new ways that experiential learning can still happen in the context of a pandemic. So, we’ve had different seasons too, so in the spring, as as you can imagine, the semester wasn’t done. And we had students in, I think, about eight courses it was, in the spring, out at placements and they weren’t done. So, we had to manage through that, working with profs around, you know, reducing the minimum hours, or could there be something that students could do from home for the community partners still, things like that. And then, we shifted to summer, where community capacity was really a challenge as organizations were dealing with layoffs, and programs collapsing, program closures. So, we had to take a really different approach for summer courses. And that led us into fall, where we worked together to come up with a lot of new ideas. Summer was a really creative process for us imagining what CSL will look like in the fall. Also, with not knowing all the details of which programs would be open, community partners didn’t even know. Some of them were still, kind of, trying to get programs online. Schools is another big one, we usually have lots of students out in schools, and they couldn’t go out in the fall.
Bruce Gillespie 4:06
Sara Darling 4:06
So, lots of things impacting our work. And yet, we were able to carry on with new plans for fall.
Bruce Gillespie 4:15
What’s the response been like from community partners?
Sara Darling 4:18
Things shift, things change almost sometimes by the week. It’s really hard for them to know where they’ll be at even a month down the road. So, we’ve had to really spend some time staying in touch, connecting, you know, through zoom and sitting at those tables where community partners are and hearing their needs, and then seeing where we can go. So, certainly they’re, you know, as best they can, want to work with us in new ways. And many of them have, some of them haven’t been able to, and it’s just been a, we have to wait right now. But, many of them have, kind of, caught the vision for some of these new ideas that we have. And with over 150 community partners, plus schools, it’s been a lot of just, kind of, keeping in touch.
Bruce Gillespie 4:59
So, can you tell us about some examples of new or innovative CSL programming you’re doing this year?
Sara Darling 5:04
Sure can. yes. So, in every course for the fall, we are doing different things than we’ve ever done before.
Bruce Gillespie 5:13
That’s easy, right?
Sara Darling 5:15
When I look back to what we’ve accomplished, you know, over the months, I have to pause and think, “Wow, this really is quite remarkable that we found ways to carry on.” So, in a nutshell, some of these new opportunities that we’ve come up with are ranging in things from remote placements. So, this is where a student can do something from home for a community partner organization. And by community partner, I should specify, we work with a lot of not for profits, government institutions, and schools, and lots of even some grassroots organizations. So, there’s a real range there. So, remote placements would be things like, you know, is there ways that a student could help with some creating documents, and research and planning for new initiatives, we have some helping with virtual tutoring, also weekly conversations with newcomers. When I put the word out, I gave some ideas of things that students could help with, just to kind of get them thinking along those lines. And we got some response from partners who were like, “Hey, you know, what, we really could use some help with grant writing,” or with creating documents, some of those things that have fallen to the bottom of their to do list. But, now is the time that students can help get those done. So, that’s been really exciting. Another course I mentioned that we often have students out in schools. With not being able to send them out in the fall we shifted to a project based idea here for this one course, where we have students doing activity plans for teachers,
Bruce Gillespie 6:44
Sara Darling 6:44
Based on child development, and linked with the curriculum. So, this was something that kind of came to me one day when I was thinking, gosh, “What are we going to do with this course, they really need to learn about child development,” and sat with the prof one day and we talked it over, and she caught the vision for how this could work. And then, we’re going to put it together into a resource and share it back with schools. So, really excited about that. I did also ask teachers for ideas of activities that they need help with and we got a whole host of emails from teachers saying, you know, “We can use things for the new math curriculum.” “We can use new ideas for social distancing games,” or, “Virtual tours around Canada, or other countries.” So, we’re really looking forward to seeing what comes back from students and getting that out to teachers. So, that’s really exciting.
Two other courses that are running with different things would be another one where we’re bringing community partner guests into class. Sites that would normally have students out for placements, all of these courses would normally have the weekly placement model. But, we’re bringing them in to be guest speakers, to talk about their work. And just talk about joys and challenges, and leave students with the chance to brainstorm ideas to help them, and kind of a case study type model for that course. And then, the last one is a course that is about multiculturalism. And, again, normally would be weekly placements. But instead, we have developed a new initiative in partnership with Laurier International. And we’re calling it Laurier International Cultural Conversations. And we’re putting students in groups, small groups, to have just conversations about culture across miles. What’s really interesting about this, Bruce, is that we have students in 17 different countries that are participating.
Bruce Gillespie 8:35
Oh, wow, like, participating from, like, their home countries?
Sara Darling 8:38
From Laurier, yeah. Many of them are at home. So, helping with isolation, being a Laurier student, but not here on campus, and also being able to talk about their different cultures.
Bruce Gillespie 8:50
That’s great. Because, you know, I think, when we learned that so many students would not be able to come to campus from other parts of the world. I think the immediate thought was, “Oh, that’s terrible, what a shame.” But, here’s a way to, sort of, really, you know, turn around and double down while you are in a different place, like, how can we make the most of that? Like, what a great opportunity for you to introduce other students in Canada and around the world to your culture and where you’re living? And like, that’s just, it’s such a perfect fit.
Sara Darling 9:14
It’s so amazing, yeah. The first day we met with them, we did, kind of, a meet and greet via Zoom. And, yeah, there was one student who, you know, was a first-year student, she’s in India, and all the way up to, we have grad students that are involved. So it’s really quite far reaching, and we’re super excited about it.
Bruce Gillespie 9:32
That’s great. And again, I would imagine based on my own experiences with my students, that even though there’s such upheaval at these times, that I think this kind of creative thinking is really appealing to students. Students, in my experience, really want, or are excited about trying something new, experimenting, not necessarily caring if it doesn’t work perfectly, but just trying those new creative ideas out.
Sara Darling 9:54
And the one thing we weren’t sure is, you know, whether the international students were interested in participating in something like this. So, Laurier International was great, they put out a survey and fielded the interest, and we got an overwhelmingly positive response. So, we were like, “Okay, let’s do this.” And rolled it out from from there.
Bruce Gillespie 10:12
I’ve been so encouraged and heartened by how much international students this year, who are studying away from Canada, are really invested in becoming part of their classes and our campus life. I have so many students who are logging on to Zoom classes at, you know, 3 A.M. local times, like, “Oh, I can’t imagine you’re doing this. This is amazing.” That’s such a commitment to being here.
Sara Darling 10:35
Yeah, for sure. And we have, many of them meet, kind of, at the same time of the day. But, there also is a few groups that are meeting at a different time because of timezone.
Bruce Gillespie 10:45
Well, it sounds like these are all really exciting projects and a great way to, sort of, embrace our current new normal. So, it’s fascinating to hear about them, and great to hear that students and community partners are all engaged in making this work. So, thank you for telling us about them today, Sara,
Sara Darling 10:59
Bruce Gillespie 11:01
Our next guest is Shayne Ganness, a Game Design and Development student who graduated in 2019, and, along with two of his peers started a game design studio in Brantford. In this conversation with fourth-year Digital Media and Journalism student Sara Mathov-Olszewicki, he talks about what it was like to have to close up shop because of COVID-19, and what it’s like job hunting during the pandemic. He starts by explaining why they decided to open a studio in Brantford in the first place.
Shayne Ganness 11:30
We decided to stay because, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Launchpad at Laurier, obviously, starting, like, a startup is a difficult process. And we knew basically most of the game design side of it, but the business side of it was something that we hadn’t explored too much, like, a little bit right? But, not enough to actually go forward with it. So, we stayed in Brantford because we knew that Launchpad was there. And we actually had applied to the program, they had accepted us. So, we figured we would stay there, that way we have like access to the working space there and the guidance, sort of, from Launchpad. Me and two other students, or graduates from our program, we started a company essentially, it was a game design studio, where we created games, or essentially interactive experiences for organizations in the area. For example, Bell Homestead, we were making them an experience that, like, would teach people that would visit the site what they did there. So, an escape room essentially. Yeah, we mostly just work with nonprofits, and we also did some consulting. We went our separate ways due to COVID essentially because we had a few projects, well we had quite a few projects lined up, but with nonprofits and some profits as well, they essentially said, “We’d like to do the project with you, and we just need a final signing off.” COVID started, once COVID started, you know, funding, kind of, went down the hole, and a lot of the projects, or almost all the projects got cancelled. So, we ended up having to split up, there wasn’t much of a choice to stay there and continue the company.
Sara Mathov-Olszewicki 13:01
Has it been hard for you to figure out where you want, what direction you want to go in with your degree?
Shayne Ganness 13:06
Our program focused mainly on games with purpose, and, like, educational games. So, I figured that was something that I knew the best, and, like, the three of us had the most experience doing, rather than recreational games. So, we figured we would try to do that first. And then, I mean, I do, like, I make games in my spare time as well occasionally. And obviously you don’t want every game you make to be just recreational, in that sense. So, it’s, kind of, something that I have wanted to try. But, yeah, COVID happening and, you know, it stopping our progression of the company has, I guess, given an opportunity to go that different route. So, I’d like to pursue it now.
Sara Mathov-Olszewicki 13:46
What does it feel like now, you moved home, school is done, you spent a year doing something and due to COVID and all this stuff it didn’t work out, and it’s kind of like, “Now what?” Like, what does it feel like?
Shayne Ganness 13:55
It’s definitely a very unique feeling. I mean, I’ve lived by myself for, like, five years now. So, and I mean, I would come home to visit but it’s, kind of like, moving back a couple steps, in the sense that job wise, I don’t have anything currently going on. And then, now I’m also just living, again, back with my parents. Yeah, so right now, I’m currently looking for work. I mean, I just finished working summer term at the LCBO. And I’m just job searching right now, it’s a little difficult during COVID because in my field, a lot of the things, or a lot of the jobs that are out there are, kind of, on site, or, like, you have to meet with people. So, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, but I mean, certain jobs are starting to show back up. So, that’s good now. But, it’s also a good thing in my sense because, like, I mean, I’m saving on rent and putting money forward to, like, well eventually, hopefully buying a house, and then also job searching and, like, building towards, I don’t know. I’m building on my resume, I guess, is what I’m saying. Because, like, during COVID there’s not much else to do. I mean, you can go out and walk and stuff. But, it’s ,kind of, just, like, opportunity to focus more on yourself, I guess.
I think we’re all wondering like, “What do you do?” Like, I’m wondering too, after school, like, what am I supposed to do? Like, everything’s different, so do you want to talk a bit more about what it’s like to job search as a pretty recent grad, how you think COVID is making that even harder?
I mean, it’s gonna be different for every, like, field, of course. But, in my field particularly, starting out, I know, for a lot of graduates from my program it was slightly difficult because it’s a field of, really of experience. And now, through Laurier, and our professors, and our program, we did have a lot of experience actually, coming out of university. I myself had, I think, in my first-year, or first-year summer, I had a job, like, making a game. So, that was a good experience to have coming out of it. But, even still, finding, like, at least a high paying job, or, like, a medium level paying job in our field is is difficult, because again, you need a lot of experience for it. So, it’s something that you, kind of, have to, even with a degree now, you do have to work your way up a little bit. Like, find a low level job, and, like, maybe, like, in my sense, a junior game designer, and then, like, work up from there.
Sara Mathov-Olszewicki 16:20
Is game design, something that you think can be done very well remotely?
Shayne Ganness 16:24
Yes, in a sense. There are a lot of studios that once COVID started, they had to, obviously, make their, whatever they do daily, just remote. And once you’re in a studio, like, when you’re working with people, you can do it. But, there’s an aspect of it that does, like, the brainstorming and stuff like that, is done better in person, in a sense. So, in a game design sense you can, a lot of other jobs, you definitely can’t.
Sara Mathov-Olszewicki 16:51
In terms of like job searching, do you feel hopeful? Or, do you feel kind of disappointed?
Shayne Ganness 16:57
Now, I’m a little bit more hopeful because I see that a lot of studios are, it seems, finding a way to work around it. And there have been some that are hiring now for lower positions. It’s not too bleak now, but during the middle of it, I think it was definitely a little scary looking at it.
Sara Mathov-Olszewicki 17:17
Unfortunately. If you can even picture it, do you want to just, kind of, sum up what your plan is for the next year, or even the next five years?
Shayne Ganness 17:27
Well, starting at, like, sooner, rather than later, I meant to, kind of, hone my game design skills. Like, I’m wanting more coding, even though I’m not a fan of it, but it’s something that is helpful for my field. I’d like to, hopefully soon, find something in my field, whether it be, like, very low entry, or, you know, a little higher, that’d be cool. And then, hopefully, in the area, Toronto area, and then again, I’m saving up to eventually, I would like to buy a house. I mean, it’s gonna take a while, maybe not in five years. But, so I’d like to be living honestly by myself, or at least not my parents place.
Sara Mathov-Olszewicki 18:07
Is there any advice that you can, kind of, give to a recent graduate like yourself?
Shayne Ganness 18:12
Right now it’s a little, again, bleak looking for jobs, more so depending on your field, but I would just keep at it. And in the meantime, just, kind of, take the time to maybe learn a bit more about your field, because I mean, they teach probably a good amount in any field, but there’s always more that you can learn. Whether it’s just, like, on the Internet or certain tutorials from other people. I really enjoyed my time at Laurier, it was probably one of my favorite four years of my life. So, keep learning and keep, like, looking for your opportunity, and hopefully soon you’ll find it.
Bruce Gillespie 18:47
Our final guest is Anh Ngo, an assistant professor of Social Work. In this conversation she tells us about a research projects are recently completed on behalf of the Brant United Way to help them better understand the particular needs of our community.
Anh Ngo 19:02
This was a fantastic project that allowed me to really get reintroduced and reacquainted with my hometown, having grown up in Brantford and now coming back to teach in it, and to research with the local partners. So, this sounds like it’s so long ago, but back in the fall of 2018 actually, the executive director of the United Way Brant, Daniel Rankin, actually approached the Faculty of Social Work and and asked if there was an interest amongst the faculty members to partner with this agency on doing a community needs assessment. And so, yes, I jumped on that opportunity. So, it was a project that was about a year and a half. When Dan came to us and and proposed this project. He had some very simple questions. He said, you know, “What are the leading edge issues?” Or, what are the immediate issues in Brant, in the Brant community? So, that includes Brantford, that includes the neighboring communities in the county, and that also includes Six Nations. So, it’s a very simple question, right? What are the community priorities? But, it was very complex to explore and to respond to this question. You know, his questions are, if we, one of the questions that we gave participants, and our participants ended up being service providers and frontline personnel. So, these are direct representatives of the agencies that are interested in applying for United Way funding already a United Way funded agency, right? One of the questions we posed to them was, you know, if you had, if you had this this money, where would you put the money into the community? What are the the pressing issues? But, we came at this question from a strained space and solutions focused approach. So, we were looking at what needs to happen for this community, for the Brant community to attain, you know, the goals of belonging, of thriving.
Bruce Gillespie 21:09
I think that’s such an interesting approach. And I remember being at a faculty meeting went Dan came in and talked about. It was this idea that, you know, they didn’t want to get stagnated in sort of, simply re-funding the same folks over and over again. They actually really want to take a clear look at, what does this community need today and in the near future, and how we can fund that. So, I think that’s such a valuable approach to take, and getting someone with your sort of experience on board to actually do this study was so smart. So, what are the things that you found from the work?
Anh Ngo 21:35
Well, we came up with six top priorities. So, connection, there was a sense of a limited sense of people’s ability to connect to one another. And this could be through geographical differences, right? Brant county is not a large community, but it’s not small either. And geographically we have, you know, we have West Brant, we have North Brant, we have downtown, right? And then, at the same time, we have Paris, and Burford, and Six Nations, Our Neighbors. And that’s a big theme, and I’ll go back to that theme. And the other theme that we saw was challenges in mental health and general well being. So, this is, like, a broad idea of mental health, not, you know, not strictly limited to our medical model of mental health, but just people’s general ability to achieve a sense of well being. Poverty and poverty related concerns such as housing precarity, such as food insecurity, problematic substance use, right? And, you know, the opioid crisis, it continues to be on the forefront of a lot of our minds and concerns. community safety, which surprisingly, and I’m giving you these themes as they were ranked in terms of how often they were talked about. Yeah, so we thought community safety might come up as one of the top concerns, but it was actually number five. And then finally, education and skills training.
But, the interesting thing about this is that the first theme, connection, seemed to relate very strongly with the following themes. In that, this sense of, or this observation of limited ability for connection, this lack of connection that people had, related to other themes, such as they were predisposing for other themes such as, like, people who had a limited sense of connection. Or, were unable to access, you know, informal sources of support, seem to be more vulnerable, right? To challenges in the other themes. Or, this limited or lacking connection and limited informal network of support was also perpetuating in other challenges. After having done an extensive literature review of the community needs in Brant County that did not come up. This interrelation piece, how these challenges worked to predispose, or to perpetuate, or to be protective of additional challenges.
Bruce Gillespie 24:13
That’s fascinating to think about in the way that if we know that connection is both a major factor, but also a connected factor, then there may be ways for United Way agencies to provide more ways for people to connect. And then, maybe we’ll see a difference in, sort of, feelings of belonging, but also maybe even, like, mental health, that kind of idea.
Anh Ngo 24:32
Yeah, absolutely. And that was the other thing, and you totally touched on it, Bruce. That’s the other thing that also came out of these, you know, focus groups and interviews that we did was that, the participants identify, you know, that role for Brant United Way to play in bringing people together on the table. I had participants in this focus group who said, you know, “This is the first time that I sat down with someone who is in the social services arena or field, but perhaps providing services to a different population than then the ones that we are targeting.” So, bringing people to the table and providing leadership and that, I think that’s, that’s one of the things that was identified in the study. Yeah, in terms of bringing people together to talk, to collaborate, right? And I think that’s what the participants talked about, this need for collaboration to have a stronger relationship with partnering agencies, so that they can, like you said, instead of, you know, starting from scratch, or duplicating things, or reinventing things, right? To continue building because there’s a sense that we do need to strategically work with one another. And, yeah, I think that bringing people into these focus groups to talk about these issues and challenges, I think that’s one of the ways that we can get that started.
Bruce Gillespie 25:54
What was it like for you to do this project, and like you say, reintroduce yourself to a community where you grew up, and work with United Way and meet all these, you know, partners and service providers and folks who are using those services? Did you learn something about the community you didn’t know before? Were you reminded of something you’d forgotten maybe?
Anh Ngo 26:09
Oh, absolutely. You know, it was such a privilege to be able to do this and to be able to come back to this community that I grew up in, right? You know, I learned about, like, there’s such a wide variety of services, and populations of interest within the social services field. So, for example, I learned about Sea Cadets, so it’s a very niche organization, nonprofit, that works on building engagement amongst young people, and having a safe place for young people to go to after school to build on some leadership skill. But, based on the, you know, the principles or the philosophies of a Sea Cadet. So, that’s a very, you know, a kind of obscure type of service that is provided, right?
Bruce Gillespie 26:57
Anh Ngo 26:58
And then, there’s other ones, such as Kids Who Can Fly. So, that agency, or that organization focuses on putting books into the hands of young people, and encouraging literacy, and encouraging, you know, caregiver and young people bonding through literacy based activities. There’s a huge range of services and supports. And I think sometimes that’s a challenge too, because when you’re looking at, you know, United Way Brant, annually they have, you know, give or take each year, about, roughly $1 million worth of funding that gets put right back into the community, right?
Bruce Gillespie 27:37
Anh Ngo 27:37
And it sounds like a lot, but it actually isn’t because, you know, Brant community is, the population is about 135,000 to 140,000 people. And there’s there’s a huge amount of agencies out there that are looking for funding, right? So, I don’t envy the work that they have to do.
Bruce Gillespie 27:57
I guess we should also mention, it’s very timely, the United Way is about to wrap up its campaign fundraising for the year.
Anh Ngo 28:03
If any of your listeners are Laurier Brantford community members, they still have that campaign for the 2021 year.
Bruce Gillespie 28:12
Well, Anh, It’s been amazing to hear about all this interesting research. Again, I think it’s really eye opening for so many of us to see what’s happening in our own community. So, thank you for taking the time to tell us about it today.
Anh Ngo 28:22
Oh, great. Thank you so much, Bruce.
Bruce Gillespie 28:27
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for joining us. We hope this helps you feel a little more connected to the Laurier Brantford community. If you liked what you heard, tell your friends and colleagues. You can subscribe on Apple, Google, Stitcher or wherever you find your podcasts. Worried about missing an episode? Sign up for our newsletter. You can find a link on Twitter and Facebook @onemarketlb. One Market was created and produced by Bruce Gillespie and Tarah Brookfield. Music by Scott Holmes, graphics by Melissa Weaver. Our research assistant and intern is Serena Austin. Thanks for listening. Keep in touch.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai