Take a break to volunteer

Community Compass is Concordia’s new experiential learning program

Concordia University has introduced a new community-based experiential learning program called Community Compass. The program allows Concordia students to sign up with  organizations that partnered with the university to volunteer during reading week.

Through various organizations in Montreal, students can register for four and a half days, or they can choose to volunteer for five days at Camp Kinkora in the Laurentians. Partner organizations include StopGap, a foundation that builds ramps to improve wheelchair accessibility around the city and Santropol Roulant, a community food hub in Plateau Mont-Royal, among many others.

As of Monday morning, 59 people were registered in the program. Alex Oster, the coordinator of student engagement at the Dean of Students office, said Community Compass will increase the number of partnering organizations, given its success this year.

Manager of Resident Life, Rich Swaminathan, set up the program, which was assessed and reinvented by Oster.

Community Compass is a new version of the Alternative Spring Break program from 2009-10, according to Oster. He said the program is “reimagined, to better align with students’ capacity mid-semester.” After seeing a decline in the registration for the Alternative Spring Break program in the last three years, Oster said the university conducted an assessment of the program’s strengths and weaknesses to create a new one that better accommodates the students.

Oster said that, for now, Community Compass will be focusing on the reading week program, however, it can also be used as a resource for students who want to get involved in their community, throughout the year.

Students who register for the program are automatically accepted, but there is limited availability per organization. “We’ve focused on making it as accessible as possible,” said Oster. “We want the program to be the first step into a lifestyle of volunteering and civic engagement.”

The program’s aim is to teach students about some of the critical social and economic issues in the Montreal community, according to Oster, whether it’s homelessness, a lack of accessibility or food poverty. “For example, students helping the StopGap foundation here in Montreal can help build and install ramps for single-stair entrances,” said Oster. “Many of us who are able-bodied don’t even notice this tiny step that prevents a wheelchair user from entering a public space.” He added, “It is an incredible chance to serve others.”

The reading week program’s option in the Laurentians is financed by the George and Helen Coward Endowment. The fund was created when the late Kenneth Coward made a donation to engage students in critical thinking and personal reflection to enrich their academic experience and foster civic responsibility, according to Oster.

Camp Kinkora is a foundation that offers camp experiences for community groups, especially marginalized and underprivileged groups. Oster said “they host an LGBTQ youth camp, for example.” Student volunteers help the Camp Kinkora crew prepare their facilities for their busy spring and summer seasons.

Find more information on Concordia’s website.

Graphic by @spooky_soda.

Student Life

Paving a career path

Niloofar Moradi speaks about fueling her ambition with passion

“For all aspiring engineers, find and follow your passion, work hard, work smart, get involved, feed your soul through volunteer work, and remember to carry the torch for the next generation,” said Noolifar Moradi, a Concordia University alumna and recipient of the 2018 Concordia Young Alumni Award.

The award is given to an alumni who has graduated in the last 15 years and continues to be involved in the Concordia community.

Moradi has always been an exemplary student. In 2010, she completed her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Concordia, and in 2015, gained a master’s in applied sciences at the École de technologie supérieure.

Her passion and commitment to aerospace engineering and her contribution to its community also led Moradi to win the Elsie MacGill Engineering Award for 2018.

Each year, eight women across Canada are nominated by the Northern Lights Aero Foundation (NLAF) for the Elsie MacGill Awards. Established in 2009, the NLAF honours outstanding women who have made a significant contribution to their field and continue to lay the groundwork and encourage other women to excel in the industry. Nominees are chosen based on their determination, perseverance, enthusiasm and personal accomplishments in aviation or aerospace engineering, as well as their ability to inspire others.

Moradi started as a turbo dynamics engineer and then shifted her focus to turbine mechanical design. She began her professional career at Rolls Royce Energy, but was still drawn to aerospace and aviation. When Moradi was offered a position at Pratt & Whitney, a top player in the aircraft engine manufacturing world, she accepted the challenge. Ever since then, Moradi has devoted her career to turbine aerodynamics and turbine design.

Despite having a lot on her plate at work, Moradi always makes time to give back to the university. “I do simple volunteering activities at Concordia,” she said.

When the university hosts its annual open house, it calls upon a group of alumni to spend a day talking to possible future students about what it’s like to study at Concordia. Moradi hasn’t missed the event for the past five or six years.“I find it so rewarding to be able to explain to people about my journey,” she said.

Moradi also attends numerous seminars and speaks to first-year students about the current job market, her experiences and what she’s taken away from that. “What I love about Concordia is that they made such a huge effort in preparing the students for the real world, by giving them talks, courses on software packages, it’s basically hands-on engineering,” she said. Moradi hopes to inspire students and push them to set goals for themselves.

“I do not see myself doing anything else on a daily basis,” says Moradi. “I truly believe that if you do what you’re passionate about, it won’t feel like a job, it will feel like following your passion.”

Feature image courtesy of Concordia University.


What I did on my summer break

Graphic by Alessandra McGovern

The newest group of students accepted into the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program (CVAP) begin their pre-departure training sessions this January for their summer volunteer trip to Gulu, Uganda.

CVAP, a fee-levy, non-profit organization at Concordia, sends staff and volunteers to work on supporting community development projects in Uganda for four months in the summer, alternating for two months at a time.

They also collaborate year-round with groups such as St. Jude Children’s Home, SOS Children’s Villages, Sports Outreach Ministry and The AIDS Support Organization (TASO).

Although some students face challenges such as homesickness and adapting to the slower pace of Ugandan life, CVAP’s executive director Jamie Robinson said the pre-departure sessions have undergone improvements in preparing volunteers.

“The feedback from our partners is that volunteers are ready to work with them and volunteers have more to contribute, and probably in some respect have more humility in their approach as well, which is really essential,” she added.

Jeevan Sidhu volunteered with CVAP in the summer of 2011. “It was amazing,” she said, “the time goes by faster than you think.”

According to Sidhu, the program takes you out of the classroom and gives you crucial experiential learning.

“It’s about really just being completely immersed in a situation and learning in a different way than you would in a textbook,”she added.

The four-month-long training sessions, which can be taken as a four-credit course, cover topics such as environmental impact assessment, radical approaches to community development, and critical race and gender theory.

“We really want people to make the most out of their experience,” Robinson said. “If students are well prepared then I think our community partners benefit from that preparation.”

The sessions, said Sidhu, also help deal with any anxieties the student may have. She noted how enthusiastic this year’s group is.

“I’m so excited for them because I know I had the same experience as them just a year ago.”

CVAP volunteers work on agriculture projects, health care projects, help with surveys and more.

A recent example of the work students did at St. Jude’s, said Robinson, includes a health and hygiene workshop that the students ran for the children. They “made some visuals to go up in their washrooms and other places for children to learn about hand washing,” she explained.

Robinson said volunteering helps people understand the value of their lives and their time. She cited examples such as helping a community receive health care and contributing to economic progress as being worth that time.

She believes that volunteering, no matter where it takes place, “is an expression that is worth more than money.”

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