October 31, 2011

Art, music, hockey and Arctic research at McGill

Just like AUCC, McGill University is celebrating an anniversary this year. Happy 190th birthday, McGill! Wow, what a history! Back in 1821, Montreal was apparently a rough and tumble town – quite different from the sophisticated, fun city it is today.  The school, too, started out as a tiny university and has become one of the world’s top ranked schools. To honour this event, the first thing I did as I entered the downtown campus through the Roddick Gates was visit the statue of founder James McGill (created by David Roper-Curzon for McGill’s 175th anniversary).

McGill recommends that all visitors and new students start their on-campus experience with a trip to the Welcome Centre, just off the pedestrian-only McTavish Street. This place is great! The friendly staff helped me set up a tour of campus and showed me how to find building descriptions on Google Maps. If you can’t visit in person, take a virtual tour of both the downtown campus and the Macdonald campus in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, home to the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. I was also introduced to the new Service Point, where dozens of the university’s admin services are now housed under one roof to make students’ lives easier.

McGill, like many of the schools I’ve visited, is home to a lot of very talented professors. But there was one in particular who is quite a hero to me, personally. And guess what… I got to meet him! Bruno Tremblay, of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, is an Arctic researcher with a keen interest in the problem of melting sea ice, which of course threatens polar bears like me. It was an honour to shake paws with a man who’s doing so much great work for my species and the entire Arctic ecosystem.

 

Speaking of ice, I’m known as a pretty graceful skater, so you can imagine my skepticism when I was told I’d be meeting the McGill Martlets women’s ice hockey team. I mean, have you ever seen a martlet? Sure, they look great on a coat of arms, but they’re not exactly a cold-weather bird (like the NHL’s Penguins, for instance.) I should have known better, though. This team has won three of the last four CIS national championships, including last year’s – capping a 33-0 season. And these women are tough! Can’t you tell by their menacing picture? Grr…  ;)

Growing up in Canada’s North, I fancied myself quite the musician. So, after a quick visit with Queen Victoria (who was guarding the Strathcona Music Building and doing her best impression of my North Pole buddy Santa Claus) I made my way to the Tanna Schulich Hall in the New Music Building to put my talents to the test with one of McGill’s jazz ensembles. The band didn’t need a vocalist (their loss) but I was able to show them a thing or two on the drum kit. Not that they need much help, because these guys and girls are lights out! They get to tour, record albums, and play concerts with some of the leading names in jazz. It’s no wonder McGill’s music grads are some of the most highly sought-after musicians on the planet.

Near the end of my tour, I was told I should check out McGill’s very own statue of the Three Bears, nestled in a hollow between the Arts Building and the stellar Redpath Museum. I was very excited, since the famous Papa Bear is actually a distant ancestor of mine. Upon arriving at the statue, though, I was a bit taken aback. Aghast, even! Standing before me were not the three bears I know and love, but three naked human males! Consulting my itinerary, I took note of the statue’s name: “The Three Bares”. How silly of me; I thought that was just poor spelling, but it was indeed an apt description for this statue, which has been a much loved landmark on the McGill campus for over 80 years. Well, isn’t that “cheeky”?

I was lucky to be at McGill during their annual Open House, but I think this place would be welcoming and fun any day of the year.  With all their illustrious history, beautiful green spaces and heritage buildings, McGill’s greatest asset is still its awesome people. Here’s to another 190 years, McGill!

October 28, 2011

Mon premier séjour en terre témiscabitibienne

Ma première visite en Abitibi-Témiscamingue m’intriguait beaucoup. J’avais hâte de m’imprégner de l’air de la région aux 20 000 lacs. J’étais fascinée à l’idée de découvrir l’Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT), une université qui couvre un territoire d’une superficie de 65 143 km2, soit 130 fois la taille de l’île de Montréal!

Évidemment, en seulement trois jours, il était difficile de visiter le laboratoire de biomatériaux à La Sarre, le laboratoire d’hydrogéologie à Amos, le laboratoire de télécommunications souterraines à Val-d’Or, la Station de recherche agroalimentaire à Notre-Dame-du-Nord et j’en passe. C’est pourquoi j’ai concentré mon séjour au campus principal qui se situe à Rouyn-Noranda, cité étudiante.

En arrivant, j’ai été hébergée dans les nouvelles résidences de l’UQAT qui ont été construites il y a un peu plus d’un an. J’ai logé dans l’appartement de Catherine, une étudiante de première année en psychoéducation. Elle m’a raconté comment elle adorait son expérience à l’UQAT et à quel point les professeurs sont disponibles pour leurs étudiants et que le milieu est accueillant et chaleureux. Plus elle me parlait, plus j’étais impatiente de visiter cette université à échelle humaine.

 

Le lendemain, j’ai été accueillie par un étudiant au baccalauréat avec majeure de création numérique, Jean-François. Il m’a fait visiter les installations de l’UQAT pour les étudiants du département de Création et nouveaux médias. Il y a tout ce qu’il faut pour réaliser des projets de cinéma, d’intégration Web, d’animation 2D et 3D et bien plus. Lors de ma visite dans le studio de son, on m’a fait interpréter une chanson composer par le personnel de l’UQAT lors de la rentrée! J’y ai découvert des talents de chanteur! Voyez le résultat!

Par la suite, je suis allée faire un tour sur le chantier de construction du nouveau pavillon de l’UQAT. C’était impressionnant! L’agrandissement représente 50 % de la superficie actuelle du campus de Rouyn-Noranda. Ce nouveau bâtiment sera constitué de locaux pour les étudiants chercheurs, de salles de classe, d’un nouveau bistro, d’une clinique psychosociale et d’un studio de capture de mouvement, une technologie très avancée pour les étudiants en 3D. Le nouveau pavillon sera assurément prêt pour accueillir les étudiants à l’automne 2012.

On m’a ensuite amenée sur un lit d’hôpital… mais non, il ne m’est rien arrivé sur le chantier, j’avais mon casque! En fait, on s’est rendu dans les laboratoires de sciences infirmières pour me présenter les nouveaux programmes de 2e cycle en santé, dont le tout nouveau microprogramme de 2e cycle en approche clinique en santé mondiale. Saviez-vous que l’UQAT est la seule université au Québec à offrir des certificats en santé à distance?

 

Pour terminer cette première journée, j’ai participé à un match d’impro! Les étudiants de la ligue l’I-site ont bien voulu m’accueillir le temps de quelques matchs! Ce fut une soirée mémorable!

Ma deuxième journée à l’UQAT a été empreinte de découvertes! J’ai d’abord assisté à un cours d’efficience cognitive sur la plateforme VIA. Cette technologie permet de communiquer et d’interagir avec son professeur et ses collègues de classe, en direct, de la maison, du bureau ou sur la route. C’est une classe virtuelle par visioconférence qui permet, peu importe où l’on se situe, de suivre des cours, de réaliser des travaux d’équipe, de communiquer avec un tuteur ou un superviseur, et ce, sans même avoir à se déplacer. Pour moi qui voyage beaucoup, j’ai trouvé cette formule extraordinaire! Je songe peut-être à suivre quelques cours avec l’UQAT…

Pour clore ce magnifique voyage et prendre un temps de repos pour réfléchir à mes différents voyages, la professeure retraitée, Mme Jocelyne Labrèche, m’a fait expérimenter l’art-thérapie. Je ne connaissais pas cette forme de psychothérapie et ont m’a expliqué qu’il s’agit d’une démarche d’accompagnement psychologique de personnes en difficulté ou en croissance, centrée sur l’expression de soi, de ses pensées, de ses émotions et de ses conflits dans un processus de création d’images. Ce qui distingue l’art-thérapie, c’est l’utilisation de médias plastiques comme le dessin, la peinture, la sculpture, le collage, le jeu de sable et plus encore. L’UQAT est d’ailleurs la seule université canadienne à offrir des programmes d’art-thérapie en français.

Après avoir rencontré autant de gens dynamiques et innovateurs et avoir découvert une multitude de projets uniques, je peux affirmer que la réputation de l’UQAT d’être humaine, créative et audacieuse est bel et bien fondée!

October 19, 2011

Diverse, vibrant: University of Toronto, Scarborough




Here I am at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC). First, I noticed the university’s remarkable architecture. And apparently, I’m not the only one! My guides pointed out how UTSC is a bit of an architectural tourist attraction.

The original building was designed by John Andrews and opened in 1965. It stretches a kilometre along the edge of a ravine and features big slabs of unadorned poured concrete. For the design-savvy, you can tell it’s a prime example of a style known as “Brutalism.” Traveling architects often pop by to have a look for this very reason. And Hollywood has often used UTSC as a setting for futuristic dystopia films – parts of Resident Evil were shot here, as well as the upcoming Total Recall, starring Collin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale. Too bad I wasn’t around when they were filming!

Scarborough is also known for its beautiful ravines and there’s one that borders the campus grounds. I made my way down all the steps (it’s hard when you’re only a foot tall and your joints don’t bend, but I managed), and enjoyed a short walk to the banks of the Highland Creek.

A bit thirsty after the walk, my new UTSC friends took me to Rex’s Den for some nice, cold water. Rex’s Den is a restaurant and bar on campus with lots of tables, good food and drink, and space for performances and fundraisers. (Rex is UTSC’s racoon mascot. He’s adorable, and we hit it off right away).

UTSC is one of three campuses that make up the University of Toronto. With 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, it’s a mid-sized university all by itself! With the only co-op programs in the U of T system, UTSC places an emphasis on learning by experience (which as AUCC’s intern, is something I’m getting very good at!). At the same time, UTSC is rapidly expanding its research and graduate studies programs.

I could tell right away, it’s a rapidly growing campus – just this year UTSC increased its classroom space by 25 percent when it opened a new building called the Instructional Centre. And I saw some ongoing construction while touring campus.

Unfortunately, I just missed ArtsideOut, UTSC’s student-run arts festival. They transform the entire campus into a venue for music and art for an entire day. But my guides let me take a picture with the big pink cube. If you want to see it, and other pictures from UTSC, check out my Facebook page.

My taste for culture piqued, I wanted to see the campus art gallery. UTSC’s gallery is named after famous Canadian painter and UTSC alumnae – Doris McCarthy. As luck would have it, there was an artwork made up of lots of found materials, and when I posed for a picture I think I fit right in. Who would’ve thought? Me, a work of art!

As we came out of the gallery, my nose caught a whiff of something delicious. I had heard about these hot dogs from UTSC students who said I had to try them. I think, after all the day’s activities, a tasty hot dog is just what I needed. I also really like this picture because it gives you an idea of just how much I stand out, as a polar bear on campus.

Y’know, sometimes, it’s not always easy being a polar bear at university. But my UTSC guides told me at this campus, it is not what you look like that makes you what you are; it is how you fit in with the rest of the community and the role you play. UTSC students are culturally diverse and this adds to the campus vibrancy.

I’ll always remember how my friends at UTSC made me feel at home. The people at this campus have shown me the future – a future where polar bears and students from all over the world can learn together and have a few laughs. Thanks, UTSC. Hope to be back soon!