Monday 4 September 2006

The Undergrads: Who Are You?

Who are you? Who, who, who, who?
Who’s that person sitting beside you?

If you’re a frosh, or even if you have been here for a few years, it is difficult, sometimes, to tell whom that is beside you in class. In reality there are four types of undergraduate students here at the University of Waterloo. Recently I was asked in class, more than once, if I was a teaching assistant. Flattering as that is, in reality I am just a slightly older undergraduate.

That got me to thinking about the chorus of a well-known song: “Who are you? Who, who, who, who? Who are you? Who, who, who, who? Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

In homage to The Who and their song, “Who Are You?”, made famous again by being the theme song to CSI, I must acknowledge that it is the catalyst that made me think about who that is sitting next to you in your class. In truth, the four types of undergraduates are first, the traditional undergraduate who went to university right from high school or maybe after a year’s travel; second is the part-time student who works and goes to school, or for some other reason cannot do school full-time; third is the mature student, a person who has returned to school after a time away either working, or whose schooling was interrupted for some other reason. And finally, there is the senior student. Like many other institutions of higher education, the UW offers the following: “Effective May 1, 1989, all students 65 years and over who register for degree credit courses receive a bursary equivalent to the cost of tuition.” They can also audit courses for free. Now sometimes these categories can overlap, such as a part-time mature student, or a full-time senior student.

I personally know two examples of this fourth category, both of whom take courses for different reasons. First is Lucien Guillaume who is 76 and takes at least one course a year, working in between his travels around the globe. He has taken nineteen courses since the fall of 1998, four for credit and fifteen as audit. Retired from Air Canada, Lucien takes courses for interest, for personal enjoyment and for personal enrichment. Lucien takes courses as a post-graduate and post-degree student because of his BA and MA from Concordia University in Sociology and Educational Technology respectively. The second is Dick Degraaf, in his early-60’s, a local counselor who enrolls in courses for professional development or for enjoyment. Dick takes courses when something specific piques his interest. Both of these men do this to continue their journey of lifelong learning.

As such, learning can be a lifelong adventure. It may be only just beginning for you now as an undergraduate. In this frosh issue of Imprint, I would challenge you not to judge others you see on campus. We all come from different places, different races and traditions, yet we are all part of One Waterloo. is the website for the Diversity Campaign at UW. Its goals are stated here: “ONE WATERLOO is the ongoing University of Waterloo diversity awareness campaign, which puts emphasis on promoting awareness, acceptance and understanding of the various identifiable groups in the university as well as the uniqueness of each individual at Waterloo.” Last year they had posters around campus that stated:

“20,047 undergraduates
2,194 part-time
2,187 grad students
479 part-time graduates
818 faculty
2,008 staff

27,733 people
one waterloo”

Now back to the person who asked if I was a teaching assistant in class. The student asked me this, because whenever Peter Frick asked a question in class, if no one raised their hand he would turn to me and ask “Steven?” and I would give the answer. Dr. Frick did this because I had already taken four courses with him and he knew I would have done the readings. As a part-time student I do not always have the luxury of taking courses in specific order; my second term here I did a second and third year course, and this year I did two first year courses because they were what was offered when I could take a class.

Even though I have been in university since 1988 I have no desire to finish anytime soon.

So when you meet someone in class, or the Student Life Center, strike up a conversation. You never know whom you will meet and how that conversation might develop into a key networking contact, or just allow you to meet an interesting person, or someone who might become a great friend.

(First Published in Imprint as ‘The Undergrads: Your fellow classmates will come in all ages and levels of experience’ 2006-09-01.)

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