May 17, 2022

Graduate College finds inspiration in Canada's Rockies

The College marks end of another successful year with leadership retreat at Banff Centre
Group shot of members of the Graduate College with mountains in the background
Members of the Graduate College at the Banff Centre Dan Ferguson

You’ll be forgiven for believing that parasites don’t make the menu for breakfast banter. However, when you’re sharing breakfast with members of UCalgary’s Graduate College, you should expect the extraordinary.

The occasion of this breakfast was the Graduate College Leadership Retreat held at the Banff Centre from April 1 to 3. Over plates of fruit and scrambled eggs, Chenhua Li talks about her work on the 2021 Parasite Biodiversity Day. This was a virtual event organized by Li to celebrate the 2021 United Nations Biodiversity Conference.

“I have a passion for raising public awareness of parasites and people who study them,” she explains with growing enthusiasm. “Students from all around the world logged in to watch presentations from influential parasitologists!”

Li, a College member and PhD student in Veterinary Medicine, came up with the idea and gained support from the UN and the host country of China. She collaborated with scientists from around the world to create a program with presentations, panel discussions, and an interview she conducted with 2015 Nobel Laureate Dr. William Campbell on his work at the intersection of art and science. The event, supported by the GSA Quality Money program, was viewed worldwide by students and scientists from Iceland all the way to Australia.

Leadership retreat at Banff Centre

Li's is the kind of inspiring story that comes naturally when you spend time with the members of the College. In true UCalgary form, these scholars aren’t the kind to wait around expecting to be told what to do. Leadership and initiative are baked into their DNA.

The retreat was a capstone event rounding out a busy year for the College that included the Inspirational Dialogue speaker series alongside many volunteer activities. The retreat offered a program of workshops on writing and mindfulness, along with A-list speakers that included Max Fawcett, senior columnist with the National Observer; Dr. Teri Balser, UCalgary provost and vice-president (academic); Naheed Nenshi, BComm’93, former mayor of Calgary; Dr. Michael Nesbitt, SJD  (Faculty of Law); Dr. Jamie Rothenberger, PhD (Veterinary Medicine); Arlene Strom, chief sustainability officer, Suncor Energy; and Jasmine Mina, Calgary Ward 3 councillor and former Olympian.

Making deeper connections

The snow-capped Rockies provided a stunning backdrop for the in-person gathering, which was a first for the College in two years. Making face-to-face connections following months of virtual collaboration was meaningful, as College member and master’s student in Military and Strategic Studies Sarah Meyers notes:

“The highlight of the retreat for me was the creation of deeper connections with many of my fellow scholars. As I had only previously met the members online, I was finally able to sit down with many different scholars and get to know them on a different level,” says Meyers. “We were able to engage in not only scholarly conversations, but more personal dialogue as well. This is particularly special when you consider the backgrounds of each of the scholars. In a typical school environment, I would not get the opportunity to meet many of them.” 

Sujoy Subroto, a PhD candidate in geography, travelled from Bangladesh for his studies at UCalgary. The College has been a key element of his graduate experience, with the retreat representing the culmination of his time as member.

This retreat has given me scope to engage in intellectual debate, get involved in networking, and learn from a diverse panel of renowned speakers from academia, early career scholars, politicians, professionals, and doctoral students about their perspectives and works,” says Subroto.

We have stepped out of our comfort zone to challenge the speakers with constructive comments, which has not only shaped our understanding but also helped us to realize the common values we share despite our divergence in terms of nationality, disciplines, and research agendas.

An environment of shared excellence

From the perspective of Head of College, Dr. James Wasmuth, Subroto has hit on a theme that has been consistent for the College members. “The College creates an environment of shared excellence,” explains Wasmuth. “When you have a group of students connecting across disciplines and backgrounds to define and work toward a shared vision, incredible things can happen. More than that, it also makes the experience of being a UCalgary graduate student something truly unique.”

Nursing PhD candidate Julia Imanoff echoes the sentiment:

The single-best reason to be a member of the College is the people. There is something inspiring and energizing about the scholars. Every event has shifted the way I view or think about an issue, challenged my previous assumptions, or made me curious to learn more about something.

"That is not to say that it is the events that stimulate this change of thought. It is through the way the scholars share and relate to each other. It is through the informal conversations. It is through the questions that other scholars ask of speakers that shift my own thinking. Being challenged in that way has been the greatest benefit to me, personally, but one I would wish for any graduate student.”