Meet the SFU Director of Global Engagement: Gretchen Ferguson

Created by Daniel Christian Hartanto

December 04, 2020

Gretchen Ferguson is a SFU Director of Global Engagement for Africa, Middle East and South, Central & Western Asia Sustainable Development as well as the Global Networks Refugee and Newcomer Program. Her role is to strengthen the SFU partnership with each country. Before that, she was a former executive member at the SFU Surrey TD – Community Engagement Center as Associate Director for Program & Partnership. Her role is to maintain the partnership with the youth and newcomers in Surrey by providing responsive programs. She is also a former Geography Instructor since 2014 at SFU as she had an education background (PhD) in Geography at SFU.

At the SFU TD-CEC her job is to develop new programs that respond to the community needs by communicating with different partners in the community such as Surrey School District, City of Surrey, and DIVERSity. “We just see how we could support things that they were trying to do at the community by bringing other SFU students into it or any other SFU resources”, Gretchen said. Some of the programs that she developed are “Youth Mentorship Café” to give an insight of what is look like to being a SFU student, this program is targeted for high school graduate students. As well as the “Farm to Campus” to provide a low-cost fresh produce to SFU Students.

When the COVID-19 Pandemic started to emerge and the lockdown has been initiated, it affects the whole program that has been held by SFU Surrey TD CEC. “Since March we have to shutdown the programs for a couple weeks since people can’t come. To cope with the situation, we are the first to pivot virtual program online to engage with the youth as an alternative way. And it turns out the youth and children are more excited engaging virtually, which is a good thing” she said.

“From my experience with the SFU TD-CEC, some of the experience such as maintaining partnerships within different communities it does really help her to enhance her experience to a whole different level as the Director of Global Engagement, she said”.


Engaging with The Youth Through Virtual Mentoring

Created by Daniel Christian Hartanto

November 16, 2020

As we know, youth are one of the most crucial generations among the 20th century as they will develop new ideas for the world. For this reason, they need to be educated and motivated about their future. Youth is an experience that may change the individuals’ degree of dependence which can be marked in a several ways, according to different social views. In order to adapt and help youth, especially those who are coming abroad and intend to study in Canada, the SFU - Surrey TD Community Engagement Centre has prepared a program that supports youth within the community who are unfamiliar with the Canadian culture. These programs include the Youth Mentorship Cafés by the SFU TD Community Engagement Centre (a partnership between the SFU Surrey - TD Community Engagement Centre and DIVERSEcity) and Online Youth Nights (a partnership with the City of Surrey).

Educational Engagement (Youth Mentorship Cafés)

This is an opportunity provided by SFU Surrey - TD CEC and DIVERSEcity. The purpose of these opportunities is to help youth who are coming abroad with no experience and are striving to familiarize themselves within Canadian society transition into university. Moreover, the peers support students who are experiencing difficulties in programs within their faculties or departments as they will provide guidance to help students overcome challenges in their programs.

Public Youth Engagement (Online Youth Nights)

Aside from the Youth Mentorship Cafés, there is also a program called Online Youth Nights. This is an opportunity led by SFU and the City of Surrey. This program supports youth within Surrey to help them become more engaged within their communities. This opportunity provides students with the opportunity to strengthen their soft skills, but also their leadership skills.

Why Volunteer? How did you get involved? Do you gain any experience?

Lana Leal is a 3rd year student majoring in Linguistics (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences). She was also one of the SFU volunteers who led two of these opportunities. Currently, she teaches ESL (now known as EAL - English as an Additional Language) for international students. These opportunities gave her the opportunity to develop her experience with working with youth. Let's hear her thoughts!

I was interested in volunteering and I chose to engage with youth in the Youth Mentorship  Cafés because I have past experiences that are similar to what current students and youth [are] now facing in University. I think my experience will help other students overcome these challenges as most of them may feel isolated and want to express themselves by finding their own footing. I enjoyed working with the youth in a virtual setting as it is expanding the way we are engaging within the community. From these opportunities, [I’ve] developed my leadership skills, teamwork skills, and the ability to speak in front of the public. Aside from this, the youth were very engaged with the events and were inspired by the advice we provided them based on our own experiences. With the pandemic, since everything has become virtual, it helped me become more engaged with youth who are part of my community. Taking the time to volunteer helps young people develop personal skills, discover who you are as a person, and become part of a support system for youth who are struggling today.
(Lana Leal, 3rd Year Student in Linguistics, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences).

Scott Tian is a 3rd year student majoring in Business within the Beedie School of Business. He has volunteered for the Youth Mentorship Cafés as a Workshop Facilitator for 3 months. Let’s hear his story below...

I wanted to meet more people and help within the community, especially those who have been affected by COVID-19 as I aspired to make their transition into university life more smoother. These programs educate prospective students about what university life is really like and provide them with guidance to help them discover programs that are of interest to them. With online virtual programming, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, expand my volunteer experience, and do my best to create a better society. From this program, I was able to improve my teamwork skills, leadership skills, and my verbal communication. One of the events that [are] significant to me is the Youth Mentorship Cafes as I was able to provide career advice to students. I love to help people and being able to share my SFU experience with them was very meaningful. These programs are a great opportunity to meet people, become part of the community, and develop skills in a safe and supportive environment.
(Scott Tian, 3rd Year Beedie Student, SFU Beedie School of Business).

Inoka Jayaweera is a SFU Alumnus who graduated with a degree in Gender Studies and an Education minor in Curriculum and Instruction Theory. She was a Virtual Workshop Facilitator in the Youth Mentorship Cafés, the City of Surrey's Online Nights, and YAAS! Let's Talk Post-Secondary. Before volunteering at SFU Surrey - TD CEC, she volunteered at the Surrey Public Library from 2008 - 2016.

In May 2020, I had been unemployed for 3 months and was looking for work. The job search became more difficult due to COVID-19 and I began seeing a drastic increase in job applications for all platforms, particularly in LinkedIn. I was getting interviews at the time, but I had experienced rejection after rejection and began to feel quite depressed. Like many recent graduates, I was concerned that I wouldn't have anything to show for on my resume for the year 2020.

I decided that this was the time to begin looking for virtual volunteer opportunities. From May 2020 to November 2020, I supported newcomer youth and students by offering them a safe space where they could ask questions about selecting courses, maintaining grades, managing depression, and coping with anxiety. The Youth Mentorship Cafés also informed students of the various options that were available within each university and college, from UBC, KPU, Douglas College, BCIT, and others.
Another program that I was involved in was YAAS: Let's Talk Postsecondary! This was a program available through partnering with the City of Surrey Summer Online Youth Night series. In this program, I worked with other SFU students to talk about the transition from high school to university. We covered topics from the benefits of joining a club to the importance of getting involved in your university career, such as pursuing Co-operative Education, internships, or even something as simple as volunteering within your university.
Understandably, most students out there wonder if their degree will lead them to finding a job after graduation. The unfortunate reality is because the job market is such a fickle environment (especially with the pandemic) that students need to do everything they can to be prepared when they leave with their degree in hand. The best way to do this is to avoid focusing on your studies for the 5-7 years that you are in a university or college. Students need to keep their resume current because at the end of the day, your degree is simply a requirement. It's one line on a job description and if you don't have work or volunteer experience to back up your skills, you're not going to get very far in a job search.
I believe programs such as the Youth Mentorship Cafés and the City of Surrey's Online Youth Nights are of significant value as students who graduate from high-school face a great deal of pressure when it comes to not only selecting a university, but also a program that they will study for the next 5-7 years. These programs are not meant to replace the work that academic advisors do, but they provide a thorough summary of the available post-secondary options that students have in British Columbia.
(Inoka Jayaweera, SFU Alumnus, Degree in Gender Studies and Education minor in Curriculum and Instruction Theory)

Those are the thoughts by three of our peers that have volunteered in these opportunities — some of them have already graduated and others are in the middle of their academic year. We hope you become inspired by their experiences to look into volunteer opportunities (both virtual and on-site) that are available within your community.

"Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they have the heart." — Elizabeth Andrew            


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