Thursday, 10 April 2014

Working Towards Something: Student Leadership

With the last week of classes here, it’s time to start finishing up our final papers, putting the finishing touches on our assignments, power reading the final few chapters of our text books, and getting ready for exams…. AND, I’m going to suggest that we take a few moments to try and really appreciate the people that we’ve had around us all year. We are fortunate enough to have strong and positive community of students in our classrooms, residences, student groups, and in student governance. Each one of us contributes to our campus, and hopefully we have each been able to positively impact one another. 

This week, YouAlberta will be celebrating a few of the individuals who have made an effort to improve your student experience this year. Some might call these individuals leaders, others might simply see them as that face that they see around campus, while others still would just call them “friend.” 

Here's a look at one of our student leaders:

Yes, that is One Direction on the door of my academic office

Evan Shillabeer heads over to Wunderbar on Whyte at least once a month, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking. Along with other academically oriented students, the fourth year Sociology and Psychology double major listens attentively as sociology professors and instructors share their analyses of hot button, academic topics. As part of the Sociology Undergraduate Student Association’s (SUSA) attempt to make research more accessible, 
Shillabeer encourages others to “hang out and chat with their professors and grad students” while they eat free food and enjoy a beer or two.

As SUSA’s current president, Evan Shillabeer loves to get students “fired up” about Sociology. Through the monthly lecture series described above and various other quirky events, including a research speed-dating activity, Shillabeer firmly believes in the importance of building valuable relationships between scholars and burgeoning academics-to-be. As a result, SUSA has also started a mentorship program where grad students assist undergraduate sociology students in developing their research goals and forging networks with potential colleagues.

However, this much-needed departmental association didn’t mark the start of Shillabeer’s ventures into academic leadership. As an ambitious and eager first year student, Shillabeer jumped on the opportunity to be involved with Invoke, the undergraduate sociology journal (which is now on temporary hiatus). The opportunity to allow others to share their valuable work and engage with the publishing and peer-review processes proved integral to Shillabeer’s devotion to the project. As someone who has struggled with disseminating his own ideas, he felt it important to build the foundation for undergraduates to ignite their scholarly passions. In his subsequent year as co-editor, Shillabeer worked to build the journal’s reputation and continues to prepare for a reboot in the coming year. 

Since Shillabeer’s leadership is highly centered on encouraging Sociology students to wholeheartedly embrace their discipline, he hopes his work with SUSA and Invoke will deconstruct this aura of mockery that’s often associated with the field. 

“Because my leadership is so focused right now on Sociology, I really hope that SUSA sticks around. I’d really like to see some students dig sociology and take it more seriously than it is right now,” he says. “If this keeps going for like another six years and gets some people involved and going to grad school, I’d be more than happy.”

“I think that sociology students need to take themselves more seriously in order for it to be taken seriously as a discipline.”

Shillabeer has taken the reigns on these initiatives because he fervently believes you get what you put into your degree. Through his ongoing leadership with SUSA, Shillabeer truly embodies his educational mantra. But in retrospect, he places the start of his academic career in the relationship he built with an inspirational instructor.

“I think that if you really want to get practical experience, especially if you’re considering grad school, you really have to get involved with other things and that’s where these opportunities come in,” he says. “The best bet honestly though, is just get to know your instructors.”

Shillabeer was enrolled in an introductory Music class when he first realized his passion for academia. Through the inspiration and guidance provided by Mickey Vallee, a former U of A instructor who became Shillabeer’s role model and helped him develop his intellectual interests, he quickly discovered that he’d found his niche. Shillabeer took a third-year Sociology class the following semester with Vallee, solidifying his burning desire to conduct quality research. As a result of this guidance, Shillabeer now attempts to model a praxis that places social awareness at the forefront of his ongoing scholastic pursuits.

“Long term, every goal, every step in this is to attain some sort of better world, particularly in the social sciences,” he says with a smile. “It’s always good to feel like you’re working towards something better.”

As a 2013 Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Award winner, Shillabeer participated in four months of paid research under the supervision of former contract instructor Michael MacDonald. Working within systems theory, Shillabeer explored the relationship between various paradigms within sociology and psychology through the aesthetic venue of music, an experience that he describes as both challenging and rewarding. He is currently building on this work through an independent study with an instructor in the psychology department.

“I would say that if anyone’s thinking about doing the Roger S. Smith Award, make sure you know your faculty member well, go out for a beer with them, talk to them in a casual environment so that you can actually get to know the person,” he says.

“I think it’s a really great experience though, it’s really good to get a little bit of practical experience with research.”

Shillabeer hopes to build on these endeavours by venturing into grad school, where he plans to explore educational psychology in relation to theories of personhood. He hopes others at the university can follow his lead and work together to explore the array of research opportunities on campus in order to foster innovative and passionate academic leaders.

“I’m an academic leader… but I think that no leader is complete without his fellow leaders who can do their thing and help out and contribute their skills,” he says.


About the Author

Hey! My name’s Billy – a second year arts student still scavenging through the course catalog for that perfect major. I’ve recently developed a passion for journalism, professional writing and communications and hope to grow along with the team at YouAlberta. If I’m not engrossed in the latest episode of Big Brother you’ll probably find me being too emotionally invested in The Amazing Race or laughing at inappropriate jokes on the Internet.

When not feeding my reality TV addiction or scurrying to finish my latest assigned reading, I’ll be searching our campus for the most intriguing stories about diversity, academic success and the quirks that make our university the gem that it is. As a student communicator I hope to foster a stronger sense of community and belonging by sharing sentimental and inclusive stories to tap into the shared sense of pride we all uphold – I hope you join me!


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