SMUSA has SMArts
Bryn de Chastelain and Crystal Witter
Student leadership and volunteering go very well with an Arts degree. Big believers in experiential learning, Crystal Witter and Bryn de Chastelain are enhancing their studies with student governance, employment on campus, field schools and other opportunities at Saint Mary’s. In March, they both received the 2019 Student Leadership Recognition Award.
Crystal is Chair of the Board of Directors for the Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association (SMUSA), and works in Career Services with the Co-curricular Record (CCR), helping other students connect to experiences that will add to their degrees. Bryn serves as SMUSA’s Vice-President Academic and Advocacy, and in provincial and national roles on policy work for Students Nova Scotia and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Last year, he worked in Admissions as the coordinator of the Centre for New Students.
“Focus on your values and you’ll find your passion,” says Crystal, 22, a Jamaican student now in her final year of psychology studies. “I’m a bookworm but the most valuable aspect of university is finding that opportunity to connect what you’re taught in the classroom to what you can do in the community. A degree helps you to land a job, but the extracurricular will help you learn to do a job well. It also helps us to become better citizens of the world.”
With the Enactus social enterprise chapter at Saint Mary’s, she managed the Options Nova project for two years, working to help incarcerated people with employment skills workshops and a gardening and composting project at a halfway house. She’s now volunteering with the Open Harbour Refugee Association. As a member of SMU’s Conflict Resolution Society, she travelled to Northern Ireland this year to teach peace education to Belfast schoolchildren.
She and Bryn have both participated in the Model UN course, which includes a week at the United Nations headquarters in New York. That was one of the options that first drew Bryn to Saint Mary’s when he was considering universities in Atlantic Canada. From Mississauga, he’s now in his third year, majoring in Political Science and taking courses in Economics and Peace & Conflict Studies. His other highlights so far have included serving as SMUSA’s Arts representative last year, founding the Global Brigades Society, and helping develop the Man|Made program, a discussion group around healthy masculinity with the MENtality team at the SMU Counselling Centre.
“It’s a balance between putting your courses first and also making time for the things that keep you ticking,” says Bryn, who treats every school day like a work day, filling time between classes with volunteer work. He expects to pursue a graduate degree and perhaps a career in international relations and diplomacy, but he’s keeping an open mind. One thing he likes best about Arts is the flexibility to explore and combine a variety of interests.
“That was something I always tried to explain to incoming students in Admissions,” he says. “Getting yourself down a path quickly can be positive for some people, but not for others. It’s difficult to know what you want before you’re in it.”
Crystal agrees, adding that the blend of Arts and volunteering is honing her leadership skills – now developing her own business, she may go on to law school and aspires to run for political office back home in Jamaica one day. In a rapidly changing world, “it gives me an understanding of where I can see myself contributing in Canada and my home country,” she says. “How do people survive, how do they go about their regular lives, and how can we all work together to make the world better? I’m excited to see where the universe will take me.”