Meet Bethany Mostert:
Bethany Mostert is a University of Guelph Plant Science and Anthropology student graduating this year. Throughout her undergraduate degree, she participated in three Catalyst programs, which are opportunities for students to be immersed in communities and themes of learning, social justice and civic engagement. Bethany discusses her experiences and learnings from the Mississippi, Truth & Reconciliation, and Neyaashiinigmiing (Nawash) Catalyst programs, and why she thinks experiences like these are important. She shares stories of other experiential learning courses such as ICON where she worked with a group of fellow classmates to assist the Guelph Black Heritage Society in spreading awareness of their outreach programs and initiatives. As a graduating student, Bethany also shares her advice for students starting their journey at U of G.
Tell us about your experience in the Mississippi, Truth & Reconciliation, and Nawash Catalyst programs! What was your role and what did you do in each?
“I participated in the Mississippi trip in my first year of University. On this trip I helped out at the Edward Street Fellowship Center outside Hattiesburg Mississippi. This was a mission that provided relief to low-income individuals and families in the area through a meal program, food bank, and small clinic.”
“For the Truth and Reconciliation trip I helped with yard work at Mohawk Seedkeepers on the Six Nations Reserve and toured Kayanase Greenhouses. Much of this trip was spent learning, and we spent a full day in Toronto learning about urban Indigeneity and entering some beautiful spaces created for Indigenous folks living in the community—like the Native Child and Family Services.”
“This past year I spent a week at Neyaashiinigmiing (Nawash) Reserve. Here, I spent my days at the local elementary school engaging with students from grades 1-8.”
What was your experience working in these communities?
“My experiences varied across these trips because all of them were different in their own way. Some experiences were more intimate, like at Nawash, because I was billeted for the week in someone’s home.”
“Other experiences were more learning based, like Truth and Reconciliation; yet, throughout all these opportunities, I was always deeply impacted and challenged. If you intend to go about these trips in the right way you are forced to acknowledge your own biases and propensity to the communities you get to know. Being able to recognize and celebrate the agency of others is an important skill to learn. This is how you engage in authentic relationship, rather than charitable relationship. Opening myself up to the things people had to say and share was always very special for me. I think that is one of the most human things you can do: listen to people. I listened and I learned from so many. I learned from a regular visitor at a soup kitchen that making flour dumplings can thicken a soup. I learned from a women’s bible study how integral faith can be to a person’s lived experience. My crowning achievement though was perhaps learning TikTok dances from fourth graders.”
Is there a stand-out moment from any of these experiences that stays with you to this day?
“I’m sure many of my fellow Nawash participants would agree with me that participating in an evening of storytelling was one of our most magical nights. After a moonlit snowshoe hike looking up at constellations, and hearing the Anishinaabe stories associated with them, our host took us into her lovely home to settle down in the living room with hot cocoa and hear more incredible tales. I swore to myself later that I would never repeat the stories I heard, not only because I couldn’t hope to do them justice, but because I recognized something truly important in that moment: stories are sacred.”
Have you been involved in other experiential learning? If yes, what were they?
“Apart from my Catalyst experiences, I had the fortune of finishing a Certificate of Civic Engagement. For my completion of the certificate, I enrolled in the ICON course in the fall where myself and my group were connected to a local non-profit organization in the city of Guelph. I worked with the Guelph Black Heritage Society to assist in spreading awareness of their program initiatives and community outreach projects during the pandemic.”
In your opinion, what's the biggest benefit of experiential learning?
“One of the greatest things about experiential learning is how you can see that what you do matters; not only what you do as a student, but what you do as a fellow human being. The things you learn through experiential learning have a way of sticking with you far longer than some abstract social theory or statistical equation.”
What's your favourite U of G memory?
“My favourite memories at U of G often involve spontaneous study break moments with friends; like leaving the anxiety of an impending chemistry exam to play volleyball on the soccer fields.”
What's your advice to anyone starting school at U of G?
“My best advice to a young student is to get involved. That is the best way to get the most out of your University experience. No matter your interest, chances are there is a club or a committee for it. Learn what hobbies or interests you are willing to make time for and make an effort to commit to them.”