Meet Brynn Sumner:
Brynn Sumner is Sociology and Anthropology student, planning to graduate from the University of Guelph in 2022. Knowing that she wanted to be involved in experiential learning opportunities when she came to U of G, Brynn became involved with her campus community in her very first year as a Gryphon. Her experiences with the Community Engagement and Social Change team within the Experiential Learning Hub range from being a participant in both the Mississippi and the Sexual Health Catalyst Programs (2019/early 2020) to being a Peer Helper on the team today! Brynn tells us about her various experiential learning roles and memories, her favourite learnings, and the difference in her experiences during the pandemic. She also gives advice to incoming first years who want to get involved but may not know where to start.
How did you get involved in Catalyst programs?
“In my first year, a Peer Helper from the Community Engagement and Social Change team came to one of my classes to talk about the Catalyst program. It seemed like a perfect opportunity, and I knew that I had to get involved. Coming from a small school in a small town, I didn’t have many opportunities to explore social issues or to join any experiential learning opportunities, so I was very excited to hear about the Catalyst program. I have also always liked to get involved in school activities and I love meeting new people, so it looked like a great fit for me.”
What was your experience in the Mississippi and the Sexual Health Catalyst programs? What did you do in these programs?
“My experience in these programs completely changed my life! They taught me so many valuable lessons by allowing me to see and experience many of the things I learn about in class directly. I have also met some amazing and like-minded people and developed many long-term friendships.”
“In Mississippi, the program focused on the intersection of race and poverty in the United States. Most of our time was spent in Hattiesburg, where we learned about the history of racism and the current state of racism in American society. We studied the social movements that have combatted racism through tours, museums and attending a lecture at the University of Southern Mississippi.”
“As a thank you to the amazing community of Hattiesburg for hosting us, we also spent time volunteering with various community programs. I spent time with Habitat for Humanity and the Edwards Street food bank and thrift store. We also went to New Orleans, Louisiana for a day and learned a lot about the history of the amazing city.”
“The sexual health program was a whole new experience for me. It was based in Guelph and by the end of our week we were to present to students from grade 7-12 in the local community. This program not only taught me a lot about sexual health, but also about facilitating meetings and workshops. I learned how to get the most out of meetings and workshops by being an active participant – listening, taking notes, researching what I had heard and actively seeking out opportunities to learn. This program has taught me valuable facilitation skills that I will be able to use in my educational and professional life. I also loved being able to connect with organizations and people from Guelph and to feel a community connection only made it feel more like home.”
What’s it like being a Peer Helper? What is your role?
“As I had such an amazing experience with the Catalyst programs, I jumped at the opportunity to join the Community Engagement and Social Change Peer Helper group. Our focus is on supporting our supervisor in promoting the Catalyst reading week and Spring programs and helping with general organization. I’ve been a part of this team for four semesters now and I have learned valuable skills. I’ve spoken about the programs in public to large crowds and with students one-on-one at a table in the University Centre. Our role has changed this year since we cannot run the usual programs we have in the past, so we have been focusing on creating a CourseLink class for future Catalyst program participants.”
How has your experience been this year as opposed to other years in your Experiential Learning activities?
“This has been the hardest year of my life for a variety of reasons, which at times made me wonder if I would be able to keep up with all my commitments at school and at home. However, I found that attending weekly meetings and taking part in so many new projects has helped me so much! Although things are much different for us as students, maintaining a schedule and still doing what I can to stay involved has helped me feel connected to campus and my peers.”
What’s the best thing you’ve learned throughout your time as a Peer Helper and in the Catalyst programs?
“I have learned so many amazing things from these programs so it’s hard to choose just one! I think the best thing that I have learned is that being involved with your campus will enhance your entire University experience and open so many other doors or opportunities in the long run. I encourage everyone to try at least one club or program or attend one event because you not only gain new experiences, but you can also meet some amazing fellow students and staff. University can be very difficult, but it goes by too quickly to not try to get involved!”
What would your advice be to anyone looking to get involved in first year, but not sure where to look or how to start?
“I’d say that you need to go looking for opportunities, rather than waiting for them to come to you. As well, a lot of us zone out when someone comes to our class to talk about programs or clubs, but it’s really important to listen because you never know what great opportunities you might miss – especially if you are in your first year! To a newcomer, GryphLife may seem overwhelming, but there are a lot of different events and clubs that will help you find your place. There are also many ways to find out about volunteer opportunities in the surrounding community. You can reach out through The Experiential Learning Hub or on GryphLife and people can help you find a perfect place.”