Meet Emma Ongman
Emma Ongman is in her fifth and final year of her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph with a double major in Studio Art and Criminal Justice and Public Policy. Throughout her degree, Emma has been heavily involved and immersed in experiential learning opportunities in the College of Arts, spanning employment, volunteer, and course work. She is involved in student organizations including holding executive positions on the Fine Arts Network and Kaleidoscope. Emma’s outstanding leadership ultimately lead to her position as an Undergraduate Research Assistant (URA) in Summer 2020 working as an artist assistant to Susan Dobson, Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, and well-known Canadian Photographer, as well as working through an experiential learning course as an assistant to American-Canadian artist Suzy Lake. Emma shared with us some of her favourite moments from experiential learning including fond memories of the people she has worked with, the things she has learned, and her advice for anyone considering an experiential learning opportunity.
Tell us about the Experiential Learning opportunities you've participated in at University of Guelph.
“There are so many opportunities available to students in the arts at the University of Guelph. I can’t emphasize this enough.”
“I am currently enrolled in an experiential learning course working as an assistant to the artist Suzy Lake. I have also been enrolled in and volunteered with other experiential learning courses on campus with some really outstanding professors, including: Susan Dobson, Robert Enright, Catherine Carstairs, and Nestor Kruger. Next semester, I will be enrolled as one of the three Juried Art Show Coordinators with Maeve Hind and Alexa Collette.”
“Through the work-study programs at the University, I have worked as Susan Dobson’s Undergraduate Research Assistant, a photography monitor in Zavitz Hall, and I am currently working as the Zavitz Gallery Assistant as we transition the gallery into an online platform.”
“In the past, I have volunteered with The Fine Arts Network (FAN) and Kaleidoscope, and currently hold executive positions in both groups.”
What has been your favourite experience or memory in the experiential learning opportunities you've had?
“I would be lying to you if I told you that I only had one memory that was my favourite. It sounds cheesy, but everything I have been involved with on campus has truly been so special to me.”
“I’ve learned so much from these experiences, but I have mostly enjoyed myself because of the people involved. Some highlights include: 3AM dance parties while taking a break from editing photographs with other students, drinking tea and eating cookies on Susan’s veranda while talking about her upcoming exhibitions, being gifted a tennis ball from Robert to aid my onset carpal tunnel, friendly Zoom check-ins with Catherine and Nestor, listening to good CD's and drinking the best coffee in the world (made by Suzy)… I could really go on forever. I guess if I had to choose a favourite experience, it would be meeting all of the inspirational and caring people in the arts community at the University of Guelph.”
What have you learned from these experiences?
“I’ve learned how to create, curate, and install work for physical exhibitions, as well as how to create platforms for digital exhibitions when the pandemic required. I’ve learned how to prepare and host online and offline events, how and where to apply to opportunities on and off campus, how to write reviews, interviews, personal essays, and professional artist statements. I’ve learned how to organize artworks in an archive, how to take professional photographs inside and outside of a studio, how to publish a magazine, and how to work with other people. I am sure I am forgetting things; these are just some of the skills experiential learning has provided me with.”
“Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is to get out of your comfort zone and take some risks. It’s a cliché because it’s true; you won’t regret it.”
Have other opportunities or connections stemmed from experiential learning classes you've taken or participated in?
“1000000000%; both opportunity wise and connection wise. For example, while working as the photography monitor through a work study position, I heard about and started volunteering for Susan’s experiential learning class. While volunteering for Susan's experiential learning class, I then heard about and applied for her URA position. Then, as her URA, she told me about Catherine’s experiential learning course, which I then started volunteering for and ended up writing a short essay about Suzy Lake for the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory. When I mentioned to Susan I was writing about Suzy, she told me about the experiential learning opportunity to work with artists as their assistant. Now, I am Suzy’s assistant.”
“The personal connections I have made through experiential learning have also made a huge impact on my life. Next year, I plan on moving in with two of my best friends who are both talented artists, musicians, and U of G students I met through experiential learning courses, Emil White and Mei Lein Harrison.”
What's your advice for anyone considering Experiential Learning?
“Do it. You become involved in the most interesting projects with people who really care about you and want to see you succeed. There shouldn’t be any hesitation. Reach out to multiple professors to see if they know of any opportunities available and go from there. Wishing the best of luck to you all!”