Leader in the Spotlight: Emma Hamill, Educational Activist & English Aficionado

For our first Leader in the Spotlight of 2015, we are featuring, Emma Hamill, a fourth year undergraduate pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with a major in English and a minor in Art History, at the University of Victoria. Discover Emma’s perspective on transferring to a different university during your undergrad, the differences in social dynamics between the West Coast and Ontario, and starting up an educational-based charity.

1. You demonstrate an interest in international development and human rights. Considering your small town background, what has motivated you to engage in the global community? 

My interest in international development stems from an interest in community development. Growing up in a small town, I had opportunities to engage in the community making positive and noticeable differences. At an early age I was interested in community involvement and sat on municipal youth councils, volunteered and organized fundraisers for local projects, etc.

This experience encouraged me to continue my involvement with social justice and development at university. Moving from Chapleau to Ottawa was quite a big change, but it unveiled a world in which I had previously glimpsed in a naïve lens. With further education and exposure, I wanted to use my skills and experience from community development and to make a difference on a wider scale, which led to my interest in international development.

2. You completed two years at the University of Ottawa in Ontario before transferring to the University of Victoria in British Columbia. What was your experience in the transfer process? What can you tell others about transferring universities?

Transferring from Ottawa to UVic was quite a pleasant process. What many people do not know is that all universities in Canada have an agreement that all undergraduate credits are transferrable to other Canadian institutions. UVic was extremely welcoming, and quickly transferred all of my credits over. There are some policies to get around (for example to graduate from one university you need to have studied at least 51% of course work at the institution). Therefore, I had to complete an extra course here.

I do highly recommend transfers (both long and short term). The experience allowed me to travel across the country, and see just how diverse and unique each area is. In transferring so far from home, it was a great opportunity to become truly independent and find out things about myself I may not have otherwise found.

3. What influenced your decision to pursue a degree in English and Art History? What’s your next step after graduation?  

Society forces students to make large decisions about your life at a young age. At 17 you are supposed to have an idea about what you want as a career and to pursue a university or college program that will get you there. When I was graduating high school, I did not know what I wanted to be. Like many other people, I believed that I wanted to do a job that I was the most exposed to; in my case, this was teaching. So I decided on a program that I loved, could be successful in, and could use in the teaching field. Initially I was pursuing a major in English and a minor in music, but with transferring I could not complete a minor in music unless I wanted to continue my undergraduate for another year (UVic had stricter requirements for this minor program). As an artist myself I have always had a passion for visual art and its history. Many of my electives in first and second year were in Art History, so it seemed right to pursue that further.

After graduation I hope to gain more experience in the non-for-profit sector. I have applied for college programs in Community Development and Social Work, which I hope will help me achieve my goals. I am particularly interested in health, education and literacy, human rights, animal rights and the arts. I am presently volunteering with organizations such as Canadian Blood Services, The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), BC SPCA and Students’ for Literacy, which I believe, will be important experience to my future endeavours. The AGGV program I volunteer with is “Gallery in the Schools” which makes art accessible to elementary and high school students in the greater Victoria area. This is a program I am extremely passionate about and I can definitely see myself working with similar programs in a developmental and leadership capacity.

4. Your profile mentions starting your own educationally based charity. Could you tell us a bit about this initiative and why you started it? 

At the moment I am creating a charity for university students called “Students for Students.” Beginning at UVic, this will be an organization that supports students financially, mentally, and socially (much like the National Student Network). A large part of this charity is informing students about awards in creative writing, encouraging community involvement, and promote peer mentoring and peer tutoring.

At the University of Victoria, students are not eligible for program-based bursaries until they have declared their program, which cannot be completed until you have gained credits for 20 university courses. Since I saw many of my peers struggling to make ends meet, without additional financial support, I saw an opportunity to help them. With the help of the English Students’ Association, we have been able to offer financial support to students of all levels.

The peer mentoring/tutoring program was an idea developed after the scholarships. UVic students come from all across the globe, and for some (like myself) the transition can be a difficult one.  Fortunately, from my two years at the University of Ottawa, I had an idea of where I could make connections and find support (student unions, advocacy groups, and clubs). For myself, being the “new kid” in my third year was hard. Everyone had developed relationships in their earlier years and I was often the odd one out. However, I began volunteering and got quite involved in the University of Victoria Students’ Society, English Students’ Association, and other campus groups that were extremely welcoming. Some students unfortunately do not have the resources to seek out such support groups. My hope for Students for Students is to help new students transition socially, academically, and mentally to their new environment.

5. Having lived and studied in both eastern and western Canada, what do you perceive as the biggest differences in the social dynamics of the two regions? 

Having studied in both eastern and western Canada, the biggest differences I have noticed would have to be activism. It may seem cliché, but to an extent the myth of the west coast “hippie” is true, while there is a more conservative stance in the east. In the west, there is a strong group of people who advocate for sustainable living, cleaner energy, and in a broader sense a “greener” planet. Untouched land, oceans and mountains surround the west coast. Residents live and breathe this nature every day, so it is only natural that you want to protect it.  The west perhaps represents a more natural state of Canada, with a slower pace, and arguably a better quality of life.

The east on the other hand, although beautiful is more “man made” and conservative, in my opinion. Living in the capital of Canada, I felt more pressure to compete with my peers to get the best job, best co-op, best volunteer positions, best winter boots, best hair products (things could get a little ridiculous). The busier pace and political society of Ottawa definitely contributed to that.

Having lived in both places, I do love them both for different reasons. I love the ambition, energy and briskness of the east, while the west holds a special place in my heart for its beauty, serenity, and laid-back nature. These are definitely generalizations, but as a whole, from coast to coast Canada is strong, wild and free. I cannot imagine living in any better country.

Sunset at Victoria

Sunset at Victoria


Want to ask Emma a question? Schedule a chat with her today! Emma is happy to answer your questions and offer advice on the transition between transferring schools and volunteerism.

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