Rebecca Rossi, Law & Politics Extraordinaire
Our May Leader in the Spotlight features Rebecca Rossi, a top Law & Society student at York University and an aspiring lawyer. Rebecca has received the Dean’s Recognition for being amongst the top 5 students in the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies Disciplines. In addition to extensive volunteering for various political campaigns, she has organized events for the Help Fight Ebola Campaign and Law Club and Mock Trial Team at York. In our interview, Rebecca shares enlightening experiences she’s had while volunteering on the campaign trail, her tips for academic success, and her advice for aspiring liberal arts students, and even quick recipes!
1. How did your interests in law and politics arise?
While both interests began along the same timeframe, I will discuss each independently, beginning with law. While many children dream of pursuing a career, my interactions with the law as a child ignited my interest in the field. When I was young, my family became involved in a lawsuit that took a huge toll on us. While timely and expensive, the experience led me to wonder about law: Why does it take so long to move through the various processes of a lawsuit? Why are we negotiating and not moving straight to trial? Why am I unhappy with the results of this case? Despite my feelings throughout the process, I knew that I wanted to become a lawyer someday. At 21 years old, I am still pursuing my goal of becoming a lawyer and I believe that I am close to accomplishing it.
My interest in politics was similarly driven by experiences with my family. For as long as I can remember, my family has spent almost every dinner together, with the news blaring at the highest volume level possible. While the television was loud, it was no match for the voices of my family members, who are normally engaged in heated discussions about Canadian or American politics. Election season remains our favourite season(s) and we can talk for hours about why we dislike one candidate and why we adore another. Growing up in this atmosphere pushed me to get involved in my local community and volunteer for some campaign teams, to help out candidates I supported. In joining these teams and becoming heavily engaged in local, provincial, and federal politics, I have learned a lot about various political and campaign processes as well as about various leaders in the community.
2. You mentioned that you’ve volunteered for many political campaigns. What are some striking experiences you’ve had and the lessons that you’ve learned?
The first striking experience occurred when I was volunteering for my first campaign team at the age of 15. As a super energetic young girl with not much else to do, joining a campaign team was an interesting way to spend my time. So off I went for the majority of the summer and fall of 2010 to aid in my candidate’s campaign!
While candidates in municipal elections tend to have less ground to cover than say, a provincial candidate, I was overwhelmed with the amount of work that needed to be done. This was striking to me as I was terribly unfamiliar with what needed to be done in an election. Lawn signs needed to be made, put together, and placed on residents’ lawns. Doors needed to be knocked on and flyers distributed. Phone calls needed to be made to get residents out to vote. Events needed to be held to attract and inform residents about the candidate. This is only a few of the various duties I was presented with at the age 15. While I eventually got the hang of the process, my inexperience motivated me to learn about campaign processes and led me to continue to join more political campaign teams.
A second striking experience I had was when I was volunteering in a municipal campaign during my first year of university. The candidate I supported was hoping to defeat an incumbent. While my team knew that this would be a tough battle, I did not expect it to be as difficult as it soon became.
I have volunteered for many campaign teams, and majority of my experiences have been positive. I have worked with many hard working candidates who spend their days waking up early and campaigning until dark. We’ve participated in community clean-ups together, knocked on doors, held fun events. However, in this campaign, the incumbent had a very loyal support base and it was difficult for my candidate gain support in the community.
I have so much respect for the candidate I was supporting because he did not give up. Instead, he worked hard to gain the trust of voters and became a voice for the community. While this candidate did not win (It was his first time running in an election), I learned a lot about perseverance in a difficult situation. I truly believe the next election will be different for the candidate I supported as he continues to be a positive advocate for the community.
3. Congratulations on receiving the Dean’s Recognition as a top 5 student in the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LAPS) Discipline at York University for two years in a row! What are some academic tips you have for students?
Thank you! My academic tips for students are often-repeated tips that have been drilled into my head over my years of study:
- Study! I cannot stress this enough. Everybody knows they need to study for their upcoming test/quiz/exam and yet, most students don’t do it. I try to avoid this. Throughout university, I have always studied for a test or exam for at least a week in advance. I spend about 2-3 days making study notes. Then, in the few days before that test, I would focus solely on the test material and attempt to memorize and understand it to the best of my ability. If you want to succeed in university, studying is a must.
- Use your resources. Whether you are in high school or university, your school has resources (tutors, writing centres, guidance counsellors, etc.) that are free or that you have paid for in your tuition. Either way, these are resources that you should use. Personally, I have always visited my school’s writing centre, because second opinions can aid in one’s writing. A second opinion can correct mistakes, or, if you truly believe you have written an outstanding essay, can reinforce your confidence. If you have resources like a writing centre at your school, try them out. If you don’t like it, at least you gave it a try. If you do like it, then you just took the first step in improving your academic self!
- Balance. I find that if I do not have a proper school-life balance, either my schoolwork or my social life suffers. Balance is important in everything you do and equally important with school. If I know I have a lot to do school-wise, I will try to organize a to-do list in my agenda so that I can properly finish my schoolwork while also fitting in some time for myself or friends. Balance your schoolwork to the best of your ability so that you don’t lose track of your motivation to achieve academic success!
4. Do you have any advice for aspiring liberal arts students?
When I first entered into a liberal arts degree, I had the feeling that my options were very limited. The overwhelming public opinion was that liberal arts degrees are not as useful in attaining employment following graduation. While I do believe that on its own, a liberal arts degree may not hold as much weight as it did in the past, I am optimistic that while studying liberal arts, students will learn a lot about themselves which will enable them to pursue a path that is “employable.” I am very fortunate because I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and thus, I planned out every step that I needed to take to become a lawyer well in advance. However, professional studies are not the only options for liberal arts students. I have a best friend who loves to write and has published her work throughout university to pursue her goal of becoming a writer. I have friends interested in politics who volunteer for many political organizations and campaign teams to learn about politics and make necessary connections for their future. The options one can pursue using a liberal arts degree are diverse and plentiful. The important thing is to immerse yourself in your topic of interest, volunteer if the opportunity arises, and try to make as many connections with individuals in your area of interest as you possibly can.
If you are pursuing a liberal arts degree but do not yet know what you want to be, do not be too hard on yourself. One of my younger sisters is currently in this same predicament and I always advise her not to let the unknown scare her. There is lots of time to decide what you want to become in the future. If you are unsure of what you want to become or what you are interested in (despite your immediate interest in your major of choice), try to enroll in a variety of courses. Even though I am majoring in Law and Society, I have always taken courses in subjects that I am interested in (Political Science, as an example) and in subjects that I would like to learn more about (Say, a course in Criminal Regulation from a sociological perspective or a course that examines the political economy). Taking a variety of different courses in different subjects has opened my mind to areas that I did not know about and exposed me to new interests in law.
If you are unsure of what to pursue, take different courses. You might currently be enrolled in Political Science because you are interested in politics and governance. However, taking courses in Equity Studies, for example, might open your eyes to possible social justice fields you were unaware of. In taking a variety of courses, you might combine the knowledge from your major with that of your so-called “electives” by pursuing a Master’s degree or a career in a field you were unaware of. Using the aforementioned example, combining a political science degree with knowledge in equity studies might inspire you to work for an NGO, become a community advocate or lobbyist for a particular issue of interest, or to run in local or federal politics. Whatever you choose to do, remember to be open-minded and optimistic about your future.
5. You love cooking. Do you have any recipes that you recommend students try?
Although I am a full-time student (and currently, a full-time summer employee), it has always been my duty to cook dinner for my family. As a result, the recipes I make are usually quick and easy. Some of the dishes I most commonly cook for my family include fajitas, roasted vegetables, and spaghetti alla carbonara (recipes below).
You’ll need: ½ pound of lean ground beef or ground chicken, oil (preferably olive oil), chipotle chilli pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, tortilla wraps (I prefer whole grain or whole wheat), vegetables of choice to fill fajitas with (I like canned corn or red, orange, or yellow bell peppers), cheddar cheese (grated), lettuce (chopped or shredded), and condiment toppings of choice (Guacamole is a must!).
- Prior to cooking the meat for my fajitas, I like to prepare the fajita toppings. Grate your cheddar cheese. Thinly slice or grate your lettuce. Take out your tortilla wraps. Locate your condiments. Put on your sombrero. Scratch that last tip.
- Now prepare the meat. Heat oil in a pan or skillet. Once hot, cook beef or chicken over medium heat until slightly browned.
- Once browned, add salt, pepper, chipotle chili pepper (enough that the meat changes colour to a more orangey-red), and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. If you can handle spicy food, add more of that cayenne! Continue to cook meat for another 5-6 minutes on medium-low heat or until cooked.
- While meat is cooking, cook vegetables in a separate pot of pan. Canned corn is easy – just dump it into a small pot and cook on medium heat. For peppers, I like to thinly slice them and sauté them with olive oil.
- Your meat and vegetables should now be cooked. Set up your fajitas! I always put way more items in my tortilla wrap than I can handle and end up making a mess. Try not to do the same. If you do – Está bien.
Super easy recipe but can be timely. You’ll need: assorted potatoes (purple, red, white, yellow, russet, sweet, etc.), carrots, onions, bell peppers, salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme, and paprika.
- Chop your vegetables. This is supposedly the easier part but you try cutting sweet potatoes and let me know how fast that takes you! Chop your vegetables into cubes as they will cook faster when the time comes.
- Spread your vegetables evenly into a roasting pan.
- Add salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and paprika and stir your vegetables until they are fully coated.
- Cook at 400 degrees. While every online recipe will tell you this step only takes 30 minutes do not believe them for a minute. 45 minutes to an hour is more appropriate. Cook until browned.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
I am Italian so I must please my family with at least one Italian dish a week. This one does the trick. You will need: Spaghetti (I prefer spelt pasta but any type of spaghetti works), bacon (or cold-cuts like soppressata), sun-dried tomatoes (sliced), garlic (chopped very thin), onion (chopped very thin), salt, pepper, 2 eggs, and parmesan cheese.
- Begin by cooking your bacon. Place bacon on a pan or skillet and cook on medium heat until browned BUT not all the way through. This is important as you will you will cook it again later in the process, but you do want majority of your meat cooked.
- Chop your bacon into small cubes and set aside.
- On to the pasta water. Bring water to a boil in a pot over high heat. For those of you wondering how much water and how large of a pot, Epicurious suggests 5 litres of water in an 8-litre pot.
- While your pasta water boils, thinly chop your garlic and onions. Slice your sun-dried tomatoes.
- On the same pan you cooked your bacon in (I like to remove the bacon oil before this part but many suggest you leave it in for added flavour), sauté onions in a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. When browned, add in sun-dried tomatoes and garlic.
- Your pasta water should be boiling. Add in your pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente (Meaning: “Firm to the bite”).
- While everything is cooking, quickly crack your two eggs into a small bowl, add parmesan cheese, and whisk gently until the mixture is smooth.
- Add bacon back the same pan as the garlic, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.
- Drain your pasta while reserving a small cup of pasta water.
- Raise the heat of your bacon pan to medium-high and add drained pasta. Add in the pasta water (and oil if you believe some is needed) to pan and stir.
- Add in your egg mixture and stir very quickly! You want to avoid “scrambling” your eggs on top of your pasta. Preferably, your sauce should be creamy. If you do end up with scrambled eggs atop of your pasta, don’t fret. It will still taste good.
- Once you feel egg is cooked enough, remove pan from heat and serve immediately. This dish tastes best when warm.
Want to ask Rebecca a question? Schedule a chat with her today! Rebecca is happy to provide advice on pursuing a liberal arts degree, academics, and volunteering.