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FROSH 2023: Hidden quests at the University of Calgary

By Dianne Miranda, September 5 2023—

Your university experience can be more than just signing up for required courses, showing up (or not) to classes and trying to survive each day. There are numerous “hidden side quests” within the U of C that students can partake in — from Aspire, previously known as First-Year Scholars (FYS), Scholar’s Academy, Mentorship Programs, undergraduate research, digital badges and embedded certificates you can add to your degree. You can think of these as impromptu adventures that you can do while you’re on your main adventure of completing your degree(s). 


For Students Interested in Scholarships, Graduate Schools and Professional Schools

This summer of 2023, the FYS program was relaunched as Aspire, a community aimed to help students achieve their goals during their time at the university and after graduation. Students can join the program by signing up for the monthly newsletter which will include information about professional development workshops, supports such as one-on-one advising and other opportunities that can aid students to be more prepared for graduate or professional school. 

Scholar Academy

For anyone interested in Aspire, Scholars Academy is another program worth checking out. Scholars Academy extends the support Aspire offers, as well as aims to both challenge and connect undergraduate students. Through mentorship programs, access to a community of passionate and driven peers from across all disciplines and social events such as networking opportunities and the Fall Retreat, Scholars Academy provides the foundation for students to extend their potential and continue to dream bigger and reach higher. 

Mentorship Programs

No matter what faculty you are in, a faculty-specific mentorship program is available. There are also other mentorship programs that allow you to make those meaningful connections across campus regardless of your program such as the GPS Mentorship program, previously known as the Internation Student Mentorship Program and the Mentor Link. Much like side quests, mentorship programs can take you (the player) to new experiences, new ideas and career paths beyond the initial scope of regular coursework allowing for personal growth and development through guidance from experienced mentors (or characters). 

Undergraduate Research

The U of C is known to be one of Canada’s top comprehensive research universities offering a number of research resources and opportunities such as awards for undergraduate students. There are three areas that undergraduate research initiatives focus on — course-based research, non-curricular and undergraduate events, engagement and outreach. You can feed your curiosity and interest all while developing professional and academic skills and connecting with researchers and experts without the fear of taking risks. 

The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning has developed a guide to help better students understand the research process and design their investigation by offering meaningful guidance and direction especially when starting your journey to undergraduate research.

By participating in undergraduate research, you can explore new ideas, delve into uncharted territory and enhance and develop new skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical and communication skills.

Digital Badges

These digital icons are like the smaller tasks that contribute to your overall experience and can earn you rewards or recognition. Digital badges provide a visual record of your achievement and recognize competencies or skills; they are a way to micro-credential, document your professional development, add to your portfolio and demonstrate your learning that may not traditionally follow credit coursework. These quests offer unique challenges that will require you to attend workshops and engage in your (university) world, among other activities. 

Some of the badges I recommend to get you started are the: Ready for Research Badge, the Upstanders Program and the Conflict Management Digital Badge. 

Embedded Certificates

U of C offers eight embedded certificates encompassing a wide range of interests — Canadian Studies, Creative Writing, Entrepreneurial Thinking, Leadership Studies, Mental Wellbeing and Resilience, Pluralism and Global Citizenship, Sustainability Studies and Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. By taking four to eight classes, you can add an extra credential to your degree that will actually show up on both your transcript and parchment. With that being said, embedded certificates have to be taken simultaneously with an eligible degree program and must be completed prior to graduation. 

Love the side quests because they provide characterization and development or ignore them because you’re too invested in the main story and rather find them tedious, unlike video games, there won’t be a chance of a second playthrough (unless) and explore all these. I will leave you with the advice to do whatever works for you and interests you. Your university experience is yours and yours only. You have the autonomy to embark on or explore additional content and challenges outside of your main storyline through these opportunities that will allow you to delve into diverse interests, develop new skills and broaden the horizons beyond the structured academic curriculum. 

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