Photo Credit: Steph Verschuren
Yasmine Abdelaal, a third-year neuroscience and cell & molecular biology student, taught middle-school-aged students about mental, physical and oral health as a volunteer with Supporting Education, Empowerment, and Development through Science (S.E.E.D.S.). Abdelaal applied her volunteer hours towards a New College Leadership Certificate.

For many New College students, balancing academic and volunteer commitments is a way of life.

With this in mind, New College’s Office of Residence and Student Life wondered, “How can we ensure students have the leadership skills they need to excel at both?”

Enter the Leadership Certificate Program. Created in 2009, this free program, which pairs workshops with a community volunteerism component, offers students the opportunity to learn the traits of effective leaders, successfully navigate the pitfalls of their volunteer positions and market their experiences to potential graduate schools and employers.

Traditionally, the program had provided general-purpose leadership development workshops for all New College students. New this year, based on student feedback, a second stream has been added for students who are already active volunteer leaders – think orientation volunteers, student council members and student club and course union executives.

Previously, students in the program were required to attend individual leadership sessions. To make it easier for busy students to attend and complete the program, the sessions will be condensed into a single workshop offered multiple times a year. The workshop will focus on teaching the leadership skills and knowledge students need to navigate the challenges of their particular volunteer positions, as well as relate these skills to their academic work.

“The revised composition of the Leadership Certificate Program is far more student-friendly,” says Jill Charnaw-Burger, Assistant Director, Student Life and Leadership. “It’s tailored to student needs and schedules. It accommodates both those who live on campus and those who commute. It helps students grow their co-curricular record and résumé while not taking anything away from their first priority, which is their education. In fact, the intention is to enhance and boost their academic abilities.”

Also new this year: students will be required to attend two on-campus events – such as guest lectures and conferences – at least one of which must be offered through their academic programs.

The program is also introducing a new annual leadership and professional development conference, You Beyond New, which will be particularly beneficial to students who are interested in leadership opportunities but haven’t yet found their niche. It will also allow seasoned student leaders to lead sessions and share their knowledge with their peers.

One constant from years past: students will still need to give at least 10 hours of their time to the community, either at New College or beyond. That aspect of the program has been consistently popular with students.

Yasmine Abdelaal, a third-year student who is pursuing a double major in neuroscience and cell & molecular biology, received her Leadership Certificate in March. Abdelaal earned her requisite community hours by volunteering for Supporting Education, Empowerment, and Development through Science (S.E.E.D.S.). Through S.E.E.D.S, she helped run an eight-week-long program at two Toronto public schools which covered mental, physical and oral health as well as nutrition.

“My experience in [the Leadership Certificate Program] not only developed my leadership skills but also helped me to boost my confidence and self-esteem,” Abdelaal says. “All the workshops I attended pinpointed strengths I didn’t realize [I had]. Now, I feel more confident during presentations, while interacting with other team members and when applying to medical school.”

Iulia Sandru, a third-year Life Sciences student who also received her Certificate this spring, echoed Abdelaal’s sentiments.

“I believe every workshop was like a little ‘brick in the wall’ of my future career,” says Sandru, who volunteered as an Assistant Leader at Scouts Canada. “This program helped me understand [who] I am and what I can do…The skills I am learning both at Scouts and in this program go hand in hand and make me realize what leadership means to me and how I can be a good and effective leader.”

Abdelaal’s and Sandru’s experiences bode well for the 160-plus students expected to participate in the program this coming academic year.

“We want to ensure our graduates are well-rounded, employable emerging leaders,” says Charnaw-Burger. “With U of T degree in hand, combined with leadership experience from this program, we are well on our way to securing their futures.”

To learn more about Yasmine Abdelaal’s experience at S.E.E.D.S. and Iulia Sandru’s experience at Scouts Canada, as well as their experiences in the Leadership Certificate Program, please keep reading.

Yasmine Abdelaal

Third-year neuroscience and cell & molecular biology student; Supporting Education, Empowerment, and Development through Science (S.E.E.D.S.) volunteer

yasminePlease tell us about your volunteer experience at S.E.E.D.S. What did you do during your time there?

I was a volunteer in the S.E.E.D.S. after-school program this past academic year. I had the opportunity to help run an eight-week-long, in-school program for middle-school-aged children which covered mental health, physical health, oral health and nutrition. I assisted in keeping the students engaged in discussions and helped enhance their learning experience through hands-on and interactive activities and experiments. At the end of the program, we gave them the opportunity to work on a group project using the knowledge they gained. They presented their projects in an open house at their school. Currently, I am S.E.E.D.S.’s administrative coordinator, and I am working alongside other executive members to expand our program and reach out to more schools in high-priority neighborhoods in Ontario.

What motivated you to volunteer for S.E.E.D.S.?

What I like about S.E.E.D.S. is it doesn’t only strive to educate youth, but also empowers them to develop awareness, lead healthier lives and in doing so, creating change within their communities. Through S.E.E.D.S., students are given the resources that help them grow as individuals, regardless of their socio-economic background.

How did this volunteer experience compare to your expectations?

My experience at S.E.E.D.S. was truly fulfilling! Seeing the students so engaged and enthusiastic about learning how to live a healthier lifestyle made me realize I am really making a difference in my community.

Why did you participate in the Leadership Certificate Program?

I participated in this program because I wanted to enhance my leadership skills so I can employ them in various contexts, such as in my future career as a physician and in extracurricular activities. This program will provide me with the tools I need to be a proactive member in my community.

As you know, in addition to community volunteerism, the Leadership Certificate Program includes a workshop component that helps students learn various leadership skills. What workshops did you attend, and how did they help inform your volunteerism process?

I have gained so many skills it’s almost impossible to list them all. I have learned how to deal with conflicts that can arise in a group setting, active listening techniques, how to interact with others who share a common goal and how to plan ahead to reach my goal in the most efficient way.

Now that you have completed your certificate, what’s next for you?

I want to apply all the skills I have gained in this program to my academic career as a scientist and later as a physician, to extracurricular activities I participate in and most importantly to my own day-to-day life.


Iulia Sandru

Third-year Life Sciences student; Scouts Canada volunteer

iulia sandru (1)

Please tell us about your volunteer experience at Scouts Canada.

During Scout meetings we gather together and play games, do crafts and learn about camping and outdoor safety.

How did this volunteer experience compare to your expectations?

This volunteer experience exceeded my expectations. I am learning something new from every meeting. I like to learn new stuff (something different from what I learn in school). Sometimes I just want take a break from all the science I study every day.

When I am at Scouts, I learn new things about camping – how to cook outdoors, how to raise a tent, how to survive in nature…On the other side, the workshops from this program taught me new leadership skills – how to get over a conflict, how to speak in public, how to plan ahead. The skills I am learning at Scouts and in this program go hand in hand and make me realize what leadership means to me and how I can be a good and effective leader.

How did your experience in earning the Leadership Certificate help you grow?

I believe every workshop was like a little “brick in the wall” of my future career…this program helped me relax in my free time and at the same time helped me understand who I am and what I can do.

What was your most rewarding memory from your time completing the Leadership Certificate Program?

I think the most rewarding part was the moment I got the certificate. In that moment I felt I had achieved something – those “bricks in the wall” that together build up my career.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.