24-year-old Arts alumnus creates award for undergraduates

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"We need to create communities where we’re all helping each other,” says Arts alumnus Michael Robson. Last June, he put that statement into action by starting an award for undergraduates at the University of Waterloo. He pledged $10,000 of his own money over five years to build the Collective Movement Award, which supports students involved in the African, Caribbean or black communities.

Michael Robson

Robson graduated from Waterloo’s Speech Communication program in 2013. At only 24 years old, he is clearly passionate about helping others, even when nothing is expected in return. “I want to create more of an atmosphere where we all help each other, instead of just thinking about our own groups.”

Robson works as an underwriter at a mortgage firm in Toronto and lives with his parents in Scarborough, something he’s thankful for. “One of the reasons I can give so much is because I’m still living at home.” He’s also grateful for the support he’s received from his friends, family and colleagues in creating this award. His belief in the power of giving comes from his family, and his parents have already donated to the award. Still, he says laughing, “they think I’m a little crazy for giving so much.”

The Collective Movement Award will provide at least one award with a value of at least $1,200 annually for students in good academic standing who can demonstrate that they have made a positive impact in the African, Caribbean or black communities in Canada. Robson says students could use the money to help pay for necessities such as textbooks.

When he was a student, Robson would often read reference textbooks in the library, instead of buying them, because the cost was so prohibitive. He relied on the little bit of money he saved from part-time jobs and scholarships to help him through school. “For me, an award such as the Collective Movement Award would be another source to help with the costs.”

This money will hopefully help students spend less time focused on how to pay for books, and more time reading them.

Robson would like to see applications from students involved in the University of Waterloo African Students Association, the Black Association for Student Expression and the Association of Caribbean Students, all clubs Robson was involved with as a student.

“I was nervous coming from the GTA where I rarely felt like I was a minority (especially at my high school) and moving to a city where I knew I'd be one,” he says. “I knew there would be culture shock and these clubs gave me a space where I knew that I could fit in and be with others who were like-minded and sharing similar experiences.”

Besides being a great place to make friends and feel at home, the student-led clubs also work to promote social and cultural awareness and give students opportunities to volunteer and build new skills, says Robson.

Since his time at Waterloo, Robson has volunteered as a mentor for high school students and as a football coach. “I’ve always tried to give time or money where I can,” he says. “As I’ve gotten a little older, I have less time to give, especially with work. So, I figured, if I can’t give as much time, I’ll give money.”

Robson hopes the Collective Movement Award will garner contributions from businesses and individuals interested in supporting students in their community work. Ultimately, he would like to see the award grow to $40,000 and become an endowment fund, “which would allow this award to be given out every year forever.”

“The intention of this award is to not only provide financial support, but also to create awareness and promote a shift towards a collective culture of giving,” says Robson. “I wanted to show my appreciation for the students who are giving their limited time to help other students (like me) who came to a university without direction, and leave knowing that they always have a place they are welcome.”

Learn more about the Collective Movement Award and how to donate.