Students Joyfully Return to Campus

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Students on Grebel Move-In Day
As families arrived for Conrad Grebel University College’s Move-In Day over the Labour Day weekend, joy was visible in student eyes, even as masks hid their smiles. With three waves of move-in times for new students during the day, there was space to safely welcome students, assure parents, and get everyone settled in dorm rooms.

Students have modeled care for their community by diligently wearing masks inside all public places of Grebel and outside when distancing isn’t possible. A full gamut of Orientation Week activities helped to build relationships and cement friendships forged virtually last year, as some students met their friends in person for the first time. For students who spent their first year of university isolated at home, moving into Grebel brought relief and excitement as they navigate living with a roommate and finding classrooms on the larger University of Waterloo campus.

Bike trip
Treasured Grebel O-Week traditions such as the car wash, walk-a-mile, all-college games, and cheer-off were complemented with new ideas for a socially distanced world. The traditional All-College Retreat to Camp Trillium was not possible this year, but students made the most of the weekend at Grebel by participating in a quilt service project with Mennonite Central Committee, a bike trip to the President’s house, an LRT trip to the Kitchener Market, a tour of Brubacher House, yoga with Cheri Otterbein on the patio, a pool party, and playing the Gamelan in the garden.

Each year, students, staff, and faculty participate in an Act of Community where together they create or put their mark on an object of significance. This year, each person planted a clove of garlic at the front of the campus.

Planting Garlic at Grebel
“Like students at Grebel, garlic does not exist on its own – it is part of a bulb or community, and it is tough, resilient, and sparks growth,” explained Director of Student Services Mary Brubaker-Zehr. “As students settle into school routines and with the future still uncertain on many fronts, this garlic is a sign of hope.” When the garlic has grown, there will be a garlic feast to celebrate the year at Grebel, and a sizable garlic donation to the food bank.

Grebel’s residence numbers have been steadily increasing since the pandemic hit but the College is not yet operating at full capacity, ensuring space for distancing and self-isolation if needed. For the fall term, 221 students are connecting with student services as residents (122), apartment dwellers (32), or associates (67 and counting). 91 percent of students hail from Ontario and 30 percent of resident program students are from Mennonite backgrounds, with about 60 percent identifying with other Christian backgrounds. Arts students make up 29 percent of residents, followed by about a fifth each in Engineering and Science. Health, Environment, and Math are studied by the remaining third of residence students.

Grebel class under the tree
While full normalcy hasn’t returned yet to Grebel, professors were delighted to begin teaching some of their classes in person. To increase safety in an already masked and distanced environment, some classes are meeting outside under the welcoming willow trees and spaced around the gardens. With course enrolment similar to last year’s higher than typical numbers, Grebel is offering a variety of different teaching modes this term. Just over half of classes are presented in a format that blends remote and in-person elements, one is taught fully in-person, and the remaining classes are taught remotely. Music ensembles are also mostly in-person, giving students and directors the opportunity to hear each other and sing or play together in the same room. Students have expressed gratitude to be able to take at least some of their courses in a physical classroom and to connect with peers face-to-face.

The Master of Theological Studies program welcomed 12 new students, bringing the total to 37 MTS students studying this term. A new cohort of 20 Master of Peace and Conflict Studies students arrived at Grebel, bringing the MPACS total to 50. Since start-up activities have allowed for gatherings, graduate students have enjoyed meeting their colleagues and instructors in person for the first time, including those from last year’s cohort who have, up until now, only met each other on their computer screen. These graduate students bring a rich atmosphere and thirst for knowledge as they delve into some of Grebel’s core offerings in peace and theology.

President Marcus Shantz greeted students with an inspiring speech at the first Community Supper back, shared in Grebel’s newly renovated dining room. “This big renovation that you are enjoying was mostly paid for by donations -- from alumni and other friends of the College,” he shared. “These people all believe in you, and they believe that you coming here makes some kind of difference for the better. They believe that it's good for computer scientists to have breakfast with history students and that engineers should have the chance to sing in a choir. They want you to learn values like community and social responsibility, peace and justice. We all hope you will change the world for the better.”

Grebel Car Wash