Thriving in Student Community Throughout University

Monday, February 10, 2020

Engagement within the University of Waterloo and its University Colleges has been a defining element of Lorena Diller Harder’s university experience. Lorena is in her fourth year as a French major with a Teaching Specialization and a minor in History. She is also a candidate for the Global Experience Certificate, which recognizes student experiences in intercultural living and study. After studying abroad in France for her third year, Lorena decided that Conrad Grebel University College held the community she wanted to return to as she finished her university career. She noted that after first-year, “sometimes people move out of their residence or college from a fear they’re going to be stuck in this one small place. However, Grebel functions as a home base for me, as somewhere I am going to continue to grow and be able to contribute to a community.”

Being a part of the Grebel community hasn’t confined Lorena in the least. “I’ve been involved in various ways!” She was active across the University Colleges during her second year as an Associate and member of the Larger Leadership Team at Grebel, as well as working with the St. Jerome’s advising team. This year, Lorena lived in the Grebel apartments during fall term and stayed connected through clubs and by attending events. In the past, she was also a part of the conversation partners program run through Renison while staying connected within the French department.

lorena holding up a bundle of names
While much of her campus involvement has taken place through the University Colleges, Lorena continues to participate in broader campus life as well, through actively attending guest lectures and, this past season, being an Arts Orientation Leader. “I just get involved in various areas and see where I can contribute either through leadership or learning through the access we have at such a large and dynamic university.” Being a residence don is Lorena’s primary role as she returns to live at Grebel this winter. While only a few weeks into the term, she already appreciates the way this role enables upper-year students to connect with more first-years. This is one of the many ways that students remain an important part of Grebel after first-year.

Lorena’s advice for incoming students is simple: be a part of the University community. “It’s really easy for students to become isolated and lonely, especially once they move out of residence.” Being an Associate was one of the ways Lorena remained a part of Grebel while living off-campus after first-year. The broader culture at UWaterloo tends to assume students live in a residence during first-year and then leave. At Grebel, community is recognized as an important part of the university experience during all of its stages. It takes the efforts of Associates and residents throughout their years to foster a vibrant and inclusive space to live and learn.

Noting the positive personal and collective impact of community, Lorena recommended that all students find ways to stay connected. “Find something that interests you that you want to get involved in, and really commit to that over the years. Even if your first year of an experience isn’t the best, realize the effect persevering can have. It can become a really positive thing over time.”

By Elizabeth Robertson