Who are PACS students?

student presenting at an event

Most people entering the PACS program have a variety of interests, and you are given space for those to flourish within PACS classes. PACS is a flexible program where you will really be able to have an academic experience that meets to your specific interests.

A few stories of PACS students are below, where they share their unique approach to PACS and stories of their highlights in the PACS program. Click on each name to read more!

Samuel Farkas

Samuel would work odd hours to get the job done – as he had to work outdoors when the weather permitted. He would work three days in a row, then receive one day off for three and half months. In May and June, his workdays start at 7 am and ended at 6 pm to accommodate the spring weather. In July and August, his workday would start at 4 am and ended at 4 pm to work through the scorching summer weather.

"The way the land got distributed varied a lot and was not something we could divvy up. Depending on the land, the number of trees that were contracted to be planted was different. The areas would be split up so that we would finish them with what was asked for us to plant in the area. The trees were not split evenly it was just whoever could get more in the ground. The foreman would simply give everyone a share of the land to plant the trees.  Planting a tree can take up 5-6 seconds which meant we planted about 2000 trees together."

He relates much of his experience to Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) courses, including, PACS 310: Peace and the Environment. He mentioned that his tree planting role was transferable to observations made in PACS 310 course - as both are nature-centered:

"Both are nature-centered. Both cover reducing carbon footprint, encouraging tree planting and offsetting destruction. When I think about tree-planting, I think about not only replenishing the earth, but changing my personal growth"

Samuel is a student with a major in Planning, with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. Unlike the traditional co-op path, he set foot in his own route when he stumbled upon a new journey: Tree planting in British Columbia, in Western Canada.

Upon embarking on the Spring 2021 job search for a seasonal position, he managed to seize an opportunity with Summit Reforestation. He previously worked with the company in spring 2020 and was delighted to return there for a second season of tree-planting. Even though this was a venture in a different province, he found the job opportunity to be just as thrilling as the first season.

Samuel and his crew worked to replant the areas to replace the trees that had been cut down by the lumber industry. His crew had a goal of rebuilding areas that were clear-cut to help rebuild the environment. He shared that the crew would build across the Alaskan highway in St. John's. Specifically, the crew planted near Fort Saint John, Fort Nelson, Fort James, and Mackenzie in northern BC - sometimes 100km away in bleak areas as worked through on dirt roads.

The team worked individually, and Samuel had his own share of arduous work – as he put his own blood, sweat, and tears into the reforestation. He had to ensure that the saplings were up to par regarding standards. He would often get injured with the physical labor ensuring aspects like covering the sapling with a certain amount of soil, measuring to see if there is a meter distance from sapling to sapling, and verifying if the green collar is visible beyond the soil. He reflected:

"It’s peaceful to be in nature, as we learn how calming and in touch it makes us with ourselves and with the people around us. It is an internal experience that is hard to explain unless you experience it first-hand. When you work so hard at a job in nature - where you get in your head, it becomes a mind game to keep going even when you are hurt as you are stuck in your head thinking about what you said to your family. It is painfully therapeutic. There were moments where I broke down and cried terribly on the side of a mount that looked off to another where there was a beautiful lake - because I was in despair in my thoughts. We learned how hard life can be. We learned what it means to overcome hardship and keep going. I would plant in hail and freeze my hands, but for some reason have the strength to keep going and encourage my crew to work hard, while thinking “how crazy is this, I might die”. We work for the environment but we work to become strong, gritty, and tenacity – to recognize the power of attitude in life. We learned how it is like to be in nature and mend it but mainly build character in ourselves"

One aspect that he took away from the course was to aim at connecting with nature at a deeper level. He found that planting trees was his way of connecting to nature, and it really kept him rethinking the relationships, job prospects, and the places that he got to be in over the spring term in great appreciation.

Samuel was also able to connect his understanding of PACS 201: Roots of Conflict, Violence and Peace, and PACS 203: A History of Peace Movements during his time tree-planting in British Columbia. He observed that both courses had taught him concepts revolving around perspectives – with PACS 201 looking at how working on the reforestation industry has an impact on the greater good of the environment, and with PACS 203 on looking at what goes behind replanting to offset climate change.

Samuel believes that the greatest skill that he developed throughout this experience was a strong work ethic. He is confident that this is a skill that is transferable to many other aspects of life and is grateful for the experience that helped establish this skill. In addition, he developed perseverance skills. Tree-planting requires perseverance, he said. Samuel feels that this was an important skill to acquire as it goes together with an excellent work ethic. He said:

"Every challenging thing that you beat, makes life less scary - that perseverance and practice encourages you to live with tenacity"

To date, Samuels prides himself among environmental justice activists as he has a plant count of 120,000 trees and more. 

Elaina Mohr

Like many students before her, Elaina Mohr didn’t really know what she wanted to do after high school. What she did know was that she saw a broken world, and wanted to learn more about initiatives that tried to make it better.

So, Elaina enrolled in the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program. At first, Elaina wasn’t sure how she felt about the program, but she was soon engaged by her classes and her professors, who served as excellent mentors.

She has found that:

“PACS engages whatever your passions are.”

Elaina’s favourite areas of study are conflict resolution, justice, and peace, and she has had the opportunity to explore those ideas in her classes. These include: PACS 331: Trauma and Healing which examines how the conflict resolution process can be impacted by trauma, and PACS 329: Restorative Justice, which investigates the history, theory, principles, practices, and how people engage with restorative justice. These classes were especially important classes for her, as they challenged her worldview and encouraged her to think about the ways that peace can be a transformative process.

Another class that has made Elaina’s PACS journey an impactful one was PACS 313: Community Conflict Resolution, which explores the significance of two themes, identity and community, in the development and transformation of conflict. In that course, which featured a class-discussion style, Elaina learned that:

“There’s so much to learn from the people sitting around you. Learning comes from everywhere you are.”

Outside of her academic efforts, Elaina was able to participate in Conrad Grebel University College’s residence Peace Society in her first and second years. She has appreciated the opportunity to informally discuss important issues and try to make a difference in the community. She was able to participate in efforts like the annual Make a Difference (MAD) Market, where local vendors come to Grebel and sell items, donating proceeds to various causes.

In her fourth and final year, Elaina served as Grebel’s PACS Live-Learn leader, a position where she met with PACS students in residence and helped them to build a community. She was excited to be able to pass on her knowledge and experience, learn about alumni, and encourage younger students to build relationships with their professors.

As well, in her final year, Elaina took part in PACS 401: Senior Research Seminar, where she completed a research paper in a chosen area of study. During this time, she took full advantage of the help offered to her by Professor Reina Neufeld, who encouraged her to submit her paper to several student conferences.

Elaina’s paper, “Living in Space of Reconciliation: An Analysis of the Role of Communal Living Space in Reconciliation Processes in Post-Conflict Northern Ireland”, was chosen for two presentations at student conferences. She will have the opportunity to present them for a wide audience, which will be an asset to her career development, should she choose to pursue academia further.

After her graduation, Elaina has plans to work for the Romero House for a year, where she can experience living communally and supporting people with her PACS knowledge.

For students looking to follow in her footsteps, Elaina suggest that you:

“Be curious! The most I’ve never gotten out of my undergrad [experience] was when I was curious. Take classes, talk to professors and fellow students, and don’t be afraid to do things that you may not be qualified for.”

Eve Astolfi

When Eve Astolfi initially came to the University of Waterloo, it was to study economics. She had felt like a business degree was one of the only ways to find successful employment post graduation. However, Eve soon discovered that her current academic plan was not well aligned with career goals. After that, Eve switched her area of study several times, in hopes of finding the one that best fit her passion for social justice. She then discovered the PACS program.

Since she was a late transfer, Eve started the first year of Honours PACS in her second year of studies. She has since taken courses in Spring terms so that she could still graduate with her class. She loved the program. Unlike her previous degree plan, Eve did not enrol in the co-op program for PACS. But, she discovered that, in her situation, co-op was not a necessity for her to succeed, and that it was more about doing what she loved long-term.

For Eve, part of falling in love with her education was letting go of her idea that she had to be enrolled in a business degree to be “successful”:

“Arts programs sometimes get a bad name for not being ‘elite’, but you should focus on what you’re passionate about. That’s how you’ll do well; when you’re not interested in a topic, you don’t apply yourself the same way.”

Over the course of her degree, her favourite classes have been PACS 331: Trauma and Healing, which examines how the conflict resolution process can be impacted by trauma, and PACS 329: Restorative Justice, which investigates the history, theory, principles, practices, and people of restorative justice. She mentioned that both of these classes changed her worldview in significant ways as indicated below.

“You don’t realize all of the areas for learning and unlearning in the world, until you are presented with a different lens. That’s what these courses have taught me. Along with that worldview change, you learn to see how people are impacted by their stereotypes and biases and grow to have great empathy for others.”

While taking classes, Eve had the opportunity to work with the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) committee at St. Jerome's University College. While there, she worked with the team to create a survey and conduct research for improving diversity and inclusion at the university. Since completing that role, Eve has worked with the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, which is in partnership with Lutherwood Employment and Housing Services. Eve was able to take on this position by enrolling in PACS 390: Undergrad Internship course, which allows undergrad students to seek internship placement opportunities with local community transformation organizations implementing work related to PACS.

Additionally, Eve is working to complete her Global Exchange Certificate, which, COVID-19 closures permitting, may take her to Northern Ireland for an exchange, as the area has been significantly impacted by conflict over the past several decades. There, she will be able to relate her PACS learning to the real life experiences of those who have lived in conflict zones.

In the future, Eve hopes to work in the fields of conflict coaching, restorative justice, or the humanities in some similar capacity.

Boushrah Fanous

Boushrah Fanous is currently a PACS student. When she was in high school, Boushrah had intended to enroll in a program like international development or political science. However, no program that she saw really seemed to fit what she was looking for. It was only when a high school teacher suggested that she look into the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of Waterloo that she felt like she had found something that fit. The program’s interdisciplinary nature and ability to cover a range of topics appealed from the get-go, and she’s been invested ever since.

Throughout her time in the program, Boushrah found it valuable to learn about systemic violence, racism, and the philosophy behind it all. Different PACS courses have allowed her to learn about a variety of concepts that other programs would not have covered the same way.

PACS 201 was my favourite class of first year, because it gave me a good idea of the big picture of peace work. Other classes were great, but the blend of history intrigued me because there was so much to learn from it.”

PACS classes such as PACS 331: Trauma, Healing & Conflict Resolution have also taught her to adopt a trauma-informed lens, and have helped her in her interpersonal relationships beyond the classroom. They have changed the way that she looks at and approaches the world ahead of her. Boushrah now looks at systemic problems behind everything she sees, instead of only glancing at problems on a surface level.

Since enrolling in her degree, Boushrah has been involved in a number of things on campus connected to the program. One year, she had the opportunity to be the Peace Representative for the Conrad Grebel residence body (PACS rep). Over the year in her position, she was able to teach people about the conflict between Palestine and Israel, which is a topic that she’d previously had conflicting feelings about. Through experiences like being the PACS rep, Boushrah has learned how to appreciate different perspectives:

“I’ve learned to see everything from multiple angles, and that everything is connected. There’s something deeper in every story.”

Currently, Boushrah is the Peace and Conflict Studies undergraduate representative for the department— a position that involves speaking for the students with the faculty. She is a voice for the students, and provides insights into the needs of the undergraduate population.

In the future, she’d like to focus on policy making and international law, but she doesn’t entirely know where this path will take her. Whatever she ends up doing, though, she hopes that she will be able to make a difference along the way with the help of her PACS degree.

For future students, Boushrah recommends that you:

“Don’t hold too tightly to your plans. Be willing to learn different things and be flexible— you never know what might surprise you!”


Brandon Gascho

Like many students before him, Brandon Gascho did not start his degree enrolled in Peace and Conflict Studies. He was initially interested in becoming a therapist, and decided to take the Social Development Studies program through Renison University College. One of his first classes through this program was social policy, which he found himself enjoying more than he expected to.

After a professor suggested that he look into the PACS program, Brandon took PACS 201: Roots of Conflict, Violence, and Peace, and PACS 202: Conflict Resolution the next semester. Based on the content he was learning in these courses, Brandon’s interest in PACS was piqued, and he soon switched into a PACS degree plan. Over the course of his degree so far, PACS 331: Trauma and Healing has been his favourite course, and he feels that he learned a lot from it:

"In the past I’ve felt very uncomfortable with conflict and had trouble being assertive- but PACS has challenged the way I think about it and taught me healthy ways of engaging in conflict."

Over the years, he has experienced paradigm shifts, as a result of classes such as PACS 313: Community Conflict Resolution. He learned how to engage with conflict in a new, healthy way. There are ways to do good through conflict that he would not have known about if not for PACS courses.

The most impactful experience that Brandon has had so far, though, was participating in the Conflict Mediation and Resolution workshops offered through PACS 391, including participating in the Peace Circles workshop. This was a four day workshop that he took while his mother was in hospice care. During that time, his mother passed on, and his perspectives on how to grieve and heal were changed by his experiences in this workshop.

“Everyone really came together in this class, which made it an emotionally impactful, life-changing experience. It impacted the way that I grieved my mom, and how I interact with my family.”

Participating in circle processes in PACS 391 gave Brandon the tools to process his grief, and showed him how to exist in the world in a new way — something he hadn’t had when he had lost his sister a few years before. The people around him might not have known exactly what he was going through, but he was able to learn from the situation and process his emotions through that time.

Brandon attributes some of the best things he's learned to letting himself not know when he was in the presence of other people. Being an older student, he often felt like he should have the answers, and it took some time for him to recognize that it was alright to just listen to and understand the perspectives of others.

As he finishes his undergraduate degree, Brandon has plans to move onto higher education with Grebel’s Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has a desire to enter the PACS field, and is excited to further his education this way.

Theo Wiederkehr


During his childhood, Theo spent 3 years living abroad in Cambodia with his family through Mennonite Central Committee. Theo reflects on his time abroad as a coming of age experience to be suddenly confronted of the implications of our North American life to people on the other side of the world. Inspired by the Cambodian saying, "When the elephants fight, the ants get trampled," Theo chose the PACS program to further explore his role and responsibility in the world.

As part of PACS 390, Theo undertook a placement with Global Youth Volunteer Network located on the UWaterloo North Campus. The project was partnering with Indigenous student groups from the University of Waterloo, Guelph and Laurier to teach about food sovereignty and participate in food canning workshops to learn food preservation skills.

"In Ontario we are unable to grow food for a large part of the year, because of our climate; therefore, being able to preserve food in the summer and fall to eat in the winter is a vital part of individual and societal health, sustainability, and food sovereignty."

For Theo, growing and properly preserving his own food is a lifestyle choice he makes as a commitment to living responsibly.  Two days a week, Theo’s role was growing the produce for these canning workshops in the North Campus gardens. The workshops focused on canning tomato sauce and salsa, as well as pickled carrots and beets. Theo notes that,

"Canning is only one of the skills that is important for food preservation, I would encourage everyone to seek out more information about how they can engage in food preservation at their own homes."

While tending to the garden Theo was grateful to meet gardeners of other backgrounds who were growing plants from their home countries.

"There was one man who was growing beautiful gourds or melons that I had never seen before. He didn’t speak any English but one day he brought along his son who could and I was finally able to compliment him about his garden."

The rest of the week, Theo worked with his family on their farm. At home Theo has a wide variety of roles to fill on their farm from planning and growing the family garden, to caring for livestock, and mending fences. This year Theo was able to plant a new type of heirloom seed of zucchini and use an indigenous technique from North Dakota to dry the zucchini outside.

Outside of the classroom Theo is involved in the Chapel program at Grebel, organizing services for students. Off campus Theo serves on Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Working Group for Waterloo Region, and the Brubacher House committee. This committee works to mediate between the University of Waterloo, Conrad Grebel, and the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, to ensure the needs of the museum are being met.

"As one of the youngest people in the room in a lot of these meetings, I feel that I am often looked towards to provide representation to the voice of students and our generation. I really appreciate learning from people who are decades older than me and hearing their experiences and journeys."

After graduation, Theo is trying to navigate the current economics of farming in order discover a path which would allow him to farm responsibly and try new seed varieties.

Taylor Legere

Taylor Legere is a fourth year Arts and Business student with a major in PACS and a minor of Fine Arts. She originally came to Waterloo to pursue Arts and Business with a major in Psychology, but after taking PACS 201 Roots of Conflict, Violence, and Peace she knew she had to make the switch. 

Now, Taylor has done it all during her co-op career from working at RBC, to the Communications Coordinator at the University of Waterloo Relations DepartmentThe Ontario Ministry of Children,  Community and Social Services, and her latest position at the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation. Her time at the Intact Centre has lead to a part time job researching flood prevention, urban heat, and wild fires where she is able to work at the intersection of PACS and the environment.

Through her role as the Communications Coordinator at the University of Waterloo Relations Department, she had the unique opportunity to interview students and staff about their research.

"What I loved most about this position was discovering the different ways people are advocating for equity either directly or indirectly around campus."

Outside of co-op Taylor has been heavily involved around campus. In her first year she was prominent in re-establishing the PACS Society and served as Co-President. In this role she ran various events for her fellow PACS students such as movie nights and panel discussions. Taylor was also a part of the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship (ICPF) Planning Committee which brought together students from thirteen schools for a three day conference on Restorative Justice. During the conference, Taylor served as a moderator for the alumni panel and wrote an article detailing the event for Waterloo Stories.

Taylor has spent multiple terms volunteering at the Women’s Centre at UW, has begun working with Fossil Free UW, has served food with Lawyers Feed the Hungry in Toronto and Social Bite in Edinburgh, and was a camp counsellor for Peace Camp. Peace Camp is a day camp at Grebel for youth aged 11-14 packed with activities and field trips with a social justice spin which encourages youth to inspire lives, strengthen ties, and make peace happen in the Waterloo Region.

"My advice to anyone in any faculty is to just take a PACS course, any PACS course. PACS 329, the Restorative Justice course, literally changed my life in terms of healthy relationships and perspective. You can’t go wrong with any course in PACS"

In the future, Taylor hopes to train in mediation at Community Justice Initiatives (CJI) in Kitchener, and to further her education to find a career path that allows her to work within the intersection of Peace and Environment.

Margie McCloskey

For Margie McCloskey, the PACS program was love at first sight when she found it at the Waterloo Fall Open House. Shortly after beginning at Waterloo, she discovered a natural commonality in Political Science.

"I always find that my Political Science comes back to PACS – Everything comes back to PACS"

Margie is currently enrolled in PSCI 494 Current Issues in Political Science and PACS 401 Senior Research Seminar, where she is researching Human Migration Patterns in Europe from Northern Africa and the Middle East and the impact of grassroot environmental activism in promoting climate action. Each course culminates in a large report which she hopes to submit for publication to an Undergraduate Journal.

Calling the Grebel residence home, Margie has served many roles within the Grebel and PACS community including serving as the PACS Undergrad Student Representative to the department’s administrative committee, working as the PACS Living and Learning Community Peer Leader at Grebel, and acting as the Peace Society Representative for Grebel Student Council.

During her third year, Margie took on a larger role within the Grebel Student Leadership Team as a Peace Society Representative. In this role, she ran weekly discussions with other students on peace related topics, and played a lead role in convening the Make-A-Difference Market, an annual event that features fair trade vendors as well as a bake sale and silent auction to Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support.

As the PACS Living Learning Community Peer Leader, Margie serves as a mentor for first year PACS students living in the Grebel residence program by hosting study sessions, helping with course selection, building relationships to help with the transition to university life, organizing group volunteer work, and fostering an environment for exploring the impacts of Peace.

When asked if she had any advice for first year students, Margie replied,

"Get involved! Whether it’s at Grebel, where the PACS program is based, or out in the Waterloo community, it is a great way to meet people and form a network of like minded people."

Now in her fourth year, Margie is pursuing a double major in PACS and PSCI with her sight set on a Juris Doctor Degree where she will be able to further her passion for social justice.

Cassie Myers

In her final year of Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS), with a powerful idea, a competitive start-up, and a fierce amount of determination, Cassie Myers is just beginning.

After volunteering last winter with an organization that ran all-female hackathons in elementary schools, Cassie was inspired by the possibility of using tech and innovation as tools to address social problems. In the following term Cassie became a part of St. Paul’s Greenhouse where she founded her start-up, SheLeads. At SheLeads they’re building a platform for educators, to encourage and assess leadership skill understanding in girls seamlessly. Through the platform, girls ages 6-10 go through story based games that focus on strong female protagonists leading adventures around various leadership skills including: risk-taking, responsibility, and communication.

"Where I really think the most value comes out of the program is that it is girls that get to write the content for the game. Using the SheLeads framework, they get to think creatively about what leadership means to them and use their own experience to influence younger girls."

Primarily it is girls ages 10 – 18 that are writing the content for the game, and girls ages 6 – 10 are using the platform through schools and community .

When asked if she had known she wanted to go into PACS at the start of her university career, Cassie gave a definite ‘no’. It was only after taking a PACS course in her first year that she got the initial introduction to PACS, and in second and third year when content became more challenging and dynamic to her did she really find her place in PACS.

Cassie Myers
"I think there is a huge misconception about PACS that there is some sort of limit of what you can do. I worked in tech for all of my Co-op terms, and it was only using what I had learned in PACS that I was able to really identify the problems people were facing. When I came into university I wasn’t sure what I could do with PACS that was tangible, but I found through my Co-ops that you can apply a PACS lens to any situation, come up with solutions and become very entrepreneurial."

Cassie Myers graduated from the PACS program, in June 2019. 

Majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies and Business, Cassie applied her her knowledge at the intersection of Peace and Business to launch her business: Lunaria Solutions

Lunaria Solutions helps companies, people and brands flourish through Diversity and Inclusion solutions that drive real returns. Lunaria pairs expert experience with a powerful platform to help companies manage all their diversity and inclusion needs. Through the platform employers can invest in employees through Education Units, track progress through Lunaria Surveys and build company culture through templated company statements and activities.

Kayleigh Swanson

From an out-of-province experience, to a summer in Uganda, and right back to the University of Waterloo, Kayleigh Swanson and her co-op positions have done it all. Kayleigh is a University of Waterloo student currently in Arts and Business, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS). Having so many vastly different Co-op experiences has taught Kayleigh a lot, and having the two together has had a huge impact on her.

"I think PACS and Co-op is good because PACS can go in a number of different directions, there are number of different streams. And Co-op allows you to try out, like I have tried to do, a number of different types of positions, but in every one you see some of PACS. There are opportunities to travel abroad, and work directly in development, and at the same time there are options to work in an office and work with interpersonal dynamics and possibly conflict with your co-workers. It’s neat because you try out a number of things that are all relevant but in a number of different ways."

Kayleigh’s first Co-op job was with a business-consulting firm in Edmonton, where she worked as an analyst. She was able to work on a number of diverse projects, and learn about the interconnectedness of so many aspects of the business world and peace.

"Pairing PACS with studies in Business has been a very practical way for me to study the tension that exists between values of human security and then traditional dimensions of business. Where you come out with both a practical approach to understanding the traditional elements of business but then at the same time you have a background of understanding theory and understanding the opinions and approaches of experts and then you can incorporate those in your own view and so you can approach problems with that practical understanding but also using theory."

Her second Co-op term was part of the Beyond Borders program, and this also doubled as a PACS Internship. Kayleigh spent 3 months in Uganda working for a non-profit that was created to curve the spread of HIV/AIDS among vulnerable populations in Uganda. Opportunities within this position allowed for Kayleigh to experience the medical aspects, as well as the social services aspects of the work through difference services the organization had.

Kayleigh’s most recent Co-op position has been Donor Relations and Stewardship Assistant with the University of Waterloo Office of Advancement, where she worked to develop communications materials for donors to let them know where their money was going and how it helps the university.

"It was neat because I think I can see myself working for a non-profit, so to be exposed to the fundraising field and the entire profession was great. It was great to see what goes into raising money for a cause that you believe in and making sure that money goes where it is supposed to go."

Kayleigh and others standing outside

For her final Co-op position, Kayleigh is working with a law firm in Toronto, a position of great interest to her, and she is looking into pursing law school when she has completed her undergrad. While Kayleigh is looking forward to the next steps of her career, she feels that her experiences with Co-op where vital in preparing her for what is next.

"I think for me Co-op has been a great opportunity to try out as many things as possible. Because it teaches you not only what you do want to do, but also just as much about what you don’t want to do. It forces you to find where your actual passions lie, rather than just your interests."

"My advice for someone considering PACS and Co-op would be to try out as many different things as you can just because, I look at what I thought my interests were when I came to university and what they are now, they have narrowed so much and I can attribute that to the diverse experience I’ve had."

Anna Giesbrecht

What do Conrad Grebel, restorative justice, and Brazil all have in common? The answer is Anna Giesbrecht. An Arts and Business student with a major in Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) and a minor in International Studies, Anna has taken full advantage of the incredible opportunities that co-op offers.

Anna’s most recent co-op position was with Community Justice Initiatives (CJI), a local organization that uses restorative justice to address conflict and crime. After taking PACS 329: Restorative Justice, Anna was very interested in the practices involved in restorative justice, and spoke to her professors about opportunities for co-op positions within the field. Anna landed a position in the Elder Mediation Services branch, working with older adults and running recreational programming to help CJI members build relationships so that they can better resolve conflicts that are faced by this population.

"This position had a clear relation to PACS related in the restorative justice aspect, but I think it’s always cool to see how different aspects play in. I took a trauma and healing course, and that played a lot into it too. Recognizing what people have gone through and how that affects them now. It’s amazing because PACS can really relate to absolutely anything."

Anna also spent a co-op term in Brazil, working with the organization Youth with a Mission. In Brazil school for children is a half-day, Anna worked in a facility that offered programs for school-aged children for the other half of the day that they were not in school. Children were able to receive help with homework, participate in music, dance, and math classes, as well as take part in lessons of values including things like generosity and respect. During her time here Anna taught English to the students, and they weren’t the only ones learning a new language!

"I didn’t speak any Portuguese, but I learned a lot when I was there and now I’m taking a class to learn more. I found that even with a language barrier, people just want you to be there, and they will find a way to communicate. I couldn’t use my words as much, so I found myself becoming so much more expressive and using my face to communicate so much more."

With just one co-op term left Anna is beginning to look beyond her undergraduate degree, something that co-op has helped her immensely with. Drawing on her co-op experience, Anna can pinpoint the aspects of the work that truly made a connection to her.

“In some ways I know better then when I first started and in some ways I know less, just because I’ve learned so much and there is so much to be interested in.”

Maria Oliver

Extremely motivated and passionate, Maria Oliver found her way to the Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) world after spending summers participating in NGO work. Now in her final year of PACS, Maria has a keen interest in continuing this international development work.

In high school, Maria spent her summers working with an organization called D.R.E.A.M.S. (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) were she and a group of students would help build homes with the local community. Maria was shocked by the inequalities that she saw and was quickly frustrated about how it seemed like no one was helping. As a result she decided to dedicate her life to doing development work and she saw completing a PACS degree as a step towards this.  

Since starting her studies at Waterloo, Maria has been working with the New World Community, an Organization that connects University students with experiences in community development. Maria brought the initiative to the University of Waterloo Campus and has organized regular trips to the Dominican Republic for students. This kind of engagement is a way for Maria to stay connected to her global community, involve others in work close to her heart, and to make a positive and sustainable impact. This is just one of the numerous ways she is involved on the University of Waterloo community as Maria is currently working at St. Jerome’s as the Senior Assistant Activities Coordinator where she helps guide her co-workers in regards with training, mentorship, feedback, professional development and evaluations.

Maria has also recently participated in a PACS Internships experience through St. Jerome’s Beyond Borders program, an international service-learning learning experience through St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. Maria has made her way to Haiti where she worked with the Haiti Partners Children’s Academy and Learning center teaching English to students. Some of the most valuable lessons Maria took away from doing a PACS Field Study was that her experience really solidified her passion for doing development. She was and still is inspired to create real change in the community that surrounds her.

The Peace and Conflict Studies program has offered Maria with theoretical tools and experiences that have sharpened her view and perspectives of the world of development. Now that Maria is coming to the end of her PACS degree, Maria is beginning to carve out her path and continue to explore what the world of development has to offer.

Maria is also a recipient of the Lina Wohlgemut award, which is given to a peace and conflict studies student who is interested working in service in the developing world.

Elle Crevits

Growing up on a small farm in Delhi, Ontario, food has always been close to Elle Crevits’ heart. But it wasn’t until her fourth year research seminar class in Peace and Conflict Studies that she really discovered what that meant.

Last fall, Elle devoted her final research paper to the topic of food waste and how we could reduce it.

"My research triggered this overwhelming need for a solution to this problem, because we waste 40 percent of our food between farm and fork."

While 51 percent of this is wasted by consumers, another 12 percent is discarded by grocery stores. And Why?

Because they want the best: the nicest, the freshest, and the cheapest. Anything that doesn’t meet their criteria is thrown away.

In January 2015, Elle joined St. Paul’s Greenhouse with an idea: Food Not Waste. Through this social enterprise, Elle hopes to reduce the amount of food waste coming from small businesses, and redistribute any surplus food that is still good to emergency food services in the Waterloo Region, which currently serve more than 34,000 people.

"To do this I would like to certify businesses as being food waste free, and using that as a tool to promote to customers the businesses that are making an impact and why that’s a valuable trait."

GreenHouse has been an excellent resource for turning her idea into a reality. With one-on-one mentoring and access to resources and professionals, they help keep her on track and setting achievable goals.  While so far she’s been mostly laying the groundwork, this August she plans to launch a pilot project with five local businesses, diverting food waste to one community organization once a week.  

Elle shows us what is possible. In PACS, it can be hard to know where to start: everyday students grapple with tough, challenging, and complex issues that don’t always have answers. But Elle shows us that all it takes is an idea and the motivation to see it through. While motivation isn’t always easy to come by, the most important thing is to just keep going, one step at a time.

Elle says: 

"My biggest challenge is getting the right people involved to move forward, I am currently working alone but with help from others Food Not Waste can really take shape!"

Rachel Urban Shipley

Rachel Urban-Shipley is a fourth year PACS student, with minors in Music and Psychology. She originally came to UW to study peace and conflict studies for her interest in mediation, but as she learned more about the field and other issues within PACS, her options and interests have also grown.

In January, Rachel began an internship with Project Ploughshares, an NGO that conducts research to inform and advance policies related to war prevention, armed violence, and peacebuilding.  During the winter term, Project Ploughshares offers an internship program to third and fourth-year UW or WLU students to conduct research on current armed conflicts for their annual Armed Conflict Report. For her first project, Rachel is researching the conflicts in the Central African Republic and in Mali. This is a great opportunity to learn more about all the conflicts (the ones she’s researching as well as the one’s other interns are working on). Each conflict requires different levels of research as well. Some conflicts, such as Mali, mostly require updating little details, whereas in the Central African Republic, there’s been more violence in the past year as well as more time for others to analyze and assess the dynamics of the conflict that now need to be reported.

close up of Rachel

Over the next 4 months, 4 interns will be covering 24-30 conflicts; Rachel hopes to focus on a couple conflicts at once for a little variety. In particular, she finds the conflict in the Congo fascinating but hasn’t yet had the opportunity to delve into the issue; this might be an opportunity to research the conflict more fully (or read a concise, in-depth report from one of her fellow interns). At 8 hours a week, Rachel finds the internship to be challenging but not overwhelming. It’s putting her research skills to good use, providing her with resources for researching conflict, experience in the NGO world, and network contacts. A key lesson that she’s learning in her internship is the ability to distance yourself from what you’re researching in order to not get overwhelmed. Rachel says,

"I think that’s a skill that’s really important in a lot of PACS-related fields: [the ability] to take a step back and be like this is work and if we know more about this we can hopefully make it better and trying not to think too deeply about the individuals behind the statistics."

 While subjectivity and individual cases are also an important part about PACS-related work, constantly reading about conflict can be paralysing without some emotional distance. The most important thing is to find a balance between the two.  

With graduation approaching, Rachel is starting to think about where to go next, and Project Ploughshares is a good stepping stone to exploring what’s out there and getting connected in the field of NGOs and advocacy.  The PACS program offered her a lot of flexibility, that on one hand was a great opportunity to explore her interests and ask a lot of questions, and on the other hand has left her with a lot of places to go, but no clear direction. She’s interested in engaging with numerous issues, including Aboriginal rights, disability rights, and mental health and sees herself working anywhere from in a women’s shelter to an advocacy organization or research organization like Project Ploughshares.

Looking back on her years here, she recommends talking with your advisor, especially in your first year, to help get a sense of what you’re interested in and what you want to gain while at UW. In addition, she always thought it might have been useful to take an economics, statistics, or research methods class; even though it’s not a required PACS course, it’s required for a lot of other programs and she definitely sees its value in the NGO-world. Overall, Rachel loved the flexibility of the program to explore different interests within a small group and she’s excited to see where it takes her next. 

Tim Souza

Whenever we go somewhere new, we bring our past with us; our experiences, ideas, and hopes travel with us from place to place. When Tim came to Grebel and the University of Waterloo, he brought with him his experiences with Rotary and the opportunities it has given him. Now, Tim is spearheading an initiative to start a Rotaract club here on campus, so that other students can also serve together and benefit from Rotary has to offer.

Tim, a first year Honours Arts and Business co-op PACS student, came to Waterloo from Fresno, California. During high school, Tim’s family hosted a Rotary exchange student from Ecuador for a year and Tim was involved with Rotary clubs in California, even shaving his head yearly with others in solidarity with children living with cancer. After graduating, Tim traveled to Spain for a year as a Rotary exchange student and discovered his love for working internationally as well as saw Rotary work on a large scale. He then went to Columbia Bible College in BC where he learned more about peace and justice, inspiring him to continue to pursue and education in this field from a well-recognized institution, the University of Waterloo.

For Tim, PACS has been a great way to engage with people working in the field of Peace and Justice such as Jody Williams, Emmanuel Jal, and John Paul Lederach; these informal opportunities to network and meet professionals have a lasting mark that will far outlive a formal education. “Peace and Conflict Studies can be a bit of an ambiguous field and we [PACS Students] don’t really know where we’re going. But in meeting these people who are actively working in the field, we get to see how the skills we’re learning can be applied in the real world, as well as the passions that motivate people to do great things. It helps me recognize my passions and what drives me to study PACS and make the world better.”

One of these passions that drive Tim is his love of serving together with others, motivating him to start a Rotaract club here at Waterloo. Rotaract is a sort of “Rotary Jr.”; it’s a service club at the University level that is part of the larger Rotary International. Rotaract focuses on both the international and local levels, conducting fundraisers and service projects that support local and international communities. Students involved in Rotaract benefit from gaining professional development, skills, and connections with professional Rotarians, who are the top 25% of their field and are active around the world in a variety of vocations.

The club has big plans for next year; this year they’ve been working on getting a group together who are committed to the growth of a Waterloo Rotaract club, already planning exciting projects for next year. Internationally, they hope to raise money for FIDA/pch, which is a well-established cooperative working to sustainably rebuild Haiti through funding community initiatives. Locally, some initiatives include supporting Kids Ability, which is a hospital and school for disabled kids, serving by volunteering with local food banks or shelters and conducting a river bed cleanup. At the University, the club is working to host a conference on sustainable development in the early fall, bringing students, professionals, and professors together across faculties and programs of study who have a heart to change the world.

When Tim’s not busy organizing UW’s Rotaract club, he enjoys outdoor adventures sports such as hiking, rock climbing, and canoeing, reading a good book, working and serving alongside other people in community, a glass of wine and a good conversation, and learning. An avid traveler, he loves learning new languages and has an affinity for maps. However, each time he departs he prefers to travel to new and different places.