UBC; a place of mind and body

Spring 2014

Cassandra Elphinstone

Schulich Leader at University of British Columbia

UBC; a place of mind. I remember walking through campus a few months ago and for the first time really noticing UBC’s slogan. It is true that university is a place of the mind. In my honours linear algebra class, I discovered an abstract way of thinking through the use of mathematical proof. It was like opening a door in my mind to a whole new way of seeing the world. I loved it!
The UBC slogan seemed incomplete while also expressing something profound. A place of mind … and body. Perhaps “and body” did not really fit for an academic institute but I could not help but feel that my university experience was not solely confined to my mind. This year has been a wonderful balance of theory and experience; the mind and the body.
Earlier this year, I applied for two summer research positions to either study plants on Ellesmere Island or potentially do research in Borneo. I desperately wanted to get back out in the field this summer. In March, I discovered I had been offered the Student Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Award to cover my work in Borneo. In April, I was offered the position on Ellesmere Island. Loving the Arctic and alpine ecosystems, I turned down the SURE award to head north. A requirement for safety on Ellesmere Island was a course in firearms and I was shocked by how much the course differed from my university education. Everything was hands on while learning to shoot rifles. Practical experiences of this kind have provided an interesting counterpoint to the academic life at UBC.
Activities with the Varsity Outdoors Club at UBC have yielded more such experience. I was elected as a quartermaster and participated in many trips including a week long ski traverse of Garibaldi Park. This traverse gave a different perspective on what I had learned in my classes. Glaciers were no longer the small photos in the corners of my textbook but the enormous sheets of ice we skied on day after day. Crevasses and avalanches were not just terms to be memorized from a vocabulary list but instead became a dangerous reality to be dealt with. Topological maps were no longer a laboratory exercise but became an essential form of navigation. I acquired much academic knowledge this year but luckily I also had the opportunity to juxtapose it with practical experience.