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A sense of belonging

National awards celebrate Memorial student leader, orientation program

Student Life

By Lisa Pendergast

When Susmita Burman arrived in St. John’s to attend Memorial, there were stark differences from her hometown of Chittagong, Bangladesh.

It was a lonely start. Ms. Burman arrived in February 2021, which meant she had to isolate due to COVID-19 regulations. She knew no one in the city.

Fast forward three years and the graduate student in economics has solidified her place as a student leader at Memorial. She recently earned the 2023 Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) Student Leadership Award.

She credits student services at the university for much of her success.

Coming to Memorial

Ms. Burman has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in banking and insurance from the University of Dhaka. While teaching at a university there, she decided she was ready for a change.

There were challenges to adapting to a new life, she says, but she took them in stride.

“That little act of kindness lifted my day because it’s not very common back home.” — Susmita Burman

After her self-isolation period was over, she went for a walk and saw snow for the first time in her life.

“A gentleman was shovelling and called out, ‘Good morning! How is it going?’ That little act of kindness lifted my day because it’s not very common back home. I texted my mom and let her know that it was so nice here and I was doing okay.”

The university experience

As an international student, Ms. Burman says she didn’t feel like she had a real connection to the university or province, however.

A brown woman in her early 20s stands in front of a grey wall with the words "Memorial University" in white letters on it.
Memorial graduate student Susmita Burman is a graduate student in economics.
Photo: Submitted

She decided to change that by getting involved however she could.

“This place, the language, the food — it’s different, and if you’re at home alone, it can make you sad and depressed real quick. So, I decided to try campus employment. I applied for every job posted and I got in!”

Ms. Burman was offered a job in the Student Experience Office through her engagement in different student leadership development programs.

“I feel really blessed for the support I was given.” — Susmita Burman

Later, she was elected as the executive director of campus life at the Graduate Student Union. She also volunteered through the Student Volunteer Bureau, taking on additional roles as a volunteer assistant and social media co-ordinator.

“Where jobs took care of my financial needs, volunteering took care of the mental piece,” she said. “I felt really good about myself. At one time I had to speak with a counsellor and I feel really blessed for the support I was given. I got what I needed, even a family doctor while I’m here.”

Ms. Burman’s involvement also earned her a seat on the Board of Regents.

“On the Board of Regents, I shared about the graduate experience. Members listened and responded to me respectfully, as a student and as a woman. I’ve never gotten that anywhere else. Memorial knows that students have a voice — an important one.”

Student leader

The CACUSS Student Leadership Award means any doubts she had about herself were “not right,” she says.

“I’ve developed leadership and communication skills. My experiences at Memorial have given me a purpose, a sense of belonging and a sense of community.”

Recently promoted to student leadership development co-ordinator with the Student Experience Office, Ms. Burman assists students who face similar struggles to the ones she experienced by connecting them with resources such as the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre.

She is now considering a career in student affairs.

MUN 101

One of the Student Experience Office’s programs earned the 2023 CACUSS Collaborative Partnership Award.

The Student Experience Office in 2021, from left are Kaitlyn Hickey, Rhonda Pittman, Lisa Russell and Julia Halfyard.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

MUN 101 was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is an extended online orientation and transition program, designed to help first-year students adjust to university life, become part of the community and get set up for success.

“We know that a sense of belonging is proven to help students succeed on their academic journey.” — Dr. Donna Hardy Cox

MUN 101 has continued to evolve and is offered to each incoming class. More than 5,000 students have taken MUN 101.

“With programs such as MUN 101, we are fulfilling our commitment to build a culture of service for our students and to enhance the student experience,” said Dr. Donna Hardy Cox, associate vice-president (academic) and dean of students. “We have an entire community that is dedicated to student success. We know that a sense of belonging is proven to help students succeed on their academic journey.”

MUN 101 required significant institutional commitment and inspired both academic and administrative units to engage with first-year students in a new and impactful way. This collaborative partnership and award was made possible through representatives from 21 units and nine faculties across Memorial, as well as four external partners.

New students can access MUN 101 on Brightspace as soon as they register for their first course at Memorial University.

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