This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2021. Visit our Class of 2021 virtual space to share in the excitement with our newest graduates.
For Sydney Belford, taking the time to explore new things was key in deciding her path through undergraduate studies in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
When she first arrived at Dalhousie from Kawartha Lakes in Ontario four years ago, she was on track to earn a BA in International Development Studies (IDS). However, in her second year she learned of the new Law, Justice and Society (LJSO) program that FASS was offering. Her interest was piqued.
“The course offerings were so unique and just aligned with my interests in Canadian law and policy,” explains Sydney who ended up doing a double major (with honours) in LJSO and IDS, with a minor in Philosophy. “The programs were flexible and allowed me to really hon in on my passions.”
Making the most of her experience
Throughout her four years at Dal, Sydney took on many opportunities to make the most of her time and to get the best well-rounded experience she could build for herself.
Her roster of extra-curriculars include volunteering and sitting on the Board for The Loaded Ladle, serving as an executive committee member for Students for Wishes (Make a Wish), participating in Dalhousie Open House and orientation activities for new students, being a part of the Writing Across Curriculum Committee and other academic hiring committees, and working as a leader for the FASS First Year Interest Groups (FIGs).
“I took on the role as the FASS co-leader for the Law and Social Justice First Year Interest group in the fall term of my final year,” explains Sydney, who herself was a student in a FIG during her first year. “It was amazing to work alongside fellow FIG leaders who each took their groups in a unique direction and to have the support from Michael [Fournier], the current FASS Associate Dean Academic. I tried to reflect back on [my experience as a first-year student] and offer the best support and advice to the first years.”
Her LJSO work also gained her valuable experiential learning. As a student in the Practicum Placement in Public Policy: NGOs and Government Services course, offered by the department of Political Science, she completed her placement with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), an organization she describes as “such a forward-thinking place.” She adds that the practicum course offered an opportunity for her to apply her knowledge learned and ground herself through action items, or solution strategies, to the issues she had analyzed throughout her degree.
“I found myself aligning with the values, feeling motivated by internal conversations - by the partner organizations and coalitions. I didn’t want to leave that space,” she says about her time at the CCPA, where her work efforts focused on housing, specifically the rental market in Halifax, an experience she described as eye-opening, learning about the issues in the local and provincial communities. “Ultimately, I think we all seek work that is fulfilling to us. Envisioning a just and sustainable future is not something just possible but essential for sustainability.”
An honourable first
Not only is Sydney graduating with a very interdisciplinary combination of programs, she is also the first student to graduate with an honours degree in LJSO from Dalhousie.
“It was intimidating being the only and first student, but I had a fantastic experience. I have to thank the program coordinator Dr. [Margaret] Denike and my honours advisor Dr. [Stephanie] Kapusta for their support throughout the process. I really hope that other students pursue the option. It’s a wonderful opportunity and specifically in LJSO being interdisciplinary, there are so many avenues and lenses to be applied to your topic of choice.”
Sydney’s advice to new and returning students is to develop good time management practices (including planning your schoolwork in blocks with breaks rather than spending hours upon hours in front of the computer), find the courses and activities that interest you, allow yourself to be introduced to new things and people, and most importantly, connect with your professors and take advantage of their office hours.
“Building a relationship can certainly help you academically, but I credit many of my instructors with my personal growth. One-on-one conversations facilitated my growth as a thinker and drove me in certain directions planning my future.”
She adds that being a great student is one thing, but being a well-rounded person requires you to step back every once and a while and have fun. “For myself exploring the East Coast, or just hanging out with friends was an important weekend break. In the long run I think this helped my productivity.”
Sydney’s next move will take her academic, advocacy and community minded experience to British Columbia to attend Simon Fraser University to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy. Her honours thesis focused on child welfare/wellbeing, a field she hopes to continue to research in grad school and pursue professionally.
Though Sydney is excited for her next step, she will miss her time in Halifax and all the friends she has made here. She plans to spend the summer here spending time with friends and taking care of some unfinished business.
“Hopefully once the lockdown is lifted, I’ll be able to get on to my bucket list of adventures. I promised myself I’d go whale watching at least once and that’s yet to be crossed off.”
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