Introducing Blake Oliver: Steering Committee Member from McMaster

Hello everyone!

I'm Blake Oliver and I am so excited and honoured to be serving on this year's Steering Committee. Outside of OUSA, I am the Vice President (Education) and Corporate Officer of the McMaster Students Union (MSU).

I first set foot on McMaster's campus three years ago. It was May at Mac, the annual Spring preview day that allows newly accepted potential Mauraders to get a feel for the campus before deciding if McMaster is right for them. I knew right when I stepped on campus that Mac was where I wanted to be.

My undergraduate experience has not exactly been typical. I've been lucky enough to take part in McMaster's unique Bachelor of Health Sciences program, which focuses on interdisciplinary learning and classes in a non-traditional inquiry environment. My courses emphasized skills - communication, collaboration, reflection, group process - in small group environments. I love my program and learned so much from my incredible facilitators.  Although I spent most of my time learning about anatomy and biochemistry, I was also fortunate to be informally learning about education and pedagogy. Since my program doesn't subscribe to the norms of bell curves, standardized assessments, and multiple choice tests that have become commonplace in universities, I was constantly gaining knowledge and challenging what I knew about education. This was the first place that I really became interested in post-secondary education at its core - how do students learn best? How can we optimize the classroom so that students collaborate, but don't compete? How can we ensure that students retain information and skills after a course has ended?

Luckily, I was able to explore one of these questions when I was hired as a student researcher at the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning in my third year. In addition, this was the year that I became heavily invested in the MSU; I represented my program on the Student Representative Assembly, and I also became the University Affairs Commissioner. It was in this latter role that I came to learn about student advocacy, and later down the line, OUSA. After spending much of my time in university discovering my own beliefs and principles about the post-secondary education system, I had found an avenue to voice these opinions and create positive change for students.

Throughout my year working for the MSU, I was able to attend both OUSA General Assemblies as well as the Partners in Higher Education Dinner, and through these experiences became so passionate about numerous student issues. Although my title here at the MSU is Vice President Education, the scope of the role as well as my interests have widened over time. Still passionate about pedagogy and learning, I have become a strong advocate for a more accessible university experience with fewer barriers for students with disabilities, I have grown to immensely value affordability for students, and - as an Indigenous student - I have learned about the varied experiences of my fellow Indigenous classmates and how we can make post-secondary more welcoming and achievable for all of us.

This year is an important one for the post-secondary education sector. With the tuition framework expiring, the looming changes to the funding formula, as well as the calls to action for institutions from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, there is no shortage of things for students to discuss with the province. With my new role as the Vice President (Education) of the MSU, and as a Steering Committee Member for OUSA, I cannot wait to take on these issues and represent the students that I was elected to advocate for alongside this year's amazing Steering Committee.

Blake Oliver
OUSA Steering Committee Member
Vice President (Education), McMaster Students Union