My name is Stephanie Bertolo and I am thrilled to be a part of this year’s Steering Committee! On my home campus, I am the Vice President Education of the McMaster Students Union.
I just graduated from Arts & Science with a minor in Community Engagement Studies. Arts & Science is an interdisciplinary degree with an emphasis on social awareness while my minor allowed me to develop principled engagement skills. My academics prepared me well for this role by giving me the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and the tools to engage the student population effectively.
A lot of my past involvement occurred in the Hamilton community. In the summer after my second year, I worked for the Hamilton Community Foundation – a philanthropic organization with the mission to drive positive change to create a vibrant, inclusive Hamilton. One of their major projects is to increasing access to education for Hamilton youth who often face barriers. By implementing interventions in middle school years, it will increase the likelihood that students will graduate from high school and continue on to post-secondary. Learning how access to education can help individuals achieve a better future and reduce rates of poverty in Hamilton inspired my passion to continue this advocacy at McMaster.
Fittingly, I then began my work with the McMaster Students Union as the Community Engagement Coordinator, where I worked to plan events and organize a municipal lobbying week with city councillors and other stakeholders. The following year, I was the Associate Vice-President (Municipal Affairs), where I was able to increase the advocacy I did. From light rail transit to by-law enforcement to Ward Boundary disputes, you would find me delegating at City Hall, lobbying to councillors, and talking to the local media about how these decisions would impact students. When in this position, I knew I wanted to expand my advocacy reach to the university, provincial, and federal levels.
I began to do this by becoming more involved in OUSA. I wrote articles about municipal issues for the annual publication Habitats and attended both the Fall and Spring General Assemblies this past year. My experience was so positive at my first GA that I took the opportunity to be an author on the Health & Wellness paper in the Spring. Being involved in research and writing stages gave me greater appreciation for the policy development process and student advocacy as a whole.
With my love for advocacy still strong, I decided to run to be the Vice-President (Education) and I am so honoured to be in this role today. With the rising costs of attending post-secondary, one of my priorities is to ensure all students able to access an affordable education. I hope to achieve this through continuing to advocate for the adoption of Open Educational Resources in the classroom and increases in OSAP funding for students in professional programs. Sexual violence on campus is another topic that we need to continue to have conversations and advocate for best practices on campus. The results of the Student Voices on Sexual Violence climate survey are likely going to be shocking to Ontario. It is important that we target this into increasing resources to both prevention and response initiatives to support survivors on our campuses.
This is an important year for post-secondary education. With a change in government, I am excited to build new relationships with the great people who were elected to represent Ontarians. Together, we can tackle the most pressing issues facing university students to ensure all individuals have access to an affordable and high quality education.