09/14/2015 04:35 EDT | Updated 09/14/2016 05:12 EDT

What I Learned From My Summer Job at SHAD 2015

Although the friends, connections and lessons gained through SHAD stay with you long after the program, it's supposed to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I am one of the lucky few who got a second chance to experience it, albeit through a different perspective.


Three summers ago, I blogged about a program I participated in called Shad Valley (now re-branded SHAD). In short, SHAD is a month-long program geared towards high school students who excel academically and are potential leaders of tomorrow. If accepted after a demanding application process, students are placed at one of 12host universities across Canada and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) topics combined with a business-focused design project. Essentially, SHAD is a taste of university for those highly motivated youth, eager to explore future options. One student at the Carleton campus this year reacted to the name change commenting,

"Since we're not called Shad Valley anymore, we're gonna call ourselves Shad Hills. It kinda works like two hills making a valley. But I like to think of it as the times you have to focus on the highs of life even when the lows are bringing you down."

This sums up the kind of students these are: creative, open minded and intuitive with a strong sense of community.

Although the friends, connections and lessons gained through SHAD stay with you long after the program, it's supposed to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I am one of the lucky few who got a second chance to experience it, albeit through a different perspective. In January, in the middle of my second year of university and two and a half years after my month at SHAD, I considered applying as a Program Assistant (PA), idly -- at first. But I simply couldn't shake the idea, so I went ahead and did just that. Shortly after, I was absolutely ecstatic to be hired as a PA for SHAD Carleton -- the very campus that I had attended in high school.

Being the youngest PA at my campus came with its own set of challenges. Many of the staff had

been my staff when I was a student. I constantly felt the need to prove myself, despite them being nothing less than understanding and supportive. It was easy for me to forget that it's natural to make mistakes -- being human and all -- inevitably falling victim to self-blame. I've always been a fairly reserved girl and I remember being halfway through the program convinced that I had made a giant mistake in attempting to be a role model for students who were so much more outgoing and excited than I felt at times. My program manager grounded me by pointing out that, "there's a common misconception in society that leaders are extroverts and I think that's not necessarily're a good leader Sarena -- you're definitely not an extrovert."

It really took the rest of the month for me to see that (my thought process below was a gradual one). Since it is a live-in position, being a program assistant becomes more than just a job. You become guardians for these students and see how sincerely they take your actions and words to heart. As cliché as it sounds, the best you can do for them sometimes is to take a step back and allow them to be their true selves, even if it means having to learn the hard way how to pick themselves up from failure. If someone asked me what I did this summer, I likely wouldn't start the sentence of with: "My job was..." It was as much of an experience working for Shad as it was attending the program as a student. I will always come back to both those times as important touchstones for having contributed to shaping who I am.

*"SHAD" photo by Laura Gámez, Group photo by Craig Lord

The following is a list of "epiphanies" (for lack of a better word) that I experienced and noted down as the month progressed:

1. Three years can make the world of difference when crossing the bridge between youth and adulthood. Instead of trickling, time folds itself into moments. I find myself trapped in infinite but temporary stretches, which I wish I could capture forever.

2. Regardless of how caffeine resistant I am, a warm cup in the morning presented by someone who cares about me with the intent for me to have a productive day is the best stimulant.

3. I can sleep better in an unfamiliar bed, hundreds of miles from home when I become more heart centered, less restless and filled with purpose.

4. Atlantis isn't a hidden city. It's a place where I lost the parts of myself I thought were too small to find. It's coming back to what I thought was the familiar and instead, having to learn to breathe underwater. It's where emotions carve the heart so that people who I hold dear can become unrecognizable in the face of adversity.

5. The butterfly effect is more complicated than it seems. One poor decision now, may set into motion a chain reaction of events, but it does not define every moment going forward. Life doesn't come with a redo button but positive energy can reroute the effects of the past.

6. Self-doubt is my own worst enemy. I shoulder blame like a rope of chains and it's crushing, but I wrongly assume that the pain is necessary to heal -- when in reality, all it does is chip away at my self-confidence.

7. It's easy for me to cling to a mindset, as if changing my outlook is trading in a part of my identity. I need to understand that accepting ideas that differ from my own adds to my complexity.

8. I often underestimate the value of time alone to recharge until I am forced into it. Only then do I realize that I gain energy from uninterrupted solitude, despite how much I long for the community I feel comfortable in.

9. There is a certain innocence to being young and thrust into a situation where you have everything to learn, all the room to grow and an expectancy to make mistakes.

10. Many talk about the differences between the family you are tied to by blood and the friends you choose to tie yourself to. I think the most beautiful thing about that choice is that all of a sudden, you have people walking around with pieces of your heart and you trust them enough to be miles away from them and yet know that you always have somewhere to come back to.


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