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The next dimension in manufacturing

*Originally published in Manufacturing Automation magazine. View online version here.

Resistance is futile. 3D printing is here to stay. And if you want to reap the benefits, like reducing production costs, time and waste, it would be wise to welcome this technology with open arms.

3D printing isn’t a new technology. It’s been around as long as the Internet. But it’s been garnering more media attention in the last couple of years thanks to expanding technology. The equipment has become more affordable, efficient and accessible, making it an intriguing option for progressive manufacturers.

The idea of printing a replacement toothbrush from a desktop machine could entice home users to invest in their very own 3D printer. But hobbyist use isn’t what’s getting all the attention. Industry experts think 3D printing could revolutionize the manufacturing industry.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses design information from a CAD file to build up a solid object, layer-by-layer, using plastics or powders. There are many processes that can be used to print materials made from metals, glass and even bio-materials, but the most well known process of fabrication is called fuse deposition modelling (FDM). This process uses a heated nozzle that deposits fine layers of plastic on a build platform.

From a simple aircraft bracket to a complex organ to replace a failing one, the possibilities for 3D printing are endless. And there are unique processes used to produce this wide array of products.

One 3D printer manufacturer, Stratasys, offers three types machines, using three different printing technologies. The first is Solidscape technology, which uses wax to make patterns and is often used in the dental and jewellery industry. The next is PolyJet technology, which employs an inkjet process to create objects from fine layers of photopolymers while simultaneously curing them with ultraviolet light. Finally, they employ the most common method, FDM technology.

The latter is what Jeff DeGrange, vice president of direct digital manufacturing at Stratasys, calls the holy grail when it comes to potentiality. “[FDM] can be used for making functional prototypes as well as items that would be going into manufacturing, whether it be manufacturing tools or end use parts,” he says.

Waste, cost, time reduction and customization
Incorporating 3D printing technology into the production line could reduce costs by reducing manufacturing waste. Traditional subtractive manufacturing creates objects by carving them out of blocks of material. This method leaves as much as 90 per cent excess waste materials behind, according to a report published by Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) titled “3D printing and the future of manufacturing.”

On the other hand, additive manufacturing creates objects that retain all the materials used in the building process. An example of the cost savings from the report showed that by using FDM to build a specialty part, costs could be reduced from $10,000 to $600.

Not only can costs and waste be reduced, but production time can also be significantly decreased. For example, a series of parts used to create the body of the Urbee, a two-passenger hybrid car, was printed in a matter of weeks.

“[It] would have taken an estimated eight to 10 months of work for two people using a more traditional manufacturing technique,” says Vivek Srinivasan, Australia regional manager for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum and a contributor to the 3D printing report.

While cost savings, waste reduction and decrease in production time are enough incentive to consider embracing 3D printing in your production line, Jarrod Bassan, a senior consultant with CSC in Australia and a contributor to the 3D printing report, believes we will see companies using 3D printing to gain a competitive advantage through direct manufacturing.

“It will allow some manufacturers to offer customization where their competitors cannot,” says Bassan. “Or offer products that have some inherent advantage which is only possible because of printing.”

An example of customization using additive manufacturing is Invisalign, a company that makes clear orthodontic retainers that are an alternative to metal braces. Patients are provided with a series of removable, customized retainers. Each retainer gradually realigns the teeth, and is changed every two weeks for a new, customized retainer. This is something that is only possible through 3D printing.
Even airplane interiors can be customized using 3D printing technology. “You can actually make a very customized interior as far as closure panels that can then get decorative treatments to make them very customized for the pilot,” says DeGrange, who spent 20 years in the aerospace industry while working at Boeing.

Mobile warehouses and keeping manufacturing at home
If you’ve ever had an appliance break down, you know the nuisance of waiting for a repair person to come out to your home, diagnose the problem and book a return date after the faulty part has been shipped to their warehouse. DeGrange thinks 3D printing could eliminate the hassle of the wait time. With information like the model number of your appliance, the repair person can build the part that needs replacing right on the spot. “The van of the repair company could have a 3D printer and they can just download the file right there in their van and build the parts that they need to fix your dishwasher,” says DeGrange.

Then there are cars. Depending on the make, its service life can be anywhere from five to 20 years and it will eventually need spare parts. “Rather than having a big warehouse of spare parts not knowing if you have too much or not enough, you can just pull up your CAD file and print out whatever quantities you need on demand where you need it,” he says.

If a manufacturer offers 3D printed replacement parts for their products, not only can they can save on storage and transportation costs, they are also able offer their consumers convenience, and happy consumers are repeat consumers.

Another benefit DeGrange sees in 3D printing is keeping manufacturing right here in North America.  A lot of jobs are sent to low-cost countries like China, Mexico and India. “We do that for a host of reasons, but ultimately it’s cost,” he says. “And you have humans in that loop. [Additive manufacturing] is basically reducing the amount of humans in that loop.”

Thanks to 3D printing, you no longer need to rely on cheap labour. All the information to build a product is in the CAD file. “You could integrate so many things in the CAD file that typically would take minutes or hours to assemble downstream and that’s why you ship things to China. Now you can bring all that home, integrate it upstream in a CAD design,” he says.

DeGrange offers fuel injectors for jet engines as an example of how labour intensive some products are to build. To begin assembling a 42-part jet engine fuel injector, you put part one and part two in a welding station and weld them together. Then those two pieces go to another welding station and another two pieces are welded together. Now it’s a four-part piece. This continues from station to station with people welding at each one of these stations. “Now you can combine all 42 parts in a CAD design and build it with an additive process, in this case it would be a direct metal process,” says DeGrange. “It goes right from the CAD file to the machine that integrates all those parts together so you remove the need for having all the different tooling stations and all the people who would have to weld at those tooling stations.”

Potential piracy
While 3D printing is an exciting innovation, it’s not without its drawbacks. Since printing information is digital, it’s easily transferable. This means digital piracy is a possibility. However, the prognosis need not be bleak. Manufacturers can take steps to protect themselves, says Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, experts in copyright, telecommunications and Internet law.

We see examples of successful management of digital piracy when we examine the last 15 years of online distribution. iTunes, Netflix and Amazon customers have proven more than willing to pay for digitized content, says Weinberg, as long as there is a way for them to do so.

“The best and only real way to combat piracy is to give your customers an easy way to buy legitimate copies in the format they want,” says Weinberg.
For example, manufacturers could offer downloadable CAD files for replacement parts that would cost less—not to mention take less time—to purchase and ship the part directly.

That would be preferable over the litigious alternative, says Weinberg. While it can be helpful to register copyrights for things that are copyrightable, patent things that are patentable and trademark things that are trademarkable, Weinberg says that can’t be your only strategy.

“Suing individual users online is a strategy that failed for the music industry,” he says. “It is unlikely to start working anytime soon.”
Weinberg adds that manufacturers who choose to embrace 3D printing are much more likely to prosper in the long run.

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It Takes a Village: Community raises mental health awareness

*Originally published in Milton Villager magazine.

One in five Canadians is diagnosed with mental illness, which makes it more common than cancer and diabetes. Many more cases of mental illness go undiagnosed because of the fear of judgment and rejection.

Sometimes sufferers of mental illness resort to suicide. This was the heartbreaking circumstance surrounding the recent suicide of 16-year-old Amber Regis, a local teen who struggled with depression.

Terri Naccarato, a friend of the family, organized an afternoon dessert soirée fund-raiser at the Teatro Conference and Event Centre on Feb. 3 to help Amber’s grieving family rebuild their lives after their tragic loss.

Saddened by local suicides over the years and having been impacted by family and friend’s depression, Terri felt compelled to do something to address the major issues leading to suicide.

“I had to do something,” she said. “This cannot be the only answer for a teen when they are struggling. We need to bring awareness to this horrible illness and bring the community together.”

The event, titled In Celebration of Amber’s Life: Bringing Awareness to Teen Depression/Suicide, featured a number of speakers who shared information about mental health and resources for Halton residents coping with mental illness.

Terri rallied local talent and business owners to donate time, talent, services and prizes for a silent auction, raffle and door prizes. Among those who donated their talents were magician/illusionist Tyler Fergus and teen singers Dylan D’Alessandro, Gavin McLeod and Lateisha Justino.

Aestheticians from Allegra Organic Spa & Boutique were on-site, offering manicures to attendees between speakers and performances. The goal of the event was to educate the community about depression and mental illness and to help remove the stigma that so often prevents people from seeking help.

“People are afraid to talk about [mental illness] because they feel that they are going to be stigmatized,” Tammy Whelen, a mental health educator with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), shared at the event. “They don’t want people at their job to know that they might deal with depression or schizophrenia because maybe they’ll get fired. Maybe their coworkers will bully them. Maybe their wife will leave them. These are all things that cross people’s mind. And it shouldn’t be that way.”

She says we have to look in the mirror and realize the problem starts with us. We’re stigmatizing people when we label them.

“Many people are frightened by what they don’t understand. The more we understand mental illness, the less likely we are to stigmatize sufferers,” Tammy said. “Who’s to say that someone who’s diagnosed with a mental illness, like depression, or schizophrenia, or bipolar, or anxiety disorder, cannot live a mentally healthy life?” she said. They can, she adds, by access community resources.

One of the things mental health professionals say we must understand is that mental illness is complicated. There is no one cause.

“Mental illness is the result of a complex interplay of genetics, biology, personality and environmental factors,” Wendy Caron, a social worker with Woodview Mental Health & Autism Services, explained to listeners. “And 49 per cent of people with mental illness do not seek treatment.” Wendy’s sister suffered from anxiety and depression and ultimately took her own life. She believes that the more we talk about it, the more likely people are to reach out for help and find an alternative to suicide.

There was a time when breast cancer was just a whisper on people’s lips. Now we wear pink ribbons and buy pink appliances and run for the cure every October, Wendy says. The same attention must be given to mental illness.

“We need not whisper when we say, ‘I have mental illness. I have depression,’” she said.

Becky, a teen facilitator with Lighthouse, a peer support program for grieving children, youth and their families, shared the story of her own sister’s battle with depression and why it’s so hard to understand mental illness. “It’s not like cancer or tuberculosis or any other kind of physical disease because it’s something you can’t see,” she shared. “She really pushed through and she really tried. And for three years she really gave it her all, but in the end, she took her life when she was 17 years old.”

The reality is that people do commit suicide. And as much as people are uncomfortable talking about mental illness, they are also uncomfortable talking about suicide.

“I think that the people who organized this today are just so great for doing this kind of thing in memory of Amber,” Becky said. “I really wish something like this happened in Oakville, where I’m from, because I know what I needed when [my sister] died was just a sense of community, caring, well-being. Just knowing that there were lots of people who were going to listen to me and understand and care.”

But how do we begin to support those who experience such painful losses, especially children who have lost siblings, parents and other loved ones? The answer is by helping them seek programs that will connect them with peers who are going through the same thing.

Melissa Hedman-Baker, clinical director of Lighthouse, says that it’s very common for grieving children to feel like nobody understands them, especially with their peers at school. “At the Lighthouse, they are amongst others who understand what it’s like,” she shared. “Even if the circumstances surrounding the death are different.”

As the speeches came to a close, handmade bookmarks were passed out by some teens from one of the programs run by Woodview.

“Each of these bookmarks have an individual message of hope from a kid that knows what it’s like to be depressed to another kid somewhere who may be struggling,” Wendy shared.

Wendy directed her final words to the supporters of the Regis family:

“How does someone move on from this kind of loss?” she began. “With the support of friends and family and community. Your cards, your visits, your casseroles, your ongoing support is what’s going to help this family come out of their darkness.”

The event was well received by attendees who engaged with speakers, requesting more information on how to best support teens in their community. “The only thing missing was more people,” said Hunter Foster, a local teen who attended the event.

“I learned a lot, and I wish there were more teens and youth there,” he said.

Not only was the event intended to educate the community, but to be a show of support for the Regis family. While many people were not able to attend, they showed support in other ways, and these gestures let the family know they are not alone.

“The community support is overwhelming,” Tara Regis, Amber’s mother, said. “We are so grateful for the love, prayers, words, gifts and events that our family, friends and community have blessed us with. Honestly, there are no words strong enough to share our appreciation. Thank you just does not do it justice.” Despite the Regis family’s tragic loss, they are able to reflect positively on Amber’s life and are proud of the person she was.

“Even in death we feel that Amber has brought amazing people into our lives that we may never have had the chance to meet otherwise,” Tara said.

She hopes that the event in Amber’s name will bring greater awareness to the issue of teen depression and promote open dialogue and trust between parents and their kids.

“We are hoping to be able to work with the community in the future to share Amber’s life and establish further supports for teens in the community who may be struggling with similar issues,” she said.

Loved ones described Amber as compassionate, intelligent and athletic. She went above and beyond to help her friends through tough times and brought a smile to the face of everyone she touched.

“She was a supportive friend, a fun-loving and protective big sister and an amazingly strong daughter who made us proud,” Tara said.

‘Women in Business’ Sparks Curiosity

Founder of WIB, Stephanie Kam, leads the club in its first discussion

Founder of WIB, Stephanie Kam, leads the club in its first discussion

By Tania MacWilliam

Feb. 2, 2012

*Originally published in The Sheridan Sun Online

Hazel McCallion Campus’s Women in Business club had an unexpected turnout at their first meeting on Jan. 25.

Of the approximately 17 attendees, eight were men.

While the Women in Business club is open to both men and women, it is intended to support women’s issues in the business world.

The founder of the club knew there was a possibility that men would participate, but she wasn’t expecting that nearly half of the people would be men.

“I was really surprised and happy at the same time,” said Stephanie Kam, VP of the Women in Business club. “We had about a 60:40 ratio of women to men turn out.”

Male attendee Faraz Ahmadpour shared that his reason for attending the meeting was out of curiosity.

“I’ve never been to any club like this so I wanted to see what it was all about,” he said. “Sometimes I hear from other people that clubs about this subject tend to be biased. So I wanted to see if that’s actually true or not. But they actually had a lot of discussions on reverse bias being towards men which was interesting.”

The group discussed topics relevant to both male and female attendees: parental leave, sexual harassment and reverse discrimination.

Members agree that having the club open to men is important in the quest for equality.

“I don’t want there to be discrimination on any front,” said Telma Lima, VP internal for the club.

She hopes to be the club’s voice of balance, recognizing that membership consists of both men and women, each facing unique gender-related challenges.

“Then you resolve conflicts from both genders’ point of view,” said Ahmadpour. “That’s when I believe you can actually have meaningful progress.”

Melissa-Anne Lackan, VP external for the Women in Business club, wants to help prepare teen girls for the workplace and the workplace for teen girls, so they don’t have to face the same discrimination she has.

“I want to help deliver a message, help talk about the issues and keep it on the [forefront] of everyone’s minds,” she said.

The club is meant to connect women who are interested in the business world and in expanding their social network. It will also provide support to women facing gender discrimination.

“I wanted to start this club because I wanted to bring awareness to issues that many women face in the business industry such as gender discrimination, the glass ceiling, the glass cliff,” said Kam during introductions.

In addition, Kam, who is also a member of HMC’s board of directors, hopes to create a community where women can create professional networks that can be accessed once they are ready to enter the workforce.

The group meets monthly with the next meeting scheduled for reading week. On the agenda will be an off-campus trip to catch a Toronto theatre production.

The March meeting will welcome a career panel with industry speakers featuring women from various business industries. They will share their personal stories about a variety of workplace issues and will participate in a question and answer period.

“It brings women out from the industry to allow students to meet women that are successful already and have senior management positions,” said Kam.

The hope is for attendees to establish a mentorship with successful women, she added.

Sheridan offers its students clubs of all kinds, with topics ranging from anime to philosophy.

“It really adds to a school when you have clubs with purpose,” said Jennifer Chapman, faculty advisor for the club.

Chapman is showing her support by leading the group in a yoga session for the final meeting of the semester. The goal is to provide a relaxing environment during exam time.

If you are interested in joining the club, or want additional information, check them out on Sheridan’s own social network, The Wire.

Some members of the Women in Business club

Some members of the Women in Business club

Know Thy Food: Eating “Glocally”

By Tania MacWilliam

*PDF of the original article (no longer accessible via website) can be found here.

Jan. 26, 2012

Chances are you’re not thinking about where the chicken comes from while nibbling on those sauce slathered wings. But you should, say animal cruelty activists.

A California chicken hatchery is facing a lawsuit for animal abuse, according to an article in the Huffington Post. Horrific video footage shows unwanted chicks being drowned in a bucket of waste and shoved down a disposal drain with a stick while still alive. This hatchery supplies chicks to various farms and the meat eventually ends up on a dinner plate.

If the humane treatment of livestock is something you consider when selecting your meat, you might want to get to know where it comes from.

Chef Damian Wills, of Wills & Co. Fine Food Market in Burlington, sources most of his products from local farmers.

“It’s actually quite difficult to source local and naturally raised [livestock],” he said. “They’re small farms and they don’t have the manpower and marketing knowledge to get their names out there.”

Wills does a lot of legwork by researching the web, attending events and networking. Most of his contacts are from word of mouth. For example, he may call up his pig supplier and ask for recommendations for a lamb farmer. His network builds with each connection he makes.

Not only is it important for Wills to know where his product comes from, he wants his patrons to know, too.

Meet your local farmers
Wills & Co.’s pork is supplied by the Boar & Chick, a family run farm located in the hamlet of Troy, Ont.

One Saturday, he brought the owners of the farm, husband and wife team Mark and Tania Veenstra, to dine at his restaurant. They sat among the diners who were served pork from their farm and in turn were available to answer questions.

“It was a real connection from farm to table,” said Wills.

By building a trusting relationship with those who supply your meat, you are able to discern the type of treatment their livestock receives. The Veenstras pride themselves on their transparent operation and frequently welcome visitors to their farm to see how it is run and the living conditions of their livestock.

“We try to put our animals in a position so they’re in their natural environment,” said Tania Veenstra.

The Veenstra’s farm is primarily a pig farm but they do keep sheep, cows and chickens for eggs.

“Our goal is to be more traditional,” she said. “Like how early settlers lived who needed to provide for themselves. They had mixed farms. They had pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, cattle.”

Chatting with hundreds of people at farmers’ markets gives the Veenstras a good idea of what people are looking for in their meat. They say their customers care about where their food comes from, and how it is being raised.

“I find that the trend towards organic is being replaced now by this idea of naturally raising things,” said Mark.

What seems to be the most important to them is that the animals are leading a comfortable existence, Tania says.

“That’s one thing that they like to hear, that we’ve got happy animals,” said Tania. “Our pigs have got space to run around. They’re not in a stressful environment. They’ve always got fresh food, fresh water, good bedding. They’re not overcrowded, for the most part,” said Tania. “In the winter you can’t help but have smaller conditions.”

The barn offers ample space for the pigs and sheep to buckle down for the winter, while the heartier cows and horses are free to brave all seasons outdoors. The chickens are housed in the upper portion of the barn, wandering freely in their enclosure. They will get to peck away outside with the rest of their barn mates once the weather warms up.

How the Boar & Chick operates is not typical of conventional farming practices. You can’t call up a factory farm and ask to see how stressful the animal’s environment is.

The Veenstras are confident that the care they give their livestock provides them with the least possible stress. This includes how the animals are fed.

“Not that we want to slag on conventional pork producers, the reality is that the market is demanding fast, cheap food,” said Mark. “So they really cork the feed to these animals to put the weight on fast enough. Those guys are three months from the day the pig is born to the day it goes to market.”

Unlike conventional farmers, Tania feeds the animals twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. This means it takes two to three times longer to grow their pigs.

“We’re 10 months, 11 months from farrow to finish,” said Mark.

Things to consider before you eat
The humane treatment of animals is not just for personal, ethical reasons. Wills believes that there is a direct connection between animal treatment and the quality of the product.

“The care and attention that the animals are treated with is what makes the product, itself, better,” he said.

Wills does not favour factory farming where living conditions are crowded and antibiotics are unnecessarily given to animals as blanket treatments.

“By having better living conditions to begin with, you don’t have to pretreat a non-sick animal with antibiotics,” he said. “In terms of [antibiotics] affecting the quality of the meat, you’ll never taste a difference. But you’re gonna taste the difference because of the way that they were raised.”

Wills is also concerned with how the growth hormones and antibiotics given to livestock affect consumers of the meat.

“We’re consuming meat that’s already tainted with antibiotic treatment,” he said. “The issue is that the antibiotics remain in the meat.”

“What is really happening to these poor animals?”

Consumers need to think about their health in a different way, Laurie Burrows, a holistic nutritionist and founder of Thyme To Thrive Holistic Nutrition, says. It’s not just about eating too much saturated fat; it’s about finding out what else might be in that cut of meat.

“When you’re constantly giving animals antibiotics because they are living in such poor quarters, we are now becoming antibiotic resistant,” said Burrows.

Burrows, who also works at the Institute for Hormonal Health in Oakville, says that we are taking in everything that goes through the animals and it can have an impact on us. Elevated levels of hormones, like estrogen, are seen in those who consume the meat of animals given growth hormones, she says.

“One of the main things we’re seeing is women especially, and men, coming in with massive hormonal imbalances,” she said. “So now we’ve got this resurgence of breast cancer and prostate cancer which are hormonal cancers and you have to wonder what is going on. It’s gotta be something we’re taking in.”

Then you add cortisol, a hormone released by animals that are being raised in a stressful environment and unethically slaughtered, to the cocktail of what we are ingesting, she says.

“Its about being responsible. What is really happening to these poor animals? Ethically it’s important, but even more-so, looking at what we’re putting in our body and how our body is reacting,” said Burrows.

With every bite we take we are trusting that farmers have treated these animals well, says Burrows.

“What I tell my clients, and I’m adamant about it, is if you’re going to eat meat you’ve got to turn to naturally raised meat,” she said.

“Yes, it’s more expensive, but we don’t eat meat every day so financially it works out perfectly fine. We alternate with fish, vegetarian dishes.

“For me it’s the choice between buying a Coach purse and feeding my family great food and not having to worry about what I’m putting into their bodies. It’s all about choices.”

Case of Mumps Confirmed on Campus

Tania MacWilliam
News

Dec. 1, 2011

*PDF of original article here.

A case of mumps has been confirmed at Trafalgar Campus.

Students may have been exposed since Nov. 8, according to a warning notice issued by Halton Public Health.

Mumps is a contagious viral disease that can be spread through coughing, sneezing, sharing food or drink and kissing, according to the health department mumps fact sheet.

Symptoms may not become apparent until two to three weeks after exposure. These include painful, swollen glands on one or both sides of your face, pain with chewing or swallowing, earache and fever, according to an internal Sheridan e-mail to faculty and staff.

Though people generally recover completely after about 10 days of symptoms, mumps can lead to complications such as pneumonia, meningitis and temporary deafness.

“Mumps virus can also cause painful swelling of the testicles in teenage boys or young men, and swelling of the ovaries in women and girls,” said Kathy Jovanovic, supervisor of communicable disease control services for Halton Region.

Jovanovic says two doses of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine are necessary to be completely protected from contracting mumps.

“Normally they are both childhood vaccines,” she said. “One is given just after the first birthday and the second at 18 months, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”

Those who are unsure of their immunization status are encouraged to check with their doctor or contact their public health office.

“If they’re not up-to-date, it makes them vulnerable if they’re exposed to the virus,” she said.

While there is only one confirmed case, it is more effective to inform the entire campus, than just those in the individual’s program, according to Jovanovic.

“Students and staff may have been exposed in other settings on the college campus,” she said. “It’s important that we keep the notification as broad as possible.”

Part of the role of public health is to alert people that they may have been exposed to an infectious disease, said Jennifer Cowie-Bonne, a professor in the Exercise Health and Science Promotion program at Davis Campus where she teaches a health communications class.

“Err on the side of caution and let people know,” she said. “Because if there is one case, chances are there’s maybe another one brewing.”

Get Scared – Best Kind of Mess

Tania MacWilliam
Album Review

December 16, 2011

*PDF of article on page 8 of Travis magazine)

Get Scared’s debut LP, Best Kind of Mess, was released this past July on Universal Motown Records. The songs, raw yet polished, evoke images of lead singer Nicholas Matthews crouched in a corner scribbling lyrics feverishly onto a pad. Many say this album was a cry for help (following Matthews’ crisis this past August). Intense messages aside, the sound quality is spectacular compared to their EP, Cheap Tricks and Theatrics, thanks to a greater guitar presence. Pick it up.

The Mature Student Survival Guide

Tania MacWilliam
Features

Oct. 19, 2011

*PDF to magazine here (page 23)

The first day of college is exciting. Full of new adventures and burgeoning opportunities. The halls are filled with students clamouring to find their classrooms, relying on other lost souls for directions. They are filled with carefree wonderment and a sense of new-found freedom. They are no longer confined by the rules of high school. And they generally aren’t worrying if they forgot to turn the stove off or if they remembered to pack their child’s lunch.

Or are they?

There has been a 14 per cent increase in non-direct entrants, or mature students, in the last six years according to the 2005 and 2011 Colleges Ontario Environmental Scans. The latest environmental scan shows that 24 per cent of college students are over the age of 25. This means that there are approximately seven mature students in every 30 student class room.

A mature student is someone who returns to the classroom after taking a break from their studies. They often return from being in the workforce or after raising a family. Sometimes they have been laid off, other times they want a career change. No matter the reason for reentering school, adult learners bring life experience and face a whole new set of struggles compared to their direct-from-high-school counterparts.

The idea of returning to school can be intimidating to a mature student. Potentiallysharing a classroom filled with recent high school graduates, whose brains are still fresh and whose spirit is not yet jaded by life’s hardships, might seem like more than you can handle. Rest assured, many before you have slayed that dragon and lived to tell about it.

One of the struggles many mature students face is keeping up with advancing technology. And with Sheridan being an “Institute of Technology” you better be prepared to encounter plenty of unfamiliar technology.

Nancy Harris of Sheridan’s counselling services knows first hand the intimidation a person feels when learning new technology. When the hourglass spun on the screen of her Macintosh computer she had no clue what it meant. “I was so embarrassed I shut down the computer and didn’t go back to it for two days.” Says Harris.

But have no fear, the ITSC, or Instructional Technology Support Centre, is available to help when your disk gets stuck, when your computer won’t turn on or when you need help installing the latest software. You can obtain their services by visiting their desk in the learning commons of Trafalgar campus located in the C-Wing or room B195 at Davis campus.

So maybe you are technologically savvy but are otherwise rusty. Perhaps anything you learned in school years ago was replaced with more practical knowledge, like how long to leave a lasagne in the oven and which band-aids are the least ouchy. Sheridan offers assistance to help mature students transition back into learning. The first service Sheridan provides is a mature student orientation which addresses common struggles and offers tools to help keep you on top of school work. Think of it as a mature student bootcamp.

Once you begin your academic year you can also find support in Mature Student Connections. You will be kept apprised of workshops and meetings specific to mature students. Developing friendships is important, and here you can meet other students who face the same challenges as you. Friends will help you move the contents of your cluttered apartment in the pouring rain, but befriending a classmate can be doubly beneficial. Not only can you exchange notes and quiz each other for tests, only college friends can understand the stress academia can put on your already stressful life. To be added to the Mature Student Connections mailing list contact counselling services at askacounsellingmanager@sheridaninstitute.ca

Another service that mature students can benefit from is a peer mentor. A First Year Connections peer mentor is a senior student who can give you tried and true advice on navigating your first year of college. They will keep you informed about events, important dates and help you connect with other students. Stop by the student advisement centre located in room B104 at Trafalgar and room B231 at Davis campus to learn more.

Among the challenges a mature student faces, is maintaing a balance between home life and school. According to the 2007 Colleges Ontario Environmental Scan, 11 per cent of college students have at least one dependant, which works out to approximately three students per 30 student classroom.

A parent can be riddled with guilt when they return to school. This stress can interfere with their ability to focus on assignment deadlines. A good way to combat this is to stay organized. Pick up a free student planner from the Student Union located above the campus bar – The Marquee at Trafalgar and The Den at Davis Campus. It already has all the important dates laid out and lots of room to pencil in your assignment due dates. Write a reminder at the halfway point so you aren’t scrambling the night before an assignment is due.

Another tip to help keep the home/school life balance is to keep a whiteboard at home for the whole family to see. Share your class schedule, designated study times, chore expectations, your children’s extracurricular activities and most importantly, schedule quiet time for yourself. This is key to college survival. If you don’t, you will burn out.

Finally, if you are having a rough go at balancing your life and scholastics, it might be a good time to reach out to Sheridan’s counselling services. Regular drop-in hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Just sign the sheet posted outside of room B103 at Trafalgar or room B230 at Davis campus.

Remember why you are returning to school. Focus on your goal and embrace the journey. Hopefully this investment will bring you success and it will be the last time you need to do this. Welcome back, and good luck!