By Audrey Ho and Armaan Somani. Photography by Grace Kuang.

Carleton University hosted 55 top high school students from across Canada in July as part of the SHAD program. Participants worked with faculty to analyze and explore innovative solutions for this year’s theme of improving food security for Canadians.

As part of the program, Grade 11 student Audrey Ho and Grade 12 student Armaan Somani interviewed Carleton President Roseann O’Reilly Runte.

Despite being a university president and award-winning poet, many students and staff members may not know that it was her grandfather’s advice that sparked Carleton University President Roseann O’Reily Runte’s love of poetry.

“My grandfather said that when you write poetry in another language, you have mastered the other language,” she says.

While attending a French school in New York, Runte was keen to discover ways to improve her French language skills. This led her into the world of poetry. Throughout university, she began writing and publishing poetry in French. Her hard work paid off when she was awarded a prize from the Académie française.

“My grandfather would have been proud to know [about my prize] because he encouraged me to do it and set a high goal,” says Runte.

Her grandfather helped her understand that poetry is not simply about personal expression.

“It’s telling people, reaching into their hearts, and making them understand something about themselves and something about their world.”

Exploring Academic Career Paths

Yet for Runte, understanding herself hasn’t always been a straight path. When she first went to university, she planned to study mathematics. After a trip to Paris, she switched to a French major.

“I always say to my students that the blank panel is what you create,” she says. “You can come to university to fill it in and become what you want to be. And if you don’t know when you get here, you can figure it out. You can change your mind and it’s okay.”

Runte brings up the example of a 90-year old Carleton graduate she met in a hospital. The graduate told her that his degree in accounting helped him earn a living and support his family honourably. But he also told her about how an elective class in Greek literature changed his life. He said the class turned him into a lifelong reader of ancient Greek writing. He was grateful to Carleton for giving him a job, but also for feeding his spirit and giving him meaning in life.

These stories continue to inspire her.

“I think to myself, how can I turn the intelligence and energy of the university in a positive way to solve the problems of the world?”

Helping to Solve World Issues, One Carleton Initiative at a Time

One world issue she hopes to help alleviate is accessibility to water.

“At Carleton, we just created an international chair in water research with help from community partners to try and help.”

She hopes to use her platform to highlight areas where Carleton can offer programs not available elsewhere.

“We’ve done 28 programs that don’t exist at any other university in Canada. One of them is not-for-profit leadership. How do you lead a corporation? How do you work for a non-government agency? How do you work for SHAD? UNESCO? UNICEF? How do you get a job and be a leader?”

Putting Nutrition and Food Security on the Map

When asked about the increasing problem of food security, the theme for this year’s SHAD Design Entrepreneurial Project, Runte remarks that food security is something that hasn’t been discussed enough.

“We’ve just taken it for granted,” she notes.

At Carleton, a program in nutrition and food science was established a few years ago. It wasn’t very popular at first, says Runte, but it has grown in recent years because people are realizing that it’s an important issue.

For students transitioning to first-year university, Runte advises: “Study hard, go to the library, do your labs and keep up with your work.”

But she also advises new students to enjoy themselves and take advantage of every opportunity so that they find their place in the world, their passions, strengths and successes.

About the authors:

Audrey Ho is an eleventh grade student from the University of Toronto Schools. She enjoys computer science, writing, volunteering, and has a passion for DECA, an international not-for-profit student-run business organization. Armaan Somani is a grade twelve student from Richmond Hill, who is passionate about quantum physics and soccer. Grace Kuang is an eleventh grade student from St. Francis Xavier Secondary School in Mississsauga. Her hobbies include photography, reading, volleyball, with a passion for volunteering and DECA. Ho, Kuang and Somani are participants of Shad Carleton 2016.

About Shad:

Shad is a registered Canadian charity that empowers exceptional high school students – at a pivotal point in their education – to recognize their own capabilities and envision their extraordinary potential as tomorrow’s leaders and change makers. Each year, SHAD provides the opportunity for 600+ students from across Canada and internationally to attend a month-long summer program, in-residence at one of 12 Canadian host universities, focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering & math).

Thursday, August 4, 2016 in
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