“Students are who keep the institution running. Therefore, what we want is to have their voices heard and to be at the front line for every decision made.”Melany Palacios-Naranjo
Be it long classes, internship hunts or even unexpected road blocks, when it comes to student problems, no one understands them better than people who have been there. That’s why IGNITE has appointed students to help us understand these problems, our Student Advocates.
Student Advocates make decisions that are in the best interests of students. Their goal is to ensure that students are getting the required help and resources they need to engage in a positive learning experience.
To learn more about their roles and experiences so far, we sat down with our Student Advocates, Jessica Carrera and Melany Palacios-Naranjo.
Here’s what they had to say.
Common challenges faced by students
Carrera believes that basic needs are not guaranteed for many students.
She revealed to us some plans she has been working on to reduce the number of students struggling with food. Aside from the Soup Bar, she believes that she can expand more services to help the students, both in and out of the operational office hours.
“Housing is also a huge problem. I have seen ads for $750 a month to share a bed in a room. People just want to take money from students since they know that this is the most vulnerable sector,” Carrera said.
Carrera is also concerned about transportation. She explains that winter in Canada is horrible, going to school by public transportation can be challenging. Therefore, she wants students to have other options that are available to make their lives efficient.
Palacios-Naranjo addresses the high international tuition fees. She understands that it is unfair for international students to pay tuition fees that are three times more expensive than domestic students.
“We want to find a balanced rate for both international and domestic students. This will not only ease the burden of having to pay such an amount in tuition costs but also allow international students to find better housing and put more food on their table,” Palacios-Naranjo said.
Becoming a confident public speaker
Student advocates are responsible for leading activities and engaging in public speaking. Carrera and Palacios-Naranjo shared their experiences of overcoming fear and becoming more confident.
Carrera told us that she used to be very closed off and shy. But she now understands that being confident helps her feel powerful.
“At the end of the day, if people judge you, it doesn’t really matter because what matters is how you feel about yourself,” Carrera said.
She mentioned that making jokes and laughing with her colleagues are ways she’s found to keep herself comfortable before delivering a speech.
Confidence comes naturally to Palacios-Naranjo. She tells us that she has been doing public speaking events from a very young age, but she acknowledges that many students may find it daunting.
“The key point to overcome fear is to just focus on what you are doing and yourself. At the end of the day, nobody will notice such a small mistake because everyone is all wrapped up with their own world,” Palacios-Naranjo said.
Before engaging in public speaking, Palacios-Naranjo likes to get in the zone and only focus on what she is doing. She also shares a helpful tip — pay attention to the subjects you feel most comfortable with.
Maintaining a work-life balance as Student Advocates
As Student Advocates, Carrera and Palacios-Naranjo have to work with multiple parties to ensure the implementation of their initiatives. However, this can be challenging as they also deal with their personal lives.
VIA Jessica Carrera
Carrera emphasizes the power of self-awareness. When she has a lot on her plate, she communicates her limits to those around her — balancing exams, personal matters, social commitments, two kids, and advocacy work can be challenging.
“There are times when we are so focused on helping everybody else that we forget about ourselves. That’s why you need to stop and look at the situation to see if you are feeling okay. Saying no to things doesn’t make you a failure,” Carreira said.
For Palacios-Naranjo, she became a student advocate when she was still a full-time student. At that time, she participated in various extracurricular activities.
“Being busy and having a routine can be overwhelming sometimes. So I like to have one or two self-care days to recharge. For me, I will go get my nails done, watch a show, take time do my own thing,” Palacios-Naranjo said.
Advice to inspiring students
Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber students aspiring to become Students Advocates, Carrera and Palacios-Naranjo have some words of encouragement for you.
“It doesn’t hurt to try. When you apply, that’s the first step in showing you are a leader. Besides, there will be lots of leadership opportunities like running for Board of Directors, creating a club, and many more,” Carrera said.
“You can be a student advocate anywhere. In the classroom. You can be involved with your actual government. Being involved goes so far beyond just within college walls,” Palacios-Naranjo.
Carrera and Palacios-Naranjo’s experiences serve as a reminder that students wield significant influence in bringing positive change to our student community.
Main photos taken by Harry Nguyen
Want to know more about the importance of leadership? Check out the interview with IGNITE Your Future winner.