For many of us, attending university is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. For alumnus Perry Stein (BA'09 Great Distinction), attending the University of Lethbridge was more like writing an entire book.
"I grew up in the suburbs of Calgary and felt like an introverted student in high school. I didn't want to be that anymore. Going to school somewhere else gives you an opportunity to somewhat re-define who you are," says Stein. "At the University of Lethbridge, I didn't want to be just a student who showed up for classes and then went home. I wanted to be involved in things, get the most out of my degree and have a really meaningful experience."Intrigued by the diversity he remembered seeing when he went to school in downtown Calgary, Stein initially enrolled in international management at the
U of L. However, his excellent marks in another discipline garnered attention and soon led him elsewhere.
"After taking a couple of geography classes, I actually got a letter from someone in the geography department telling me I should consider geography," says Stein. "I took a bunch of courses in urban geography and loved it, so I added a second major: urban and regional studies."
He excelled in his new line of study, culminating with him winning the 2009 Urban and Regional Studies Prize, one of two awards generously donated by the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (formerly the Alberta Association, Canadian Institute of Planners). It is awarded annually to the graduating urban and regional studies student with the highest cumulative grade point average.
Stein's personal redefinition was not limited to his academic performance at the University. Walking down the hall one day, Stein saw a poster advertising a one-month new media course in Romania. Another world was about to open.
"I never really thought about travel before, but I was interested in expanding my horizons. Going to Romania was an incredible experience. It led me to everything I have done since," says Stein. "I think it is really good for students to go outside their comfort zone and be thrown into a different culture, and to challenge some of the stereotypes that they carry around with them. It forces them to realize that the way of life in North America is not the only way of life and that what they think is best, isn't always best for everyone."
While in Romania, Stein learned he was accepted to a six-month cultural exchange program in Chile, through the Faculty of Management. His Chilean courses, offered in Spanish, focused on urban social geography and international management. One of the highlights of the exchange was a social work class that allowed him to take groups of marginalized children on field trips through their own city.
"Chile was awesome. It was probably one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had," says Stein. "I still have contact with a lot of the friends I made there. Working and playing with the kids was an incredible experience."
When he returned from Chile, Stein switched to a single major in urban and regional studies. He did several independent studies with Dr. Patrick Wilson that led to another exchange, this time to the Ecuadorian Amazon and to Quito Ecuador. Wilson introduced Stein to LPIRG (Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group), who later funded further exchange trips for Stein, including one to Cuba. He eventually became a board member of LPIRG, organizing events and presenting documentaries on campus.
Stein, who will complete a master's degree in Latin American Studies in December, along with a certificate in development and sustainability studies at Simon Fraser University, believes that the opportunities he had at the U of L changed his life dramatically.
"My time at the U of L really prepared me for graduate school. I learned how to create research proposals and apply for funding; I learned how a non-profit research organization works," says Stein. "I would encourage all students to get involved in issues that you are passionate about. Get involved in activities on campus, find interesting projects and get involved in research. There are so many opportunities out there and if they aren't in your area of interest, create them."
GET THE FACTS
· Stein played a role in establishing the Student Speaker Challenge in conjunction with the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.
· Stein obtained more than $70,000 in scholarships and research grants while at the U of L, including the SSHRC Bombardier Graduate scholarship, which was worth $17,500.
· He has travelled to more than 20 countries to participate in fieldwork, including Chile, Ecuadorian Amazon, Quito Ecuador, Cuba and Mexico.
· Stein's passion for urban social issues has him looking at a career in government. "I would like to work in the area of sustainable community development and make a difference in municipal government," he says. "I also plan on completing my PhD in the near future."
· Stein won the 2009 Urban and Regional Studies Award as presented by the Alberta Professional Planners Institute.
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