McMaster Discovery Program inspires a passion for lifelong learning

The McMaster Discovery Program is many things — it’s a gateway to education, it’s a community engagement initiative and, for the 19 Hamilton residents who graduated from the program this past weekend, it was the academic opportunity of a lifetime.

Run by McMaster’s Arts & Science program and supported by the Office of the President, Discovery offers a university-level learning experience at no cost to Hamilton community members who have faced barriers to education.

The students in the course, who range in age from late teens to mid-60s, spent the semester examining the role that water plays in human life and society. Using Hamilton’s water systems as a case study, they explored water from a variety of disciplines, ranging from ecology and other sciences to history and public policy.

Graduates of McMaster’s Discovery Program. From left to right: Tatiana Barbosa, her daughter, Pauline Roberts and Kyoko Maeda.

Taught by Acting Vice-Provost Kim Dej, the course challenged students to strengthen their reading, writing and research abilities, to increase their capacity to interpret and evaluate information, and to develop their project management skills.

For Melissa Ricci, Discovery Program co-ordinator, watching these students develop both as people and as scholars over the course of the semester has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

“I cannot say enough good things about this group of students,” says Ricci, a 2014 Arts & Science graduate. “It’s been a privilege, it’s been a joy, and I just love seeing everybody accomplish so much. To go from first meeting them in interviews over the summer to seeing them graduate this past weekend, I’ve been able to watch these students experience such tremendous growth.”

In her role, Ricci was supported by the Discovery Program’s student support team. Arts & Science students Serena Balzer, Tory Dockree, Arooba Muhammad, and Hina Rani worked to help facilitate group discussions and activities, help students navigate campus, and assist with projects and research.

“If I’m being completely honest, I probably would have quit if it wasn’t for Melissa and the student support team,” says Jaylynn Rose, a member of this year’s Discovery class. “I have a hard time sticking with things, but everybody involved was so great and I ended up having a lot of fun, thanks to them.”

“Both Melissa and Kim had a huge impact on me,” adds classmate Adrienne Newport, who says visiting Dr. Jonathon Stone’s lab was one of the highlights of the course. “I’m so grateful for the whole experience.”

One of Discovery’s core mandates is to inspire a passion for lifelong learning among its students — something Glichrist Kalachand, another member of this year’s class, certainly believes it achieved.

“The Discovery Program allowed me to discover myself, discover university and discover the world,” he says. “It’s a well-designed program because it develops an interest to seek yourself, who you are and what you can do academically.”

Having graduated, Kalachand now has his sights set on a PhD in something around water quality or policymaking. Rose, equally impassioned, plans to apply to McMaster in the near future to study history or anthropology. Newport, meanwhile, has become motivated to acquire a GED certification in hopes of eventually leveraging it into studies into social work.

“I feel so accomplished,” Rose says. “This is the first thing that I’ve ever really stuck with, so I’m really proud of myself.”

“I’m proud, too,” adds Newport. “This experience has really been a blessing for me. I’m so happy to have been part of such a wonderful program.”

For many students, though, the pride of graduation is bittersweet. While Rose, Kalachand, and Newport all expressed extreme joy over their accomplishment, each one was equal parts sad that their journey was over.

But Hope DiPietro, who graduated last year, says that the Discovery Program is much more than just a three-month experience — it’s a community that grads can forever remain a part of.

“As somebody who has done the course before, I also found graduating to be a little bit sad,” DiPietro says. “But I quickly learned that Discovery doesn’t have to end when you graduate. It’s great to be part of the alumni and to attend events with other graduates.”

Next year will mark the McMaster Discovery Program’s 10th anniversary.

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