Grad Vanessa Choi on Paying it Forward 

Vanessa Choi

When Vanessa Choi arrived at St. Mike’s from her home in Hong Kong, an orientation marshal took her on one of the most iconic of Canadian experiences: a trip to Canadian Tire. Four years later, that kindness remains fresh in her mind, even as she prepares to graduate in a few days.  

 Running this errand, which also included a stop at Walmart, not only helped her pick up some items she needed for her dorm room in Sorbara Hall and helped her familiarize herself with public transit, but it also convinced her she had landed at the right university. 

Before deciding to apply to St. Mike’s, Vanessa had gone online to do research into universities and saw many that put forward their academic credentials and stellar reputations. But when she stumbled across St. Mike’s, what impressed her was that the University’s presence also included emphasis on community, something equally important in Vanessa’s books. 

“I saw videos that showed community spaces and activities and I thought, ‘This is a cool little community. It seemed a warmer place,’” she says. 

And while Vanessa was part of the Covid cohort, arriving in the summer of 2020, she is appreciative of the efforts made to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic. Her don, Lara, for example, would check in students via her “Weekly Whatsup” virtual event, and even managed to introduce Vanessa, a keen guitar player, to another floormate looking for someone with whom to jam. The two began to play guitar together in one of the common rooms. 

Vanessa’s experience in first year drove her desire to become an Orientation leader in second year and then, in a big step, to join the administration of St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) in third year to help create a climate where students can thrive both academically and socially. 

“I was going to interview for a Don’s position but discussions came up about SMCSU and the position of Vice President Arts being open. SMCSU staff advisor Emma Oliver noted that the person who had held the position before me was into visual arts, but I was assured it could be about anything and, since I play guitar and am interested in music, I said yes,” Vanessa says. 

One of the benefits of Vanessa holding the VP Arts position? “I have a few guitars here, so anyone can borrow one” for things like open mic night at St. Mike’s own Kelly’s Korner. 

At the same time she joined SMCSU, Vanessa also joined Collegium as an undergraduate representative on the University’s highest governing body, representing the student voice in key discussions on everything from the current budget to long-range plans. 

“I’d taken Eco 105 (Principles of Economics for Non-specialists) so I figured I could handle the financial reports,” she says with mock seriousness. “It was a steep learning curve!” – and one she says offered her tremendous exposure to governance, meeting procedures and other skills that will help her in her future.  

During her undergraduate years Vanessa did translation work as a part-time job. Today, she works in a position that helps companies assess the possibilities and costs of converting to alternative energy options, whether introducing solar panels or moving to electric vehicles. She has worked with a variety of international clients and a current project has her based in Scotland, she adds, noting that her Collegium responsibilities carry on until the annual general meeting in the fall. 

When asked about what advice she would offer to incoming students, she says that when opportunities and experiences present themselves, “let it take you where you’re going to go. Be open-minded and sign up for everything that interests you. Take it one step at a time. University is hard. Just chill!” 

As she thinks about moving on, Vanessa, who majored in criminology and psychology with a minor in political science – and a Certificate in International Affairs on the side – says: “I will miss the staff at St. Mike’s, including the staff in the Canada Room who sang me Happy Birthday on my birthday.” 

And about that trip to Canadian Tire? Vanessa returned the favour the very next year, taking a brand-new first-year on the very same route. 

More Convocation 2024:

Grad Para Babuharan on Finding His Community

St. Mike’s Student Dacian Dawes on Finding her Place

Grad Patrick Elo on Crossing the Finish Line

Grad Caroline McQuade on the Value of Mentors

Grad Patrick Policicchio on Research, Connection and Belonging

Grad Anita Rajkumar on Giving Back to her Community