Meet Jessica Tarka! A 3rd year student studying BioMedical Sciences, Jess is a leader because she is such a great listener! I wanted to chat with her for our Feature Friday section because of her role with the Student Support Network on campus – but she does so much more. In her first and second years on campus she was involved with Interhall Council, and currently volunteers with Wild Ontario, an environmental outreach program, where she works birds of prey like Socrates, the one-winged turkey vulture, and Whistler, the broad-winged hawk.
I believe that a great leader is someone who is also a supporter. It turns out that Jess agrees! She got involved with the SSN almost a year ago because she is an advocate for student mental health. Working in residence helped her to see how isolating being a 1st year student can be at times, and she wanted to find a way to help them, along with all other students on campus.
What is the Student Support Network? Jess told me that it’s a drop-in peer-to-peer support service that is open from Noon-10pm on weekdays (that’s later than Counseling Services stays open!). It’s a safe space where students can go to receive support, or just to sit, no talking required. SSN also offers weekly support groups for students looking to develop a support network with their peers, and a telephone service if you can’t, or don’t want to, drop in.
Here are a few of the questions I asked Jess about the SSN and leadership in general when we sat down to talk:
What should we know about the Student Support Network?
“It’s for anyone, at any time, if they need someone to just listen. You can drop in for 2 minutes or 20 minutes, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing too small or too big to talk to us about. People often say “I’m just stressed,” but they don’t believe that’s a valid reason to have someone sit and listen to them. It is!”
What is your favourite thing about volunteering with the Student Support Network?
“ I love supporting others, but I also love that I have gained a support system within my team. When I go to volunteer, someone always asks me how I’m doing. I think that the support network that the team provides is a unique aspect in a student organization.”
What does leadership mean to you?
“Leadership is giving other people the capacity to be the best selves they can be. It’s giving them the opportunity to grow, and through that you yourself can grow as well. It has very little to do with who the leader is, but how they affect those around them.”
What is your favourite leadership quote?
“Believe that you can and you’re half way there” –Theodore Roosevelt
What has been the most valuable thing that you have learned through your involvement at UofG outside of the classroom?
“Learning to say no, and not spreading myself too thin. You can’t give 110% of yourself to everything. I learned how to be a humble leader. That means knowing that your skills and talents are valuable, but other people also have those skills and talents, so it’s OK to sometimes pass things on to them.”
Jess’ passion for helping others is evident from the moment you meet her. Within minutes of speaking with her, you notice that she is actively listening to you, she is enthusiastic about your thoughts, and she makes a point to make sure that you feel comfortable. The SSN is fortunate to have such a supportive person on their team!
I would like to take a moment to recognize the amazing work that the SSN volunteers do for UofG students every day. Without them, students wouldn’t have access to support services at such a wide variety of times. We know that being a student can be tough. Trying to fit in friends, family, volunteering, extracurriculars, and that one guilty pleasure TV show that you need to watch into your weeks on top of schoolwork can seem like an impossible challenge. Sometimes something unexpected comes up. Please remember that there are people out there who want to help support you through anything you are going through. Whether you visit the Student Support Network at Raithby House, go to Counselling Services on the 3rd floor of the UC, or you sit down to talk with someone in your life that you trust. Talking about anything that’s bothering you can make a huge difference!
I’d like a extend a great big thank you to Jessica for taking time out of her busy week to chat with me, and for be such a supportive leader all over campus!