An interview with Ethan Pohl, 3M National Student Fellowship winner

What happens when Dr. Jessica Riddell, Associate Professor of the Department of English, meets with Ethan Pohl, a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Sociology, who was recently awarded the prestigious 3M National Student Fellowship? They have an in-depth chat about leadership and experiential learning.

Ethan Pohl, 3M National Student Fellow

JR: Ethan, congratulations on this incredible accomplishment! What an honour to be among only 10 students from across Canada to receive this award that recognizes educational leadership and change makers. The work you’ve done as a change agent is remarkable. Can you talk to us about your definition of leadership?

EP: Thank you! It’s amazing to be recognized amongst such outstanding and inspiring students.

With respect to leadership, to me it is best seen as a process of amplifying voices. Throughout my high school and university career, I have aspired to advocate for students engagement in non-traditional spaces and amplify the student voice in all of its forms, especially those voices from marginalized or underrepresented groups. In teams I aim to listen to all voices, understand what drives each individual, and implement practices informed by – and embedded within – a diverse and sometimes divergent chorus of voices. I understand leadership as a collective endeavour, and I’m driven by the idea that people are inherently able and willing to engage when they are listened to, valued, and heard. In the individual setting, I aim to use my voice (including my social position, identity, and privilege) to raise the profile of the student voice as a whole. I also take pride in helping to carve out spaces for intersectionality and championing the rights for those who might have been silenced or suppressed in traditional spaces to be heard.

JR: This is a wonderful interpretation of leadership as the responsibility to amplify other peoples’ voices. How do you anchor that in practice? In other words, how do you take your guiding vision and design projects that do this kind of work?

EP: I see this happening through the platform of radio broadcasting – as the most important space I can work within to amplify the voices of others. I have been involved with radio since my junior year of high school, and I have served as one of the Station Managers for Bishop’s online radio station, Toast Radio, for the past three years. As Station Manager, I strive to maintain the radio as a student-run, student-led endeavour. This philosophy is expressed through our program guidelines: students are given free rein to design and produce shows they are passionate about. Toast Radio has dedicated itself to limiting censorship and encouraging students to respectfully explore difficult topics. This framework has provided students with a space to explore and share topics in a unique and accessible way.

JR: Your commitment to diversity and inclusion is commendable. Have you seen an increase in engagement from people who might not traditionally have spaces to speak or be heard?

EP: Yes, I believe so! While I can’t prove a direct link between our philosophies and our diversity, our programming and the people producing it are increasingly diverse. In the past semester, 60% of our shows featured women as hosts, and 35% of our hosts are of a racialized minority. Specific shows I am proud of include shows focused on feminism, modern-day race relations, myths and realities about our university culture, and more. By maintaining a student-run space, we encourage these discussions and insulate students from possible institutional backlash.

JR: So in the interests of full disclosure for our readers, you and I have a long history of student-faculty collaborations. We’ve co-taught a course, published a peer reviewed article, and presented at an international conference. Can you share with us some of your experiences engaging in student-faculty partnerships?

EP: Of course! Last year, my Co-Station Manager Emily Liatsis and I partnered with you (Dr. Jessica Riddell) in the English Department to create and teach an experiential-learning-based course on broadcast journalism. The course was based on educational literature highlighting the strength of ‘students as partners’ and active learning. The central question we aimed to answer was the following: what are the conditions in higher education where we build our souls as we build our CVs? We recognized that university courses often only focused on the latter but wanted to drill down on the conditions for transformative learning, especially when students take on the role as collaborators and producers of meaning. In the course, my colleague Emily and I worked closely with Dr. Riddell and took on roles where we not only instructed students in broadcasting conventions, interviewing, and production, but also participated in the course as students.

JR: From your perspective, how did this course differ from more traditional lecture courses?

EP: This collaborative course – taught in partnership between students and faculty – encouraged us to build a learning experience that was co-constructed amongst the students enrolled in the course. This transformational experience served to disrupt traditional understandings of the classroom by placing students and the professor (I loved that you identified as a student in this process!) in relationships of open inquiry, exploration, deep engagement, and curiosity-driven learning. This setup encouraged students to take control of their own learning, and presented students with challenges and problems they often don’t encounter in traditional classes.

JR: What did you take out of this course? Would you recommend this to other students?

EP: This was a transformative experience for me – which inspired me to aim to amplify the student voice in every one of my endeavours. Research and academic scholarship has been traditionally limited to faculty or graduate students – with a perception of undergraduate work as less rigorous. My colleagues and I wanted to make it known how we are challenging this; we published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal (International Journal of Students as Partners – IJSAP) and also presented at an international conference – the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) – on teaching and learning. By co-publishing and co-presenting, we modelled undergraduate research and student engagement – and showcased a case study where students are valued as collaborators by professors. I’m a strong believer in varied and nontraditional educational experiences, so I highly recommend this to other students! Hopefully the Broadcast Journalism course will return with new student leaders at the helm!

JR: You are a member of the Maple League Student Advisory Council and a wonderful example of a student who has benefitted from this model of education that values collaboration as a fundamental process in building capacities for new ways of thinking, doing, and learning through an individualized approach to undergraduate education. As an undergraduate student you’ve had the opportunity to participate as a producer and collaborator in not only your own learning journey but helped to shape experiences for your peers, which I think is remarkable. I’m grateful to work at an institution that values a holistic approach to learning within the classroom and beyond ― and I’m thrilled to welcome you to the 3M Fellowship. Congratulations!

About the 3M Student National Fellowship:

The 3M National Student Fellowship honours up to ten full-time diploma and undergraduate students at Canadian post-secondary institutions who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their lives and at their post-secondary institution. These students embrace a vision of education that enhances their academic experience and beyond. Introduced in 2012, the 3M program offers national recognition of the values espoused by Bishop’s University, who are committed to building critical thinkers and leaders through the delivery of an extraordinary 21st century liberal education. Bishop’s has had three successful 3M students applications since 2015 in Jason Earl (2015), Chloé Soucy (2018) and Ethan Pohl (2019).

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