… academic, derby player, entrepreneur
Cassandra Ozog, a PhD Student and sessional instructor at the University of Regina and First Nation University of Canada, recently caught up with the Carillon to talk about her passion for education.
When you were growing up, what did you want to do for a living?
(Laughs) That’s an interesting question to start with. I wanted to be a marine biologist and a tornado chaser. Those are the two careers I was going to do. I guess I would do them part-time – both of them (laughs). That was my plan.
How did you end up in education?
I knew I always wanted to come to university, and that was always something that was pretty important, and I was encouraged to go by my family. I had a lot of support from my parents, so I was very lucky. I was a voracious reader and always wanted to be getting more and more knowledge and research under my belt, so university seemed like a perfect fit. Once I got to university, I started TA-ing as an undergrad in sociology and social studies department. When I started doing my masters, I kept TA-ing and then I was given an opportunity to teach a class… I just really loved teaching. I really loved the opportunity to help people work through challenging concepts because I had a lot of good teachers who helped me do that for myself. By the time I had an opportunity to teach my first class, it was both petrifying and awesome at the same time. (Laughs) They kind of just kept giving me classes, and I love it (laughs). It was really just a natural progression. When I was in school, I was really lucky to have a lot of great mentors, both from the U of R and First Nations University, and it just naturally evolved that way.
You seem pretty happy. But is there any way you’re going to put education aside to go study marine life or chase tornadoes?
(Laughs) I don’t like to say ‘never.’ I’m always coming up with new things to put on my plate. But I really love teaching… there are lots of other things I think I’d be interested in. Again, I’m the kind of person that always likes to try new things and put new things on my plate, so I’m sure more things will always keep on coming down the pipe for me, and weird opportunities that I wouldn’t expect will continue to present themselves to me. That’s usually what happens to me, and I kind of go, “Yeah, sure, I’ll get in a car and go chase a tornado with you,” or “Yeah, why wouldn’t I go and try to play roller derby?” Not that you can make a living off that anyway.
Not yet, anyway.
(Laughs) Not yet, but it’ll get there, it’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m trying to build up a lot of experience in different places in different fields. There are a lot of things I might want to look into doing after I finish my PhD. Honestly, I’m just trying to get as much experience in as many different places as possible and have as much of that under my belt as I can, and just be open to new opportunities. I find that that’s kind of the scariest and best way to live life (laughs).
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your teaching career?
Oh my gosh. You know what? It probably sounds really cliché and cheesy to say, but I’d say the students. This sounds really cheesy too, but I guess there’s a reason things sound cliché – because they’re true – but they teach me so much. They continually teach me how to be a better teacher, how to be a better person, they’ve taught me to think about new ways to teach people. Not everybody learns the same and I think we forget that, so it’s really been an amazing opportunity to keep thinking about new and innovative ways to help people understand different concepts and ideas, and work through challenging things in their life. Once in a while, I’ll get an email from a student that will pretty much reduce me to tears because it’s somebody thanking me for giving them the chance to learn or to feel like they deserve to be at the University, which is such an interesting concept because I believe everybody should be able to have these opportunities. When I get students who tell me I did make a difference for them, or help and support them in some way in whatever journey they’re on, that’s the most rewarding part. That tells me that I’m remembering the point of university, which is to help other people learn, and for us to learn. I should be learning and growing alongside my students, and they remind me to do that.
On the other end of the spectrum, what’s the most challenging aspect?
(Laughs) The students. No, you know what? You go into teaching a university course and nobody really teaches you how to teach that. It’s really knowledge-based, so unless you have an education background, you’re kind of going in there blind. You’re basing it on how you learn best. Well, that’s great for you and some of your students will learn the same way you do. But others won’t. And so I think the most challenging aspect is trying to connect to each and every one of your students in different ways and figuring out how everybody learns and how you can balance everything. For me, I always try to do a balance between presentations, take-home exams, in-class exams, and lots of discussion. I try not to do a straight hour of lecturing. I try to do lots of discussion – lots of group discussions and integrating different ideas. There’s not just one way to look at the world, and not just one Westernized way of understanding knowledge and valuing knowledge. That’s probably the most challenging. But the most rewarding is really learning all the different ways to teach and learn and how all of that is connected. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a really rewarding challenge.