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Meet the SWC

Here are some of the wonderful people at our centre!


What do you want to learn more about?

“‘Everything! I hope I never stop learning and growing. Something that I’m currently very interested in learning about is history – generally speaking, but also my family’s history in particular. My grandparents were Tibetan refugees who settled in Pakistan, and I’ve been discovering the wealth of experience and wisdom they hold in their memories and their stories. The more I learn about them and their lives, the more I learn about myself and the world.”

Zeinab Khawaja, Health Promoter




What small things make you happy? Why?  

“Some of my favourite things (and the things that make me the happiest!) include: slow weekend mornings with my partner and our dog, oat milk lattes, playing basketball or soccer with friends, sitting in my parents’ backyard oasis, going for hikes in the conservation area, creating art and going for dinner or drinks on a patio. 

What makes all of these things so special for me is that I can share most of these moments with my friends and family (and for everything else that is a more solo adventure, it gives me time to rest, and recharge).”

Madison Behr, Health Promoter



What is one memory that instantly makes you smile?  

“Sitting at the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont. I was on a road trip with quite a few biking and hiking stops and this was my first experience of ‘rock scrambling.’ Most of the trails that I’ve hiked in Ontario and Canada have been either rolling hills, ascents with wide trails, but this one required a new type of climb. It was new and a little bit of a challenge with such a great view and feeling at the top of the Mountain. I think these moments are the ones that spur me to bring more nature into my life on a day to day basis.”


Taryn Aarssen, Health Promoter



If you had a free plane ticket, where would you go? Why? 

“I would fly to Croatia! In 2019, I visited there for 10 days and wish I had been able to stay longer. My time there was a brief stop on a much longer European adventure, but Croatia ended up being one of my favourite places and somewhere I hope to return to soon. I think I loved exploring Croatia because it had so much beautiful scenery. My favourite spots were a small mountain town called Korenica, the Plitvice National Parks, and the city of Dubrovnik. I also had one of the best meals of my life in Skradin before visiting Krka National Park.”


Mackenzie Mercuri-Rivers, Communications Coordinator



What is one memory that instantly makes you smile?  

“‘Spending a weekend with my friends from working at the fly fishing shop! First year was a time of drastic change and a lot of work towards the everlasting journey to balance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spend as much time outside as I would have liked, but immediately after I finished my exams, I was finally able to get outside for a weekend and reconnect with a community I had grown distant from amidst the tumult of an eventful first year. It was an amazing couple of days precariously strapping canoes to cars, driving through what seemed like endless farmland, and retracing my steps along rivers I used to spend every free moment exploring. Beyond the silliness and adventure, these few days gave me time to synthesize, reflect, and express gratitude for the people I met, difficulties, and growth I experienced in the past year.  I am thankful to have these memories to celebrate and I am excited to continue exploring to create more with friends who care dearly for each other.

Patrick Ang, Programs Assistant


What is one memory that instantly makes you smile?  

“‘Sitting at the bottom of Cottonwood falls in Nelson, BC. On my impromptu Covid-19 gap year, I took the risk to follow my interests and give up on pursuing productivity with a resume-filling job or internship. One of my biggest interests is travelling, and to do so safely and affordably, I travelled solo through Workaway where I worked for small farmers around Canada for room and board. Near the end of my gap year, I found myself in B.C., a place that I have been dreaming to return to since my first visit as a child. On this day, I ventured out from the small lake-side town I was staying at to visit Nelson. Through word of mouth, I discovered a small family-owned Taiwanese restaurant and stuffed my belly, then I walked to the nearby waterfall where I sat and enjoyed its beauty. I will never forget the gratefulness I felt then for my own bravery, the magnificence of nature, and the kind-heartedness of people.”

Fei Mu, Programs Assistant

Savannah smiling, outdoors in a snowy winter landscape.

What small thing makes you happy?

“It will be the accomplished feeling of finishing a challenging workout after a long workday. It helps me destress and makes me feel empowered and in control of my life. I see this as a small win of the day and always celebrate it with food that I love afterward. It’s amazing what our bodies are capable of when we are determined and committed.”

Savannah Chan, Communications Assistant



How has your perception of life changed from when you were a teenager?  

“Although I still technically am a teenager, life from my viewpoint has changed drastically within these past few months transitioning into university, nevertheless since the beginning of my tween ages. Moments of failure, reflection, and growth have taught me the essential lesson that everyone has a different path in life, which is sometimes out of our individual control— an uncomfortable realization for someone who used to have clearly designed plans. Especially for first-years who may be reading this, it’s okay to change your mind, shift direction, and fail sometimes. Life will throw failure at everyone at least once; it does not reflect any limitations of your worth or capabilities, but rather a testament to the tenacity you have to move around the blockades life may put up. And remember, there is no one standard for success— regardless of what academic pressures, social expectations, or other criteria claim. Genuinely explore your passions and interests, and don’t be afraid to move away from the things that don’t ignite curiosity and excitement in you. Spending this past year at McMaster has flown by and made me realize that life is truly too short not to focus on your own path. We each face different circumstances that may prompt detours, fast lanes, or changing your route altogether— and that’s perfectly okay.”

Zenab Gill, Programs Assistant

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

“In my free time I enjoy rollerblading at Confederation Park, hiking local trails, reading, and making custom paintings. I try to make time for at least one of these activities on a weekly basis because it allows me to de-stress and be more focused for the rest of the week. I have also been working on making time for daily moments where I reflect on my day and practice gratitude instead of the instinct to scroll on my phone.” 

Magdalena Bentia, MPH Practicum Student 




Debbie, outdoors, smiling

What’s the best part about your job?

“I love working in a university. I love working with students. It keeps me young quite honestly, and I really like that. These are young people who are at a critical point in their lives where they are making their transition coming from high school to university or leaving university to go out into the world.  It is such an honour for me and a privilege to work with them and hear their stories and help them navigate some of the challenges they face. For me, it is why I get up everyday.”

Debbie Nifakis, Psychologist and Associate Director of Counselling




Cathy smiling in an office lined with photos and a lush plant.

What inspires you to keep working here?

“The students absolutely inspire me to keep working here! University students are so passionate about everything that matters including how to live life, be yourself, social justice, and creating a better world for all! Their enthusiasm spurs me on to be a better person by learning about critical issues and injustices, and to continue my passion for life-long learning! I even went back to school over this past couple of years to get my MSN. Something I never thought I could do!”

Cathy Jager, Manager, Nursing/Education