Passion found for criminology: How one student’s experience at SFU was enriched through volunteering, community involvement, and openness to new experiences.

June 22, 2021

By Adriana Gonzalez Braniff

Colin Schuler Ram, Simon Fraser University School of Criminology undergraduate student, graduating in June 2021, is a four-time recipient of the SFU Dean’s Honour Roll, a two-time recipient of the SFU President’s Honour Roll, a seven-time recipient of an Open Scholarship, a two-time recipient of the Criminology Student Association Community Service Award, and a nominee for the Dean’s Convocation Medal (Silver)!

Besides excelling as a student, and receiving several honour mentions and awards, Schuler was extremely involved at SFU, enriching his undergraduate experience. He was vice president of Simon Fraser University’s Criminology Student Association for a year, which he describes as “amazing working alongside other passionate students to organize events and sessions relevant to us.”

Volunteering, where Schuler made the majority of his friends, helped him grow his confidence and skills. “It was truly the highlight of my university to be involved,” he said. 

If Schuler had to point out another important highlight of his undergraduate career, it would probably be starting and running the SFU Backpacking Club. As co-founder (2018) and president (2018 to 2021), it was an incredible experience through which he met a diverse range of students and made many lifelong friendships. Schuler was also in the social media manager for the SFU Hiking Club, and he held several jobs at SFU throughout his undergraduate career, mostly revolving around supporting and guiding other students. He said he “picked up a lot of experience and skills relevant to a career and felt that I was actually able to make a positive impact on peers’ experiences.” 

Why did he choose a career in criminology? Schuler didn’t actually start out in Criminology at SFU, but rather Political Science, which he kept as his minor. He took Introduction to Criminology (CRIM 101) as an elective in his second semester was a good idea, and he really enjoyed it. "I think it was (instructor) Barry Cartwright’s sense of humour that got me. I then took Introduction to Canadian Law and Legal Institutions: A Criminal Justice Perspective (CRIM 135) and decided the major was definitely for me—especially as my initial path was going into law school. I really enjoy learning about the law and analyzing issues within the field,” he said.

Schuler’s favorite courses were seminar/discussion based, through which he felt one could apply learnings to the real-world. Some of these courses include:

·       Decision-making in Criminal Justice (CRIM 410) with professor Curt Griffiths: According to Schuler, this was the most uniquely designed course he took. “We discussed various topics within criminology and roleplayed scenarios, such as being assigned a parole board case; we’d get together in groups and decide how we would proceed,” he said. He also appreciated the field trips and meeting a variety of criminal justice system professionals. Schuler believes the course encouraged critical thought and connection to the real world. “I really miss going to this class—it was such a great group and a lot of fun.”

·       Criminal Justice Policy Making and Policy Analysis (CRIM 340) & Preventing Crime and Antisocial Behaviour: Designing & Evaluating Programs (CRIM 441) with professor Jennifer Wong: These seminars really sparked an interest in program and policy design for Schuler. He found the sessions to be very enjoyable; “we applied the course content in group work, which solidified my understanding of concepts, and the papers were fun, allowing us to design our own policy or program, then a plan to evaluate it.” Schuler also enjoyed hearing about professor Wong’s experience in the area.

·       Human Rights and Civil Liberties (CRIM 335) with lecturer Tamara O’Doherty: Schuler shares that besides enjoying the law-based class, O’Doherty is a great lecturer, and an “all-around great person with lots of cool experience.” He felt comfortable visiting her office hours often, even when he wasn’t in a class she was teaching.

·       Criminal Law (CRIM 230) & Criminal Procedure and Evidence (CRIM 330) with professor Graeme Bowbrick: Schuler believes these were probably the hardest courses he took in undergrad, but he still enjoyed them as he learned about applying Canadian law. “Graeme is a very clear lecturer with lots of insights, and a great sense of humour,” he said. 

What is next for Schuler upon graduation from SFU? In the short-term, he will be taking bit of a break. “I’ve finally had some time to go out hiking on the weekend with friends.” He is keeping his eyes open for full-time employment opportunities within post-secondary and will start applying soon. In the long-term, Schuler would like to pursue a master’s degree at some point, probably in public policy, and then work within a policy analyst or development role. 

Schuler believes the most valuable advice to new undergraduate students in his field is making a schedule and sticking to it. “It can be really easy to burn out, so if you can, make space for self-care and doing things outside of the classroom. Whether that is volunteering, making friends or even just gaming—whatever works for you. Also, remember to eat and stay hydrated.”

Schuler also points out that there are many resources available at SFU to take advantage of such as great athletic facilities, student services (academic advising, health and counselling, SLC, clubs, etc.) “Ask for help if you need it! There’s nothing wrong with doing so,” he said.

As additional words of wisdom, he notes it is important to make an effort to connect with professors and TA's, especially if graduate school is something you're considering. “I won't lie, it's super intimidating at first, but honestly they are people too, and professors love when students show interest in the course. If you have questions about the course or an assignment, go to office hours or set up an appointment and ask them. I promise they won't bite your head off,” he says, encouragingly.