We’re putting a much-deserved spotlight on our fall 2020 graduation award winners. These are the students who were honoured in our virtual ceremony on November 1 for their exceptional achievements. Though we couldn’t spotlight them on the convocation stage, we’re thrilled to celebrate these stand-out students through special features.

Manila Tanafranca
Master of Arts (Family Studies and Gerontology) | Hometown: Calgary, Alberta

Manila was named the 2020 recipient of the MSVU Graduate Thesis Award, a special award presented by the Graduate Studies Committee to a student who has completed a thesis of exceptional quality including evidence of well-developed, independent research skills and contribution to their academic discipline.

At fall convocation, Manila was also the recipient of a Kappa Gamma Pi Prize. Membership to Kappa Gamma Pi, the National Catholic College Graduate Honor Society, is based on scholarship, leadership, and service. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (Double Minors in Sociology and Family Studies) from Saint Mary’s University.

Meet Manila

Q: Why did you choose to study at MSVU?

A: In my search for postgraduate education, I looked for a program that specifically catered to my interest in studying social issues as they exist across the lifespan. The Family Studies and Gerontology [FSGN] program offered just that: an opportunity to engage in learning about the obstacles and struggles that people face across various stages of life. Although I applied to study at several universities, the FSGN Department at MSVU stood out in its willingness to answer all of my inquiries and engage with me through the decision-making process. This warm welcome and interest in my personal goals made MSVU stand out as the clear choice for my studies.

Q: How have you been involved on campus during your time as an MSVU student?

A: MSVU offered many opportunities for me to be involved both on and off campus. Throughout my time at the University, I became an active member of the Shinerama campus group. I took part in many of the creative fundraising initiatives throughout the summer months, including charity car washes, frozen yogurt fundraisers, and popcorn sales for an outdoor movie night. I also helped prepare for the big Shine day that took place during welcome week. I was also a member of several on-campus student groups, including the Feminist Collective, World University Service of Canada (or WUSC), and The Community Garden/weekly Farmers’ Market.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to take on the role of co-president of the MSVU WUSC Chapter, and was deeply involved in the referendum that allowed for MSVU to accept two students per year through the Student Refugee Program (previously one student). In my role at WUSC, I aided in welcoming the new refugee students and supported their settlement in Canada and the university setting. Through my involvement in the Feminist Collective and the Farmers’ Market, I had the opportunity to participate in a wide range of social justice initiatives both on campus and across Halifax to aid in combating social inequalities such as food insecurity, poverty, and racism, and advance women’s rights.

Q. What is your favourite location on campus and why?

A: My favourite place on campus was the seating area at the end of the hallway on the fourth floor of the McCain Centre. I often found myself tucked into one of the chairs to study or catch up on reading. It was always just busy enough to provide some background noise, and I loved the ocean views through the big windows.

Q: What surprised you about MSVU (or your program)?

A: I was very pleasantly surprised with how intimate the FSGN program is, and how invested the faculty are in helping students thrive. You can really sense the pride that the department has in its students (both former and current), and how much work it puts into creating a sense of community among students. From intimate Christmas potlucks at Dr. Keefe’s home, to pizza and beer at Vinnie’s pub, the FSGN Department really put effort into building a relationship with its students.

Q: What sorts of extra-curricular activities were you involved in during your time at MSVU, on campus or off?

A: Beyond my involvement in student groups [above], I was engaged in a few off-campus opportunities. Throughout my entire time at MSVU, I volunteered at Caritas Residence as a recreation volunteer. As a part of this role, I joined a knitting club, and quickly picked it up as a hobby of my own! Additionally, I was a regular member of the Halifax regional Chapter of WUSC, and met weekly with students from SMU, DAL, and King’s to organize city-wide events surrounding refugee access to education.

On campus, I was employed with Accessibility Services as an exam proctor for a number of years. Furthermore, I enjoyed taking part in a handful of various ‘single day’ events including volunteering for the Annual Kids Carnival, Girls Conference, and the MSVU Golf Tournament.

Q: Were you part of an experiential opportunity (co-op, practicum, internship) during your time at MSVU?

A: I was very fortunate to be offered the role of Graduate Student Representative for the FSGN Department for two years. It was a great opportunity to engage with fellow students and support their learning experience. Through this role, I was able to meet with potential future students and operate as a liaison between current students and the department. This role was a wonderful way for me to dive into some of the ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of academia.

During my time at the Mount, I was also provided with the opportunity to take on teaching and research assistant roles through the FSGN department. The teaching assistant role offered me a chance to learn a bit about planning an undergraduate course, developing syllabi and assignments, and grading student work. I thoroughly enjoyed the face-to-face experience with students, and the freedom I was given to explore my own teaching style. As an aspiring professor, this experience really reinforced my interest in pursuing an academic path.

Q: Tell us about your research involvement during your time at MSVU.

A: As a component of the MA FSGN program, I completed thesis research of my own. My research explored the various barriers that newcomer women residing in the HRM may face when seeking and accessing services for intimate partner violence. Through my research I had the ability to engage with numerous service providers across the municipality to investigate the issues that they face in their day-to-day work with newcomer women. Conducting the interviews provided a fascinating window into the world of immigrant service provision, and was a rewarding aspect of the research process. [Editor’s note: This research work resulted in a Graduate Thesis Award for Manila.]

Beyond this, I was involved in supporting faculty research, under Dr. Deborah Norris, for one summer of my degree.

Q. Is there a particular course, book, experience or event you would recommend to others?

A: I highly recommend that students attend at least one or two Welcome Week events. As a graduate student, I was a bit hesitant to participate in Welcome Week events, as they are often designed for an undergraduate audience. However, I have always been an advocate for expanding learning beyond the classroom. I had a very influential Latin professor in my undergraduate degree who introduced me to the quote “non scholae, sed vitae discendum est,” or “We must learn not for school, but for life.” This has since been my perspective for education, and I am constantly seeking experiences that help me grow beyond the classroom. I think Welcome Week offers great opportunities to become involved on campus, meet other students, and expand learning beyond the classroom setting. I personally joined incredible student groups, made life-long friendships, and met my partner during the initial orientation week, so I highly encourage other students to take part.

Q: What class, professor, project or learning activity has held the most meaning for you? Why?

A: Critical Theories. This was perhaps the most challenging class I took throughout graduate studies, but it truly set a foundation for learning for the duration of my time at MSVU. This course expanded my perspective on how I view the world and played a significant role in the shaping and development of the thesis I produced at the end of my degree.

Q: If you could share just one piece of advice with your pre-MSVU self, what would it be?

A: I would tell myself not to doubt what I’m capable of accomplishing.

Q: Tell us about a favourite MSVU memory.

A: As an out-of-province student, I lived on campus for my first year at MSVU to ease my transition to Halifax. My favourite MSVU memory is perhaps an amalgamation of all of the nights spent in the Westwood third floor lounge. Absolutely nothing beat the extremely late nights sprawled out on the lounge couches studying for exams, watching movies, and hanging out with my closest on-campus friends. Those are my fondest memories of my time at the MSVU.

Q: No doubt wrapping up your degree in the middle of a pandemic was not how you’d envisioned it. Tell us what that experience was like. What did you learn about yourself through this process?

A: Finishing my degree in a pandemic was certainly not ideal, but I learned to make the most of it. I was required to present my Master’s thesis over video chat, as my defence date landed in the midst of social distancing and non-essential travel restrictions. While it was certainly challenging to deal with a three-hour time difference, file upload hiccups, and having an anxious dog in my care at the time of my presentation, my committee and I found a way to make it work. It was certainly memorable.

The pandemic as a whole and the months it has consumed have brought numerous social issues to the forefront across Canada and the entire world. This has not been lost on me. I think this period of time has really pushed me to remember why I chose to pursue post-secondary education, and reignited my desire to work within the fields of social justice and advocacy.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: To be honest, I am unsure of what is ahead for me. I think the current pandemic plays a big role in this uncertainty, and the ability for me to layout a concrete plan for my next steps. But I am okay with that. For now, I am seeking work in my field. Ideally, I would like to find employment in a role where I can work with families who are experiencing marginalization. Long term, I would like to pursue a PhD in a related field. Teaching at the university level is my ultimate goal, so furthering my education is a big part of my ‘what’s next.’

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: In 10 years time, I hope to have my formal education fully completed. I see myself living out my dream of being a professor for post-secondary students and working as an advocate for justice and equity for marginalized populations. I have such a passion for education and hope to spend the rest of my life instilling a love of learning in future generations. Who knows, maybe fate will bring me back to Halifax in ten years, and it will be me on the teaching side of the room lecturing for the FSGN Department.