IF AN INCOMING FRESHMAN WAS ASKED to envision the student occupying the Students’ Union Vice President (Operations and Finance) position at the University of Alberta, the student might describe an individual with their Bachelor of Commerce, adding that they may be working on their MBA. This would be an apt guess; the SU’s VP Operations and Finance is tasked with managing the organization’s ten-million dollar budget, as well as coordinating departmental operations, as the individual’s title of VP Operations and Finance suggests.
The current SU Vice President (Operations and Finance), Andy Cheema, now in his second year of service, is distinctly different from what one might expect given his role in the Students’ Union. Cheema’s focus of study at the University of Alberta was one of science, in which he pursued neuroscience for his first three years, and finished his degree with a specialization in psychology in his fourth year.
Cheema’s application of his science degree as VP (Operations and Finance) is unique in that it is not a direct application of the coursework he has learned thus far. Rather, it is an adaptive extension of his learning. Where students in the Faculty of Science are often expected or assumed to apply their lessons in domains of research, in developing new technologies or perhaps practicing their major in an applied environment, Cheema’s use of his BSc is atypical. It isolates and applies the process of logical thinking intertwined in the fabric of a science degree. Moreover, to take a BSc and use it to orchestrate an organization financially and operationally is a bold endeavour indeed.
This isn’t to say that Andy Cheema does not possess the knowledge that comes from a full-fledged business background. While he admits that his “neuroscience and psychology background hasn’t taught him to read minds,” Cheema recognizes that his science degree has “been very beneficial in many different aspects.” Cheema has textured his degree with health sciences courses, fundamental sciences courses, the core neuroscience classes, philosophy, business law and economics classes. Cheema, however, emphasizes the statistical sciences in their practicality, specifically for his post as VP Operations and Finance. He acknowledges this, stating, “[my] science degree has given me a familiarity with data, and a confidence in dealing with large amounts of information. To sift through information and do the statistics, to understand the implications of things like randomness and probability… these things have a philosophical benefit to them, but also have a practical effect on decision-making in a business context.”
Cheema’s application of his degree is an unconventional and innovative approach to learning. While his knowledge in sciences could be applied to a number of projects that he deals with in his work – such as the math behind the construction of the PAW center, or the biochemical benefits behind healthy eating options in SUB – it is equally effective in management and political scenarios.
The psychology student’s impression that “[his] science background has [also] taught the value in taking an experimental approach to procedure” is an example of intelligent application of his coursework, the embodiment of an Aristotelian scientific method perhaps also mused in one of Cheema’s philosophy classes.
Cheema’s humble concession that “[one] doesn’t always know everything [in decision-making], but by carefully manipulating different variables, one can begin to identify the trends that affect target measures” shows that he understands the interdisciplinary value of his degree. His approach in doing business that emphasizes the claim that “[with a scientific view] one can expand their knowledge base and better direct decisions when taking one’s business in different directions” is a practical ideal drawn from a Bachelor of Science.
The VP’s (Operations and Finance) dynamic use of his degree is one that should be considered by students of all faculties at the University of Alberta. His success in his work, while admittedly not entirely due to his degree – Cheema practices self-teaching extensively in his spare time – is a sterling example that one is not limited to obvious choices of work by a specific degree, but rather that one’s qualifications for more obscure jobs are heightened by the lessons embedded in one’s studies.
Bennett Csorba will be entering his second year as a Physics major at the University of Alberta in the fall. Bennett is in the midst of reading The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.
Photographer Skye Oleson-Cormack is a recent graduate of the University of Alberta.