Varsity Stadium. Emma Kikulis/THE VARSITY

The start of July in Toronto marked the beginning of the 2015 Pan Am games, which happen to be the largest multi-sport international games Canada has ever hosted. Although close to 7, 000 athletes will compete in the games, this number is relatively small compared to the mass of employees, volunteers, and staff who have devoted their time to organize and cater the competition — many of whom are U of T students.

Without the help of approximately 20,000 volunteers, the Pan Am games, undoubtedly, would not be able to function as they currently do. “As a volunteer at the Pan and Parapan Am games you are one of the many people working together toward a common goal,” says Joy Lee, a fourth—year student at U of T. Blane McPhail, the press secretary for the minister of culture, tourism, and sport, agrees that the Pan Am games wouldn’t be feasible without those working behind the scenes, “we’re so proud of the thousands of Ontarian’s who have stepped forward to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event” he said on behalf of the minister.

Students have the opportunity not only to volunteer, but also to work as supervisors, employees, and security at the games — all which cultivate valuable life skills.

Lee, who is studying political science, volunteers as an event services host, which means that her job is to ensure that spectators enjoy the games as much as possible. Joy sees the experience she will gain from volunteering at the Pan Am games as directly applicable to her future, saying that, “my role as a volunteer… will offer great experience for me in my career post life at U of T, allowing for new ways to use the skills that I already have and learn some new ones.” Joy, who hopes the volunteer position will help improve her leadership, teamwork, and communication skills, also plans to network and make even more employment connections throughout her contract.

For Nicole Rosenberg, who is finishing her undergraduate degree in English, French and, Spanish at U of T, applying to work at the Pan Am games was a way to simultaneously gain work experience, and to practice her non-native language skills. “The ability to put my three languages into practice during the games will… hopefully enable some valuable networking for future events and opportunities.”

Rosenberg, who cites working at the Pan Am games as “once in a lifetime sport opportunity,” will be working as a national Olympic and Paralympic assistant where she will be a member of the team responsible for operational support for athletes — which includes translating and interpreting. Being a linguistic assistant gives Rosenberg an opportunity to expand her language skills, which is not only invaluable to, but also crucial for her assigned athletes — she must be able to communicate in the languages of the Americas, with athletes from across the continents. Rosenberg hopes that her role at the Pan Am games will not only improve her language skills, but will help her experience in her chosen field “being [a linguistics assistant] will also allow me to get a feel for what is to come in my career.”

Stephanie Tran, a student-barista at U of T, will be working with Aramark Canada, the food service provider catering the Pan Am facilities on U of T’s St. George campus. Tran, who is an avid sports fan, decided that working at the Pan Am games was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. “I have always loved watching sports especially when it’s an international competition” she says, “I thought it would be a nice change of environment from my usual duties as a barista.” Refueling, although critical for the elite athletes competing at the Pan Am games, is also important for those not on the field or the court — it is an important responsibility students have ensuring that those participating, volunteering, and working at various events don’t go hungry.

Tran looks forward to working with others as part of a team during the games: “working with different people will definitely further develop my teamwork skills and as an individual” says Tran, who will certainly apply these skills throughout her academic and professional career.

The outpouring of support and volunteers for the 2015 Pan Am games is impressive, but the skills that students and employees will learn on the job are invaluable. An added bonus for volunteers is the new volunteer certificate program, which is personalized for each volunteer with their skills, experiences, specialized training, and awards received during the duration of their employment at the Pan Am games — which is a valuable asset to have no matter what your field of study.

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