Getting to know the Gerlai Lab’s grant recipients

Five undergraduate UTM students awarded funds to research biological mechanisms in zebrafish

Getting to know the Gerlai Lab’s grant recipients

Founded by Professor Robert T. Gerlai, a professor in the Department of Psychology and adjunct professor of Cell & Systems Biology, the Gerlai Lab at UTM aims to better understand the biological mechanisms of brain-related diseases in humans.

The Gerlai Lab studies zebrafish behaviour to find genes that affect their learning and memory, social behaviour, and any behavioural changes due to alcohol. The research goal is ultimately to better understand the biological mechanisms of zebrafish and by extension — given the “high sequence homology” between zebrafish and human genes — brain-related functions and diseases in humans.

The lab currently has 21 staff, 15 of whom are students. The lab recently awarded five UTM undergraduate students — Celine Bailluel, Zelaikha Najmi, Samuel Nguyen, Ishti Paul, and Lidia Trzuskot, all of whom are either majoring or specializing in Biology — undergraduate research grants to fund their thesis projects.

“Ever since I was younger, I was always fascinated by the human body and how it worked,” recalls Bailluel in an email to The Varsity. “I found purpose in what I was learning and applying that knowledge to my daily life gave me gratification.”

“I continue to be intrigued by how genes can affect different phenotypes and how different biological mechanism are [affected] by certain genes,” says Bailluel.

Bailluel wants to pursue a graduate degree in molecular biology, genetics, or biotechnology, fields which she believes are the key to understanding and finding possible solutions for diseases.

Like Bailluel, Najmi’s interest in biology also began at an early age.

My [interest] for Biology… stems from my need to understand everyday human life through a biological perspective,” writes Najmi in an email to The Varsity. “How an animal behaves the way it does or how one genetic strain of animal organisms compare to another identity of genetic strain are questions I find interesting.”

Najmi hopes to further pursue this interest by studying chronobiology, the study of circadian rhythms and genes involved in regulating hormones, as well as learning and memory.

[Chronobiology and learning and memory] matter because a number of mood disorders result from disruption of circadian rhythms. Research focused on these topics help further understanding and comprehension of treatment of these disorders.”

Paul is also interested in studying memory and learning through neuroscience and physiology.

“There is still a lot that we do not understand about cognitive processes like memory formation and enhancing our understanding of information retention will help us make the process more efficient,” writes Paul in an email to The Varsity. “I want to study learning and memory in vertebrate models in my post-graduate degree.”

“For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the complexity of vertebrate physiology,” explains Paul. “The idea of being able to provide an additional insight into the mechanics of our body inspired me to pursue research in biology, and it continues to be a source of motivation.”

However, all three admitted that at times their drive for research can fall short.

“My first independent research project was definitely challenging,” recalls Paul. “That is when I realized that research involves a lot of trial-and-error. It requires effort towards trying different approaches to solve issues, being creative, and being open to modifications in your project. It becomes time consuming and discouraging, at times.”

“In research it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged,” agrees Bailluel. “When experiments don’t turn out how you expected or when obstacles prevent you from reaching your experimental goal, you often feel like giving up.”

“I have felt discouraged and have decided to give up multiple times during my undergraduate career,” says Najmi. “I made sure to remember, discouragement is easy to come across, but resilience and motivation are traits that can help me overcome adversity and discouragement.”

Bailleul recommends taking some time to regroup and come up with a plan to deter discouraging thoughts, as well as asking peers for help.

“Getting a new perspective on an idea and problem solving with others can help encourage you to persevere,” advises Bailluel.

“[I] actively [asked] for advice and constructive criticism from my supervisor and the PhD student in our lab,” adds Paul. “It always helps to discuss your ideas with more experienced individuals; they inspire you to continue working towards your goal despite the hurdles.”

Paul recommends that students interested in research should converse with researchers to see if research will be a good fit, as well as reach out to their professors and teaching assistants to find volunteer positions or Research Opportunity Programs in labs, a recommendation echoed by Bailluel.

Bailluel also recommends taking courses pertaining to statistical analysis or experimental design, both of which factor greatly in research.

“Live in the moment while you are conducting the research,” advises Najmi. “There are the difficult aspects of being in an undergraduate degree balancing courses and being full time in a University lab but you are capable of doing great things!”

“Overall, know you are a scientist in progress and practice makes perfect,” says Najmi.

Ombudsperson’s office expanded to all campuses in hopes of growing outreach

Office helps resolve university-related issues, addresses system problems

Ombudsperson’s office expanded to all campuses in hopes of growing outreach

After over 40 years servicing UTSG, the Office of the Ombudsperson has expanded to place officers on all three campuses, following a vote by Governing Council in May. The expansion was done in the hopes that it would increase awareness of the Office’s existence and assist in outreach, according to Ellen Hodnett, the recently re-appointed U of T Ombudsperson.

The Office of the Ombudsperson was founded in 1975 and acts as an independent body to help faculty, staff, students, and alumni resolve university-related issues and brings forward broader systemic problems to Governing Council.

Hodnett describes the position as largely about directing people to the correct resource. In the past, the Ombudsperson’s report to Governing Council proposed the contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hodnett described a lack of engagement from the broader U of T community as motivation for the move. Despite efforts made through social media, Hodnett explained that “none of that made much of a difference at all.”

Hodnett was re-appointed to the ombudsperson position for an additional year after a three-year appointment ended last June.

“I’ve been at U of T since 1975 in one capacity or another, mostly as a professor, but also as a graduate student and now as ombudsperson,” Hodnett said. “I still find navigating all the various websites and finding out whom I should contact about a particular issue, a challenge.”

Hodnett and Secretary of the Governing Council Sheree Drummond decided to combine the roles of Assistant Secretary of Governing Council with Ombuds Officer — the positions are filled on the Campus Council at both UTM and UTSC.

“There’s no conflict of interest,” she said. “There’s no administrative connection here, so we can keep everything very confidential and within our office mandate.”

Rena Prashad is the Interim Director of Governance and Assistant Secretary of the Governing Council at UTSC. At UTM, Cindy Ferencz Hammond is the Director of Governance and Assistant Secretary of Governing Council. Both agreed to fill the Ombuds Officer role for the announced expansion and were trained by Hodnett for the position over the summer.

The appointment for UTSG took longer consideration. Hodnett explained that the job description had to be similar to those on the other campuses and also required looking through a number of applicants. In mid-November, Dr. Kristi Gourlay filled the position of Assistant Secretary of Governing Council and Ombuds Officer for UTSG. Gourlay is the former Manager of the Office of Student Academic Integrity.

On the topic of the university-mandated leave of absence policy, Hodnett confirmed that the annual review of the conditions under which the policy was applied will take place in coordination with her office.

“Our focus, as I said before, is unfairness,” she said. “We take that very, very seriously. I’ve written in previous annual reports [about] my awareness of the challenges posed by having the accessibility issues related to students with significant mental health problems. And there is no black and white here.”

UTMSU AGM 2018: Online voting stirs debate

Motion rejected due to fears of inaccessibility, hacking

UTMSU AGM 2018: Online voting stirs debate

A motion to implement online voting for University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections was rejected after arousing lengthy debate at the UTMSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), with attendees questioning whether it was safe and accessible.

The motion was the only item submitted by a member outside of the executive and thus the last item on the agenda at the AGM, which was held on November 29.

Submitted by Ethan Bryant, the motion cited what Bryant saw as the “toxic nature” of past UTMSU elections, whose “competitive nature… [left] students open to being harassed by campaigners.”

The motion stated that “the openness and accessibility of elections should be a top priority for the UTMSU.”

Bryant called for the UTMSU to consult with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — which already uses online voting — and implement the procedure in its upcoming April elections and every election thereafter.

“I put forward this motion because of accessibility,” Bryant said. “Online voting would increase voter turnout because instead of voting at polling stations on campus, students can vote anywhere on or off campus as long as they have a device and an internet connection.”

“Student elections for all positions, in the past, have been criticized for their toxic nature and have been negatively competitive despite the election officer’s best efforts,” Bryant continued. “Online voting would close the door on any harassment of voters or ballot system, which the current system does not do a good enough job of stopping.”

Bryant said that both Governing Council and UTSU elections already take place online, and that online voting is environmentally friendly since it doesn’t use a lot of paper.

UTMSU Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji opposed the motion. “Easy and accessible are not the same thing. If we want to make voting more inclusive, then we should be working toward improving our current structure instead of starting from a new system.”

Arbaji added that online voting would bring up its own accessibility issues, as not all students have access to a reliable internet connection or devices.

Arbaji’s speech was followed by those of more than 15 students, some in favour of online voting, others against it.

Members in favour of online voting cited anxiety when confronted with in-person campaigners, the lack of access to voting by commuter students, and poor voter turnout as reasons to support online voting.

Members against the motion cited possible online hacking, the inability to verify voter identity online, the risk of online voting turning into a popularity contest, the effectiveness of in-person communication with voters, and the issue that not all students have access to laptops or smartphones due to financial implications as reasons to oppose online voting.

A 2011 study from Elections British Colubmia found that there have been “no documented cases of hacking of Internet voting systems in a public election” based off of studies of elections across Canada, Europe, the United States, Australia and India.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata was also against online voting, saying that with in-person voting, candidates “have to convince [students] to get out of their way, go show their T-Card, go cast a ballot, and that’s a process.”

“That process comes with conversation, it comes with student engagement, it comes with a bigger and better thing that adds value to your vote as a student, as a citizen, as a student at UTM.”

“I don’t think this system is perfect. I think we have many flaws,” Nagata acknowledged. “I’m down to fix the system that we have in place. It’s been in place for a long time and I believe it’s working because students are voting.”

UTMSU elections have consistently had low voter turnout, with only 13 per cent of eligible students voting in the last election.

Ultimately, the question was called to end discussion and move directly to a vote. The motion was defeated and the meeting was adjourned immediately after.

Online voting has been a hotly debated topic among student unions at U of T. The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union recently discussed the option before deciding to reject it, citing a risk of coercion and lack of research into the topic. The Canadian Federation of Students also rejected online voting at its National General Meeting in the summer for similar reasons.

UTMSU AGM 2018: Separation from UTSU approved, online voting rejected

The Duck Stop reports $3,000 deficit, The Blind Duck reports surplus

UTMSU AGM 2018: Separation from UTSU approved, online voting rejected

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 29, which included questions to executives, a presentation of financial statements, and a rejection of online voting.

The meeting was called to order over an hour later than expected, at 6:25 pm.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata began by giving his presidential address. Nagata outlined the past victories of the UTMSU, including the recently passed Course Retake Policy and the September Orientation, and expressed his wish for a more united campus.

“Our goal is to make our campus feel like home to everybody, but we realize that it takes a lot more than just six execs in the UTMSU office. We need all of your help,” Nagata emphasized. “Regardless of the backgrounds, of our stories, of our experiences, of our beliefs, of our political stances, of our approaches to issues, we should be speaking as one united voice.”

Nagata’s address was followed by an executive question period. Attendees approached the microphone and asked questions.

Student Michael O’Judice questioned Nagata regarding Executive Director Munib Sajjad’s official position in the UTMSU. He asked why Sajjad, despite being an unelected staff member, spoke for the UTMSU at the recent Canadian Federation of Students AGM.

“[The UTMSU team] often gather before the meeting and we plan everything out, so we come up with one united voice,” Nagata replied. “Regardless if you’re staff, exec, we allow everybody to speak together at those meetings.”

“[Sajjad] has pretty much the same opinions on things that we do as well, so I don’t think it’s a problem,” Nagata added, but also said that he would be willing to discuss the matter further with the student.

UTMSU Vice-President Internal Yan Li then presented the 2017–2018 audited financial documents.

Li reported that The Blind Duck, the UTMSU’s student pub, had a surplus last year, whereas The Duck Stop, the UTMSU’s convenience store, had a loss of approximately $3,000.

She said that the union’s goal was to break even by the end of this fiscal year. Li then moved to appoint the auditor for the next fiscal term. Glenn Graydon Wright LLP was re-appointed as the UTMSU’s auditor.

The next motion was the endorsement of the separation of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the UTMSU, which has been a topic that has dominated both unions’ discussions in recent months. The two unions entered into the Associate Membership Agreement in 2008 for the UTSU to represent UTM students at a central advocacy level.

“We recognize the fact that [the] UTMSU… understands the needs and the wants of the students at UTM better than a student union that is situated downtown,” said UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah.

“UTM students actually pay into [the] UTSU, which is a society fee, and 15 per cent of that is kept by the UTSU’s membership fee. That fee coming back to the UTMSU means improved bursaries, more bursaries for students on this campus, [and] more clubs funding.”

Tyler Biswurm, UTSU Vice-President Operations, approached the microphone after a brief discussion regarding Abdullah’s statements, proceeding to read aloud a statement from UTSU President Anne Boucher endorsing this separation.

“It is in the best interests of UTM students to be fully represented by a students’ union that is on-site and is therefore in a better place to understand the needs of the students on the Mississauga campus,” read Biswurm. “In addition, the agreement between [the] UTSU and [the] UTMSU wrongly takes away rights from the UTMSU to fully represent UTM students.”

The motion to endorse the separation of the unions passed unanimously.

The next motion, and the only motion not moved by an executive member, was to implement online voting during UTMSU elections. Moved by Ethan Bryant, it caused lengthy and divisive debate, with students ultimately deciding to reject online voting.

Among the members to speak were Vice-President University Affairs Andres Posada, who said that the motion had given him much to reflect on, and Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji and Nagata, who both opposed the motion.

Audio pleasures for science enthusiasts

10 science podcasts to feed your brain

Audio pleasures for science enthusiasts

Podcasts are one of the best alternative information sources to reach for when you’re too exhausted to read. Whether you are new to podcasts or are a long-time listener, or if you want an episode for your commute or before you fall asleep, there is something there for you. From the latest finds to improving your life, here are 10 science podcasts that could work for you.

60-Second Science

As the semester comes to an end, it may become harder to find the time to feed your curiosity about science outside of textbooks. While 60-Second Science is slightly longer than its name suggests, it usually takes less than three minutes for leading scientists and journalists to comment on noteworthy scientific findings, from genome-related health care to polar lightning on Jupiter.

Hidden Brain

Hosted by longtime National Public Radio social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain is about “why people behave the way they behave.” This podcast connects our everyday experience with research in the social sciences, including psychology, anthropology, and economics, to provide insights on how you can use this knowledge to change your own behaviour.

Undiscovered

Co-hosted by U of T alum Elah Feder, Undiscovered is a seasonal podcast from Science Friday. In these documentary-style episodes, the undiscovered stories behind science — how and why the research is conducted, what the results mean, and what new questions they bring — is presented to the audience through a mix of narration and interviews.

Houston We Have a Podcast

The official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston We Have a Podcast is for listeners interested in human spaceflight. Perhaps the most relatable episodes are those featuring people in supporting roles, such as photographers and historians. While these individuals are usually not engineers or astronauts, they perform equally interesting and important roles at NASA.

The Guardian’s Science Weekly

The Guardian’s Science Weekly covers discoveries and discussions in all branches of science. Some episodes are accompanied by audio tours of labs and gardens in the UK.

More or Less: Behind the Stats

Numbers can be presented in different ways, some convincing while others deceiving. Living in the modern world means that our lives are largely driven by data, so it is particularly important for us to understand the statistics used in everyday life. This expertly produced podcast by BBC Radio 4 interprets numbers in survey results, research papers, and political campaigns for an accessible and engaging listen.

Nature Podcast

For a more serious take on science and research, Nature Podcast is the one for you. Through interviews conducted by Nature journalists and editors, listeners are privy to exclusive conversations with the scientists behind some of the most exciting research being conducted right now.

Raw Talk Podcast

Currently in its third season, Raw Talk is hosted by graduate students U of T’s Institute of Medical Science. In a recent episode, the production team presents an in-depth discussion about medical devices with patients, research students, and Dr. David Urbach, Surgeon-in-Chief at Women’s College Hospital.

View to the U

Another product of U of T, View to the U features research at UTM. In each episode, UTM faculty from different disciplines are invited to talk about their work and research on campus. The current season, “Women in Academia,” focuses on female professors and their research, from anthropology to psychology to geography.

Hello PhD

For all aspiring young scientists, this podcast provides handy advice on making it through a PhD program. You can find information about almost every stage of graduate school, including applications, research, dissertations, and career options after graduation. If your mind has been bombarded with hardcore knowledge, listening to someone share their stories of success and failure could be a good idea.

UTM expands Forensic Science program

Program to offer two new courses next semester

UTM expands Forensic Science program

The forensic science program at UTM will be offering two new special topics courses this upcoming semester: FSC350H5, LEC0103: Missing Persons DVI and Unidentified Human Remains, and FSC350H5, LEC0104: DNA Typing using Massively Parallel Sequencing. Both will be taught by Assistant Professor Nicole Novroski, who is a new faculty member in the program.

Novroski is a forensic geneticist and biologist from the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Her role at UTM is to further develop the forensic biology stream.

“I wanted to ensure that the two new courses… will shed light on the current state of forensic biology. Where is the discipline now? What can we do better? Where is the future taking us?” wrote Novroski in an email to The Varsity.

FSC350H5, LEC0104 will focus mainly on the use of Massively Parallel Sequencing (MPS), also known as next-generation sequencing. This technique looks at both the length and the sequence of the DNA fragment, which allows researchers to simultaneously characterize multiple DNA sequences. This technique is useful in forensic science, cancer genomics, microbial genomics, drug development, and more.

FSC350H5, LEC0103 will teach various components of a forensic investigation. Novroski thinks this will appeal to most forensic scientists because “Missing Persons cases are usually multidisciplinary.”

Topics in the course will involve interactions between numerous fields of science and anthropology. The collective knowledge from these fields will help in identifying and databasing missing persons and unidentified human remains. The course will have guest speakers, like Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police officers, who will share their experiences and how they carry out investigations.

Novroski hopes “to get a broad audience of students in this course who will bring unique perspectives and contributions to the class discussions.”

As the first of its kind to be offered in Canada, the forensic science program at UTM has developed important ties with forensic science institutions around the world. This allows students to gain research and work experience in their undergraduate careers.

The program is intended to offer students an understanding of scientific analyses, theories, laboratory skills, applications, and field techniques, all the while emphasizing one of these areas in greater detail.

UTM’s program offers a variety of other courses, such as ethics and professionalism, forensics identification, forensic chemistry, and forensic biology.

Agata Gapinska is a laboratory technician for multiple forensics identification courses, as well as forensic chemistry and advanced toxicology.

“In the first semester the students learn the basic fingerprinting techniques, where we focus on non porous surfaces (glass, vinyl, plastic, metal) and the students use different powders (granular and magnetic) to develop, label and lift the fingerprint impressions,” wrote Gapinska in an email to The Varsity.

Students then move onto more challenging cases that involve absorbed fingerprints, using chemicals to visualize them.

Students enrolled in forensic chemistry courses participate in unique lab sessions, such as gunshot residue analysis, in which evidence is analyzed to determine if gunshot residue is present. There is also a fire debris analysis, in which a room is deliberately set on fire and students gather evidence to analyze and determine the source of the fire. Another interesting experiment is ethanol concentration determination, which mimics the procedures for determining if a driver is impaired.

To create a more real-life scenario, FSC407: Forensic Identification Field School uses the last two weeks of summer to create crime scenes in UTM’s crime house for students to earn practical exposure. Students in many courses also come together to participate in a mock court at the end of the semester.

“These are the exact techniques and skills used in the field,” wrote Gapinska.

The recent UTMSU salary raise is justified

While criticizing student unions is easy, we should acknowledge the work they do and get more involved ourselves

The recent UTMSU salary raise is justified

Last month, the motion to increase the salaries of the executive members of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) from $28,500 to $31,600 was passed. This is in accordance with the UTMSU’s Operation Policy, which states that the salaries should rise with inflation.

In 2016, Western University’s student newspaper The Gazette, the University of British Columbia’s The Ubyssey, and The Varsity compared student executive salaries across Canada. The University of Waterloo Federation of Students came first on the list, with an executive salary of $46,532. Despite having the largest undergraduate student population of all six Canadian universities compared, the University of Toronto Students’ Union was fourth to last on the list, with an executive salary of $30,060.92 at the time.

Some people have expressed discontent at the UTMSU salary increase, saying that it is unjustified due to the campus’ smaller size. UTM has a comparatively smaller student population than most, at 14,190 undergraduate students for the current academic year. However, the University of Saskatchewan has a student population of around 17,000, and their student union executives have salaries of over $40,000.

Student unions at U of T lag behind when it comes to remuneration. Regardless of student body size, there should not be significant differences between student union wages. Student union executives work full-time, with similar fundamental responsibilities as other student unions. As such, they should be paid the same for their time.

A common complaint among UTM students is that the union does not do enough for them. While this is a valid concern, it is important for students to realize that the result of student union advocacy is not always immediately seen. Policy changes can take years, and the student union will go back and forth with the university to implement such changes.

A recent example is the course retake policy that was passed at UTM. Under this policy, students can retake a course and have the second attempt included in CGPA calculations. This is clearly a big win for the student body, providing numerous advantages for current and future students. The retake policy had been in the works for years, and reflects the zealous attempts of not just the current executives, but past executive teams as well.

Additionally, benefits that students already possess, such as the U-Pass and the Credit/No Credit policy, have also been the result of what must have been gruelling efforts on the part of the student union. Personally, I cannot imagine university life without the aid of the U-Pass, which allows me to travel anywhere in Mississauga.

Student unions also have the responsibility of ensuring that they are actually representing the needs of the student body. The UTMSU has been criticized for not considering student opinions or not having the right priorities. It should therefore ensure that it can effectively communicate with the student body in order to fully represent it. Students should be given platforms for expressing their opinions on what issues are important to them. Similarly, students need to be more proactive if they have opinions.

Complaining about the student union does not mean anything unless students are willing to become involved themselves, and bring important issues to light. I have seen plenty of students who are not even aware of issues happening on campus, let alone involved in them. But student involvement is essential for any kind of change. While the student union could put change into action, it is the students themselves who need to recognize their role in facilitating it.

Student unions play an important role in the university: they organize, represent, and advocate for a diverse student population. While there is plenty of debate to be had around improving their role, there is no question that their work matters — and they should be paid fairly for it.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.

UTM student groups hold charity event to support Samaritan’s Purse

UCS organizes fourth-annual “5 Days of Giving” event

UTM student groups hold charity event to support Samaritan’s Purse

Holiday cheer prevailed at UTM last week, as the Undergraduate Commerce Society (UCS) hosted its annual “5 Days of Giving” event. Running from November 12–16, each day featured a different theme. This included donation drives for toys and school supplies, as well as social events, including a ‘de-stress day’ on Thursday for students to unwind by making Christmas cards, friendship bracelets, and more.

The UCS, which represents over 1,300 commerce students at UTM, has been running the “5 Days of Giving” initiative since 2015 in collaboration with other campus groups. The UTM Students’ Union co-hosted this year’s event alongside Free the Children at UTM, the UTM Residence Council, and the Undergraduate Economics Council.

Each year, the donations go to a different charity. Religious groups, including Muslim organization Canada Zakat and Christian organization Salvation Army, are among past recipients. This year, all proceeds went to Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse to support their annual Operation Christmas Child (OCC). According to its website, Samaritan’s Purse has “helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

OCC was launched in 1990 to “bless struggling children in the developing world by filling shoeboxes with toys, hygiene items, school supplies, and other items.” OCC encourages donations of items such as toys, school supplies, and hygiene items, packed into shoeboxes. These shoeboxes have been sent to over 100 million children in over 130 countries. In 2017, through donations drives similar to “5 Days of Giving,” Canadians reportedly provided over 600,000 shoeboxes of donations to children in the developing world.

Regarding the UCS’s decision to collaborate with Samaritan’s Purse, Corporate Social Responsibility Director Sabrina Rodgers explained, “I stumbled upon a video by the Operation Christmas Child UK where children were opening gift boxes. Their reaction melted my heart.”

When asked about the general steps that the UCS has put in place to hold Samaritan’s Purse accountable, Rodgers told The Varsity that she “confirmed the legitimacy” of the organization by ensuring that it was registered as a charitable organization, and also confirming on its 2017 annual report that about 90 per cent of spending goes toward charitable programs.

Frank King, the news media relations manager of Samaritan’s Purse, said that while the organization usually works with Christian universities and churches, it is not uncommon for the organization to collaborate with other groups for causes such as OCC and other humanitarian initiatives.

King emphasized that the work carried out through the organization is with the help of generous Canadians; Samaritan’s Purse currently works with an estimated 20,000 volunteers in Ontario and Alberta each year at its collection centres, where donations are packed and processed for shipping to children overseas.