Vishal Arora, a Canadian Studies graduate of the University of Toronto Mississauga, was active in several student groups across campus. But when he realized there wasn’t a dedicated group for the large Punjabi population at UTM, he didn’t see it as something negative – he saw it as an opportunity.
With a friend, he started up the Erindale Punjabi Association (EPA), and later the umbrella organization, the Ontario Punjabi Association (OPA), which now boasts over 2,000 members across nine Canadian universities. With the goal of promoting the Punjabi culture to other students and fostering relationships across various cultural organizations on campus, EPA hosts social and cultural events year-round and gives back to their community through charity initiatives.
Last year, they raised toys and food donations for children’s and women’s shelters throughout the Peel region, and the Seva Food Bank in Mississauga. It’s the fifth year in a row the organization has successfully raised money for charities over the holidays. Their philanthropic efforts and commitment to cultural understanding and unity on campus make them a natural Student Group Of The Week!
Vishal, who minored in both Professional Writing and Communications and Political Science, is the Founder and Alumni Lead of the Erindale Punjabi Association. He took some time to speak with us about EPA, along with the group’s External President, Gurpal Gill, who is studying Accounting.
How should students figure out which student groups are right for them?
Vishal: They should read all the information provided by the student group on Facebook, Twitter and their website (if they have one). After that, they should definitely meet one or two of the groups in person or attend one of the general member meetings where they can find out about the work that the club members are doing and how they are going to achieve their goals.
Gurpal: Students must determine which school group to join based on their interests. If you have a passion for the environment, then you should definitely apply for the environmental club on campus. You’ll also be more likely know if a club is the best for you if you attend the club’s events. Then you can experience the culture and values of the organization.
What has been your most memorable experience with the group so far?
Vishal: Establishing the club at the Erindale campus of the University of Toronto and then setting up the Ontario Punjabi Association along with other chapter schools will always be a memorable one.
Gurpal: The most memorable moment I had with EPA was when we organized the Toy Mountain Drive. This was an event where we fundraised and collected as many toys as we could to donate to kids for Christmas. With the full commitment and dedication by my exec team, we managed to raise approximately $1,000 in toys and donations in two weeks.
What experiences and skills have you gained as part of EPA?
Vishal: Starting the club and then managing it at the beginning had to have been the most valuable experience. Organizing the first annual OPA Formal, where we had approximately 1,100 attendees, was a huge task along with managing other responsibilities, like school and work.
Gurpal: During my experience with this club, I have managed to become a leader. Along with that, I was able to learn how to manage my time in situations where I had plenty to do between the club, school, part-time work and a dance team. Planning and co-ordinating various events allowed me to develop great organizational and teamwork skills.
How do you think your involvement with EPA will help you in your future career?
Vishal: The people that I have met and networked with throughout my years with the Erindale Punjabi Association along with the marketing, finance, and presentation skills I’ve developed will definitely be a huge asset in the future.
Gurpal: My short term goal is to work as an intern in an accounting firm, preferably the Big Four, and practice auditing. Then, I look forward to obtaining my CA and becoming a full time auditor. Most accounting firms look for students who possess skills that are equivalent to the ones that I have developed in my experience with EPA. I can use these skills to help me become a better candidate for the position.
Why is it important for students to get involved in groups like EPA on campus?
Vishal: You gain the experience you may not have time for otherwise. The on-campus events are usually in the evening so you can attend after you’ve gone to your classes and finished your studying for the day. A cultural club like EPA will help students stay in touch with their cultural heritage or even learn more about the culture of their fellow students on campus.
Gurpal: A huge portion of education that students need for the future comes from outside of the class and joining a campus club is one way to gain more knowledge and experience.
What advice do you have for your fellow students?
Vishal: Never forget to focus on your educational career but remember to take time out for extra-curricular activities, which will play a huge role in your life after you’ve finished school. The skills that you will learn, as well as the relationships you’ll develop, will last a lifetime.
Gurpal: I would recommend every student to work hard on getting good marks, but it just as important to be involved and obtain knowledge that cannot be found inside the classroom. Part-time occupation and extra-curricular activities such as campus clubs consist of activities equivalent to the workplace and it will benefit you more by experiencing these things as a student. You can use these experiences to help you in your future career.
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