Bowinn Ma is leaving the EUS a much more relevant student society to its constituents – photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 5 | May 1, 2008
By Brian Lin
In Bowinn Ma’s world, beer is an essential food group, the Cheeze is a place to hang, and having a birthday plus or minus six months from today could land you in a pond.
But when she graduates this spring from the Faculty of Applied Science, the outgoing president of the UBC Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) is leaving behind a legacy that could see one of the best known student societies in Canada become more in sync with its constituents.
“The EUS has traditionally focused very strongly on social events, and the governance structure reflects that – four and a half out of nine executive positions oversee social events and only one and a half portfolios look after academic and professional activities,” says Ma, the fourth female president in the society’s 90-year history.
Ma undertook an 18-month campaign that culminated in a 94.5 per cent approval rating in a referendum this past January. It completely restructures the society, including the creation of a Vice-President Academic position and extensive changes to the EUS Constitution and Policy Manuals, which hadn’t been so significantly updated since the 1960s.
“Within the first week after the election, the co-VPS adopted tutoring services and established the E-Team, a new concept that will help us develop new professional development activities,” says Ma. She has also striven to make the current engineering student clubhouse — also known as the “Cheeze” — a more welcoming space and to eradicate forced tankings, the age-old practice of throwing fellow students in a pond outside the Cheeze.
Built in 1919, the Cheeze is one of the oldest buildings on campus and got its nickname from one of its original uses as a dairy factory that supplemented income for then Department of Dairy in the School of Agriculture.
“These traditions — and the rich and colourful history behind them — have been such an important part of the EUS because they remind us of the integral role the student society played in student life,” says Ma, “But each generation must leave its own mark.”
To that end, Ma in 2005 organized the first ever “OctoberfEUSt” to be fully approved by the university. She produced and executed a meticulous event plan that addressed all aspects of what has long been considered a notorious “trouble-making” party.
“Having OctoberfEUSt fully supported by the university is the first step towards showing our students that we want to be relevant to parts of their student life that doesn’t involve socializing or drinking beer,” says Ma. “In order to do that, we must demonstrate our ability to work with faculty and administration, and be a responsible, professional organization.”
Ma’s contributions led to the creation by fellow executives of the Bowinn Ma Award last month to honour EUS executives for outstanding service. This is only the second award in the EUS history to be named after a student leader.
As for the other famous engineering tradition involving a certain red car, Ma had this to say:
“UBC Engineering students don’t do stunts, we don’t know anything about them or who does them.”
If they did, Ma says the EUS would only have approved stunts that demonstrated the engineers’ ingenuity and social consciousness. In 2006, canned goods were left in front of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank piled in the shape of the E-Cairn. The following year, the Inukshuk at English Bay was dressed in a giant Engineering Red jacket stuffed with clothing donations.
“The stunts were never meant to be malicious, they are supposed to make a statement on social issues or bring attention to the marvels of our profession,” says Ma. “It’s supposed to make you go ‘huh, that’s neat. I wonder how they did that.’”
“The one thing I learned at UBC is that change is possible. A lot of students feel that change isn’t possible so why bother getting involved? Knowing that change is possible, regardless of how frustrating and arduous the process might be, gives me a reason to get engaged and affect change.”