Owen Ricker, Interviewed by Robert (Cam) Smith

Owen Ricker Above

Interview Conducted February 8th, 2023

So I'm Cam Smith. You are. 


Owen Ricker. 


And we're here for you. Technically the second interview we're doing first Official one So, you know, I've already gotten you to sign the consent form we've gone over all out stuff. So I think we'll just get right into the questions. So first one is what year were you in and what were you studying when the pandemic was declared in March of 2020? 


I was in my second year at the University of Guelph studying agricultural science, obviously in the second semester of my second year. 


And were you involved in any extracurriculars on campus at all? 


Yeah, At that time I was a sports director for my class, my OAC class of 2022, and so helping run a few sport tournaments each, each semester for all the students in the OAC. And I was also a regular participant at all of the events and tours that go on throughout the school year in the Ontario AOC College. 


So you mentioned you were part of the sports department there. What was that like when they first declared the pandemic? Was it like a straight cut off or did they have some restrictions or what happened originally? 


Yeah, it was like I remember that day when one of my roommates came up from the basement and said that the NHL had just got canceled because of COVID, and that's when things really kind of started to seem very serious. And so at that point it was pretty much a straight stop in in all activities, including in sports. 


Right? No, make sense. Were you working at the time of the pandemic shutdown? 


I was not working at that time, but I had a summer job lined up by my family farm back home. 


Right on. And you mentioned you were living with a couple of roommates. Were you like off campus, I'm assuming? 


Yeah, that's correct. Yep. Myself and three other roommates we met in first year and got a house together for second year. 


And did the living dynamic change at all after the pandemic hit? It was kind of like same old, same old. 


Well, it was the first few months of the pandemic and no one really knew what was going on is very novel to us. So, I mean, it certainly changed in the sense that we didn't have anywhere to go or anywhere to be, and so we were spending a lot more time together. But in those first month and month or two, at the end of that second semester, there wasn't too much change in the living dynamic. 


Right? And so I guess, you know, the big question of that is how did the initial shutdown affect you? You know, where'd you go? What happened to all your stuff? You mentioned like summer jobs that you were going to work and your studies and all that fun stuff? 


Yeah, certainly. So this everything related to school at the University of Guelph was pretty much immediately canceled or moved online or postponed, I suppose. And so that any extracurricular activities, any tours with the OAC any in-person classes, of course, as everyone experienced everything along those lines was was canceled. Now, in terms of my life outside of the University of Guelph, many things were able to continue fairly regularly for a little while at least. When you're talking about like essential workers work in the agricultural industry is like is is considered essential, is very much so. And so my summer job back at the family farm continued as normal in my living situation once I moved home, continued as normal. But just like everybody else throughout that summer and even at the end of the school year, every time I wanted to see my girlfriend who I'm not living with. But wanted to go on a date or anything like that, it caused issues with the people I was, like my family that I was living with at home. I think that's pretty much everyone had similar experiences to that. And so I was trying to can try to continue life as normal, but I really had to choose a bubble and stick with it just like everybody else. So I was fortunate in the sense that, you know, work was essential. I didn't have any hiccups there in terms of my summer job. But yeah, just the same way everyone else was affected, you know, had to kind of reduce my social bubble a little. 


Right. And did you come back for the 2020 to 2021 school year? 


So a lot of people did, of course. But for me, that was not in the cards because I realized at the end of that end of that second year when everything was online, that online. School is not for me and that it didn't interest me to be one of my University of Guelph years to have no extracurricular activities and no opportunities outside of virtual classes. And so it just felt like like, you know, clubs and tours and even things just like as simple as going out with friends, you know, once a week or something like that, to just have a social night and have some fun. Like all of that wasn't happening. And I just. And so I personally did not return for the following school year. I deferred for a year. 


Right on. And would you say like like you're saying, like it was kinda like the soul got sucked out. Would that be like a way to describe it? In a sense. 


Yeah, I guess you could say that actually, because really, like, OAC. is just like any other program. If you look at the class schedule, I, you know, you, you have relevant classes to what you're interested in, and you have some really, really great professors. You have some other professors you don't love so much and you have your different classes with different experiences. And, you know, that's just what school is, whether you're in the OAC or whether you're in the arts department, whether you're in, you know, engineering or other science programs business. That's just what school is. But what really makes the OAC special to me is the sense of community and the social and the the structure of like the student government that's set up and in place so that the experience of an Aggie at Guelph can really be taken up to the next level. And so that's done through the various clubs that we have in the AOC. So we have Dairy Club and soil and crop club are two of the most common, but we also have swine club, Northern Egg Club, poultry club, and I'm missing, you know, dozens of them. But those are just a few examples of, of clubs. And they run tours that go through Ontario. They run through the rest of Canada, sometimes even throughout North America, bus trips where you get on a bus with 50 of your best friends and and head somewhere to go tour facilities that you're interested in seeing. So that's a huge part of being an Aggie is that extracurricular activity and opportunity as well. Some of our classes have opportunity to do tours and to get out there and and visit, you know, the Laura research stations or anything like that. And then like I mentioned before, like the Social nights, like Aggie Pub on Wednesday nights and the university center and you know going are going to the, the Stampede ranch which is just a bar that a lot of people like to gather at, you know, once a week or something like that. Just being a you know, a young person, a university student looking to enjoy your time at university, those are the things that really enhance your experience, that people that go to the OAC and affiliate themselves, The OAC, really get to take advantage of. But during that school year, everything was shut down with COVID. You know, there was really there was just not much anyone could do to to run those events. And so you're right. You know, the soul like the the reason that I was part of The OAC. and Love The OAC. was because of all those events, you know, that was kind of taken away. So that's why I decided to take that year off. 


Very understandable. And just about thank you for talking. You mentioned that like another one of the big reasons you also didn't come back was you just hated the idea of online learning, didn't like it at all. Did that change over time at all? Like when you came back and there was a few classes that were still online, Did that at all change or. 


Yeah, I'm still an in-person class type of person. Like I will never enroll in a class and I have never taken a class that was only offered at this distance education. But I certainly do see some advantage to having the options to have a virtual class. So like one of those hybrid designs where if you have no access to getting to class in-person, you still have access online. But I don't think there's any real argument to say that you get a better experience online than you do in person. Maybe there is an application that I'm not thinking of or haven't experienced, but in my experience I've always tried to opt for the online or sorry for the in-person classes or the online versions. 


Right of course. And what like aspects the pandemic to think for you personally were the most challenging? I know you mentioned a few things, but like, you know, the most the worst things for you. 


Yeah, it was definitely having to reduce social contact, reduce the size of the bubble because I felt like I was such a part of a larger community in my class of The OAC. but also like the other years within The OAC. So when there were restrictions saying. You can only have ten people in a house or even five people at a house at a time, or even one is a little larger at 20 or 25. I'm not sure what all the rules were at different times, but it felt like you are forced to be exclusive and that's not what you know I'm all about or we were all about. We want to be including people. We want to, you know, bring people in and kind of make this big kind of family community setting. So then when we're forced by legislation or mandates to reduce that, well, then you have to start picking and choosing who is allowed to come over and play some cards one night. And who who are you going to be spending your time with? And like having to make those decisions for someone like me who is part of this such a large community? That was the hardest part for sure. And then also just being sad to see all of the amazing events that I'd seen run in the past, seeing all of those taken away and for new students to be coming into the OAC for their first year and to not have that experience, that was also tough to look at because I just knew that if it wasn't a COVID year, these kids would be having some of the best times of their lives and realizing all the things the OAC had to offer. But it was all kind of taken away from them and they got robbed of their first year as an Aggie. So. 


Well, yeah, I can agree with that. I'm not even an AOC student, but I've been able to experience like just a little slice of that and it's you guys have a blast all the time. So whenever I go to one of those events, I was a fun time. But do you remember the Omnicron? like at the outbreak, the wave of Omnikron, that was kind of the new wave in December to January of 2021 and 2020. 


Yeah, yeah. That was kind of the most recent lockdown that we've experienced in Canada and Ontario. And so yeah, yeah, I'm familiar with that. 


And what was your experience through that? I know a lot of people like we were just coming out and then were right back in. So what was your personal experience with that? 


Yeah, that was really heartbreaking because we had just kind of got opened up. So this is the school year that I'm now back in school and and things are open and we're running events again and the clubs are kind of trying to get back on their feet after being shut down for a year. And the other events like are being planned. Like I remember we were planning our good times banquet and we had work done and the the place was booked and, you know, we were ready to run it and then things got shut down again and it was like, Wow, this when is this going to end? This seems like a cycle of, you know, we have some new technology come out with the vaccines, which is wonderful. And it's like they say, this is our way out of this and everyone's excited about it. And then all of a sudden, despite having the vaccines and despite, you know, everything that we've been doing for the last two years, we're right back in the same position again. And it really kind of took the wind out of the sails as people were. We're just getting these events rolling again and kind of back on their feet, like I mentioned. Then all of a sudden to be cut off like that and everyone who had put a lot of work into planning, you know, a tour or planning a the Good Times banquet or a college royal, anything, it was certainly that was disheartening. 


Of course. oh what was I going to say. Sorry I lost my train of thought for a second. I'll just skip it we will come back to it. So, you know, looking back to the pandemic, change your life in some major ways. 


 I mean, I think it's changed everything around us. And like especially during the time it changed, it affected nearly every part of your life, of every person. So that was like that was absurd, as is something that never happened before in my lifetime, at least. And so I looking back now and, you know, I say now like feeling like it's over with, but who really knows? But looking back at this point, my life personally, nothing has changed in such as severe way that, like I would say, would never go back to normal. I do feel a little bit robbed of a year of my of my university life. You know, lots of people have say you have a young family at home and you the COVID wave hits and you get, you know, put home from work and all this stuff. Of course, there's lots of stress around that situation, but lots of people you see you have a few young kids that actually worked out pretty well because you weren't trying to have a large social bubble at that time. You're secluded kind of with your family or maybe your parents and stuff like that. And yeah, you got a lot more time with those people. But for someone who's in the middle of their university career or, you know, high school students is another group of students that I really feel for because, you know, high school is such an important time in your life. And lots of people have different things going on, whether it's academic or athletic Achievements that they weren't able to display or really get into what they're passionate about because of the COVID thing. So I shouldn't complain too much, but I do feel like the university students were one of the higher impacted groups because the way that they want to live their life was so drastically different from the way they had to live their life during the COVID pandemic. But one other thing I would mention, along with this is not just necessarily my life, but something that I've noticed now that I'm back at it, back at trying to get these events rolling again, is that there's just a gap in information and in knowledge about how the committees run. So we for every big event we have, we have committees. And so we have people who have specific roles, people who have specific roles and specific duties to make all of these events happen. And the way that you learn to make the events happen is from the people above you. So when you have an entire year off and then even part of another year off, most of the lot of these events did run for two full years. So then people graduate, they move on with their lives, and that's all of the knowledge and experience graduating out. And and of course, they are really helpful now that we're trying to run it again. And so you can reach out to the people, but it's not the same as shadowing them that year and watching it happen. So there is there is this gap in knowledge that is going to take several years to kind of overcome. And things are changing because of that, too, because the people who are currently in charge of running things don't necessarily know how it was run before. So they're doing their best, but changes are made because that's the way that I guess it's affected the way that The OAC. has evolved with this gap. 


So I was excited to get into this because I'm sure you remember the night we met. For the first time, people were calling you the savior of the OAC. I know that's not a title you claim, but you know, it was thrown around a few times, So just, you know your opinion on that. What was your personal role in that kind of thing where you some people feel you deserve that title? What do you think your role in that was? 


Sure. So I I'm now a fourth year, but I started school a year before all of the other fourth years now. So that's because I took that year off in the middle. So I had an entire year of normal OAC life and then I had almost another full year and that's second half of the second semester of my second year where things were shut down. So I got to full almost two full years of OAC life as normal. And although I was in, like I said, I was a sports director very, very small part of of a position, but I was able to participate at all of the larger events like College Royal, like Winter Games, like the tours that I've mentioned in the past. So I was able to participate in them. I wasn't necessarily in charge of running them, but at least I had seen how they were run in the past and knew how it was supposed to like be experienced. So then I fast forward to this year. I've taken on a much larger role in the organizing of these events. So I'm the Vice president of Internal Affairs for that and for the Student Federation of the OAC. So instead of being on just one classes committee, we kind of oversee the the class committee for all four years, and we run events separately for the from them that are designed for everybody in the OAC, not just, you know, one group. And so through this position, I've been able to help get some of the OAC traditions kind of back on their feet, back on track, advertise it, explain it to people who don't know what's going on first and second years, even third years, who have never seen it before, don't know what to expect, don't realize what they've missed out on. I've kind of because of my experience seeing it, I've been able to explain that to them. Like, you know, here's what's here's what you've been missing out on and this is why you should get involved. And this is where you should focus your time and this is where you should get involved. So I've been one person who's been able to help with that, but there have been many, many others. And so like people who are presidents of clubs right now, for example, they're in charge of one club, but they're doing a really good job of making sure that that club returns to the state, that it was, you know, pre-COVID. And so running the tours and putting on programs and inviting guest speakers out to give, you know, lectures to their their club members. And so that's that's really important, too. And then everyone else that sits on any of the other committees that we have, including the other people on my committee of the Student Federation. And every position from, you know, class presidents down to the sports director, media director. Everyone is trying to do their part to get things back on track. And I think I've been able to be a bit of a leader in this because of my additional experience. But, I mean, really, there's not one person who's responsible for any of it. And there's even some people who graduated last year when we had the shaky year of maybe we can run it, maybe we can't. We had lots of people last year who are willing to kind of stick their necks out and put some pretty a lot of work into events that maybe didn't even happen or maybe they did happen, which was wonderful. And so those people were were really pivotal to where we are today. And, you know, during that last year, I wasn't around during election, so I didn't hold a role on anything during my third year. Now I'm in my fourth year, right? So during that year, there were also like there were other people who were just going above and beyond and doing everything they could despite having that threat of COVID constantly over their head. And so now this year, I'm trying to take my turn and do what I can to to keep events going. And there are lots of other people who are doing the same thing. 


Right. And I guess kind of round everything off, you know, coming back this year to kind of a more normal you, I guess you could call it. And seeing all the first year Aggies in particular for you experiencing all the events and stuff, would you say like you know, this is kind of what it was supposed to be for everyone? 


Yeah, like you should. I think there's a few people around campus who think I'm a little crazy because I'll be walking down, you know, kind of the main drag. And I just have a huge grin on my face because it makes me so happy to see not just students in the OAC, but just students in general. They're on campus, they're walking in groups together. They're going to the library together. They're they're on campus, they're in person. They're, you know, getting that social component that we've been missing for so long. And so that's just something that keeps me motivated to to keep working and all of these things to keep these events going because I see the rewards that is happening. I think people have experienced a fairly regular year this year. And so, you know, and I've talked to Professor about this as well, about how the feel on campus this year is the same feel that we had in 2019 when COVID was nonexistent. No one knew what was. Yeah. And so it has returned to that and that and it's on its way to returning that. I wouldn't say it's perfect just yet, but it's on its way there, which is just it makes me happy because I know that I had that time in my life in my first couple of years at university and and other people got robbed of that. But I hope, you know, people don't forget what happened the last two years and they make the most of what they have left. And I think people are doing that. It's it's really good to see. 


Yeah. You know what I would say, you know, I'm a first student myself and I think coming here, this is what I was always told it was going to be like. So I'm really happy to see, you know, it's kind of back to normal. I'm really glad to hear as well from you that same kind of feels it should be. And I mean, that's it's good to hear. Thank you for your time Owen. 


Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me. 


Of course. We'll be in contact. I'll send you over the transcript and the audio message and all that. But yeah, thanks again. Perfect. 


Thanks very much. 


Of Course