Mary Koziol is from Ottawa, but she is proud to be a Hamiltonian.
The 24-year-old works in the McMaster president’s office on community outreach projects such as the inaugural OPEN STREETS McMaster Edition, and the YWCA Women’s Leadership summit that takes place on Saturday. The leadership summit is so popular that online registration filled up in just four days.
In May, the McMaster University grad was selected as a Hamilton YWCA ‘Woman of Distinction’ in politics and public affairs.
Sitting down on a sunny day, Koziol shared insights and experiences of her current job, serving as a YWCA board member, and becoming the first woman McMaster Students Union (MSU) president in 22 years when she was elected in 2010.
Koziol lives in the North End and feels indebted to the city for the rich learning opportunities that have integrated her into the community.
She designed and teaches an experiential education course where Hamilton community members such as Stephanie McLarty (president and CEO of REfficient) and Carly Gaylor (executive director of the Welcome Inn Centre) mentor McMaster students in topics of leadership and social change.
Read on about her love and belief in bettering the city and strengthening the ties between McMaster and Hamilton through women leadership, education, and youth engagement.
A: I’m from Ottawa originally. I moved to Hamilton, definitely for McMaster. I would like to think that I’m a very logical person who employs deductive reasoning but McMaster was a gut feeling. I liked the feel that I got from the campus, I liked the humbleness of the campus – that was very important to me. I liked that McMaster is a very prestigious place but not a pretentious place, and I feel that places such as these have something going for them.
A: It’s funny because I feel my focus has really shifted. In Ottawa, I was not as involved in the community; I was very involved in sports. I played hockey for two different teams – a girls team and a boys team. My dad had a hockey rink in the backyard so I’ve been playing since I was 2 years old. I played competitively for 17 years.Mary Koziol helped organize Mac Open Streets.
A: I have strong interests which are fueled by that. I think my passion for environmentalism comes from the belief that you should not take more than your fair share in this world. I think that it’s sometimes challenging living in Western society because we’re given more than our fair share, so how do you reconcile that? I think that my interest in women’s issues, environmentalism, in health – they all feed really nicely into this passion for education. I think education has this power to develop you and that’s the goal of university. That’s why we’re having such critical conversations about universities right now and what they’re actually doing. University education is supposed to create people who are mindful of the global world and contributing citizens. That’s what we need in order for this world to function. There’s this quote I came across from one of my favourite feminist activist: “We need to fight for one another; it’s either all of us or none of us.” I like that approach to things because it’s so easy to look out for yourself and people like you, and not give a hoot about anyone remotely different from you. I think that’s why I’ve gotten so involved with my local community. There’s something so rewarding about community engagement at the local level because it’s easier to work with people than work for them.
A: I’m on the board as of June. Initially I got involved with the Y because I was working with the McMaster Students Union on getting the Women’s Leadership Summit going this past March – same week as International Women’s Day. This interest sprang up when I was President of the MSU (2010-2011) – I was the first female president in 22 years. That statistic alone . . . it was a bit of a shock. That piqued my interest as to why there is a lack in female representation. Once your eyes are open to that, you see it everywhere – you see it in federal government, you see it in provincial government, you see it in large companies; there aren’t a lot of female CEOs or female entrepreneurs or females on boards of directors. The other day I met someone who’s a professor in the business school, and he was telling me how there isn’t a single female on Air Canada’s board of directors. And when you think about how many female employees Air Canada has, it doesn’t match up whatsoever. So I was very interested in this lack of female representation, initially just in student politics. That’s why the Women’s Summit was born.Mary Koziol helped organize the women's summit.
A: I noticed it within McMaster, but there are a lot of females in the service side of things and underrepresented in the political sphere. I started looking and noticed it everywhere. I had a meeting with the YWCA to talk about community collaborations for my job here (community initiatives) and started talking about this passion of mine. Denise, CEO of YWCA, was involved in Elect More Women – a city version of getting more women elected municipally. So the partnership was born and we had our first conference in the spring at McMaster. It was great and now we’re going bigger – a city-wide summit to be held in City Hall. The goal of the conference is to promote women as leaders – leaders in all spheres. There’s a real chance for cross-pollination there where women can learn from one another in the community. There are so many fantastic mentors out there! There’s a lot that McMaster has to offer but there’s also so much the community has to offer, and bringing the two together is really nice – McMaster is part of the community and we’re working on broadening that McMaster bubble.
A: I think why some of the negativity between the two communities exists . . . is because you see yourself as something separate. The university campus cannot be a city – we depend on the city, we’re part of the city, it’s our life source. I think it needs to be stressed. It’s so routine for people to speak about them as completely different spheres. And that’s how this beautiful connection happened with me and Denise of the YWCA, because that led to a lot more. From there, YWCA invited me to speak at the Totally Awesome Young Women’s Breakfast which for high school girls. I really like [working with] high school girls, because I identify with their pain. (Laughs)Mary Koziol was the first female student president in 22 years.
A: I think high school is a really hard time for young girls. And it’s such a great opportunity for female mentorship, especially young female mentors. Because when you’re a teenager, you sometimes don’t identify as well with an adult in your life. So to have young females as positive role models – I’m a Big Sister, so I have a 14-year-old Little Sister and some of the things she tells me remind me of me when I was 14. It just reminds me of the importance of having someone who helps broaden your perspective in terms of the world. Some of the messages you’re inundated with, if you don’t have someone to help you challenge them they become the reality for you. So I was able to speak at the Totally Awesome Young Women’s Breakfast and I was able to talk about the importance of self-confidence, and of believing in themselves. I told them my own story about running for president and how as a more introverted person, it took a lot for me to put myself out there. But it’s been so rewarding – I can’t even begin to describe how much has come from that one risk I took. So I hope to inspire them to become leaders in their own right, and I gave them the same statistics: this is how many female CEOs in how many companies, this is how many female prime ministers we have had – just to get them thinking.
A: I think my passion is to empower people but in particular, women and young girls – to realize their own potential, to see themselves as valuable and active members of the community. I think this is the transformation I see in myself when I ran for president in university; you realize how much power for change you can get if you just grasp it. But you have to grasp it. Nobody else will do it for you. So I realized that if you don’t like something, don’t complain about, do something about it. And help people discover their own agency.Mary Koziol with McMaster president Patrick Deane.
A: It’s interesting because I think this is why I like my job in the president’s office where we ask “How do you work together?” You’re coming from different places with different resources – and it’s the same with the coming from the university and working with the community. I think I’ve been really lucky in having many mentors and professors I have gotten to learn from. I’ve learned from them that respect is of the utmost importance. I think a desire for reciprocity – like realizing that you may have different goals but aiming to satisfy both goals, is very important as well. To create change on a small scale, you let people speak for themselves instead of speaking for them. There needs to be participatory governance in engaging the community to solve their own problems as opposed to thinking you have all the answers. We need to let people determine what they want, and be involved in that process.
A: I’m not satisfied with my accomplishments because there is so much work to be done. I’ve had the privilege of working with really amazing people who has shown me that there is a long-term commitment and deep motivation to create sustainable and long-lasting community change. Whatever I have accomplished, there is more to be done. Being surrounded by greatness (all the people that I’ve talked about) should inspire you. So what have I accomplished? (Pause.) Hopefully, I’ve started to help pave the way for more women to be involved in visible positions within student leadership. I hope that people like myself, like Siobhan [Stewart, the president of the McMaster Student Union] can start to change that trend. We need to change things on a macro-scale. A quote from Miss Representation, which is a movie about females in the media in the United States: “If we continue at the levels we’re at in terms females in the government, we won’t achieve the same number of men and women for 400 years.” It is American, but the statistics are not much better in Canada. And I think something that’s powerful of Siobhan is that she’s not just a woman, but a woman of colour. People like her are so important because I hope I can inspire women to aspire to leadership positions, but it’s not just being a woman, it’s a whole host of other barriers that exist. People like Siobhan are inspirational because she represents a racialized woman, and that’s very powerful.Mary Koziol loves to bike the trails in Hamilton.
A: I think there are physical and mental barriers that the broader community feels about campus – that they don’t belong here. McMaster is on the other side of the 403, there’s expensive parking, you don’t drive through the campus on the way to grab a coffee for example. There are physical barriers for people to come to campus. The goal of OPEN STREETS is to transform the campus from this “elite” space into a community space where everyone can enjoy and participate in. That’s what makes a vibrant community, where resources are shared by everyone and not just by certain people.
A: There’s a lot of diversity on campus but there is so much more than that beyond campus. I’m passionate about Hamilton because it has taught me a lot, and a lot about myself. I feel a real indebtedness because it has allowed me such rich learning opportunities. I feel my role is to strengthen both the McMaster and Hamilton communities. We study about poverty and healthcare at McMaster, and all the things that are living and breathing in Hamilton – there’s so much richness. We learn that there are many shades to poverty and I have to wonder why so many people look at Hamilton with their noses turned up when there are so many shades to it. I think Hamilton is also a humble city just like Mac is a humble campus. I think McMaster owes its humbleness to Hamilton.Mary Koziol, top left, has played hockey for 17 years.
A: I think Hamiltonians are in general very humble people. They’re passionate but they don’t feel the need to do it at anybody else’s expenses. The university is embedded in such a community that translates onto the campus. It’s this genuine humbleness that makes me want to stay in the city [beyond graduation]. But I also think it’s because I’m involved – and when you’re just a student “judging” Hamilton, you don’t see it. I live in the North End of Hamilton and North-Enders love the North End.
A: Yes. Yes. Yes! I think what’s special about youth is that we don’t know how it has always been done so we come up with new ways of doing things. And we ask “why not”? I realized that about myself working in the university – sometimes I feel naïve but it’s that naivite that helps me strive to accomplish things because I’m not satisfied with the status quo. That’s what’s powerful about youth – that deep-set belief that things could be better and change is possible.
A: Yes, I definitely do. I consider myself as a Hamiltonian because I have a love for and a belief in Hamilton. But Hamiltonians are straight shooters. They don't romanticize our city, but they see the beauty and potential in it nonetheless.