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Agora Fellows explore happiness in NYC

The Agora Fellows pose in Central Park.

Until she moved to Canada at age 20, University of Guelph-Humber Psychology student Maggie Stein spent her life growing up in southern New Jersey, only about a two-hour drive from New York City.

And yet, Stein never in her life had the chance to visit the Big Apple, having grown up in a household where money was tight and a trip there seemed like a luxury. Until February, that is, when she and UofGH’s other Agora Fellows visited New York on an all-expenses-paid field trip.

It was another eye-opening experience for the Agora Fellows, who appropriately spent the year studying and discussing happiness.

“It was quite an experience,” Stein said. “I couldn’t have planned a better trip myself. We got to see everything.”

The Agora Fellowships bring together students from all UofGH programs for intellectually engaging discussions about society, politics, economics, psychology and culture, led by Assistant Vice-Provost and Business Program Head Dr. George Bragues.

Over the past school year, the group discussed works by Aristotle and Adam Smith over their eight meetings while also receiving the wisdom of Dr. Jorge Yamamoto, a visiting professor from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru whose research focuses on happiness, and Assistant Program Head of Electives Matthew LaGrone, who sat in on all the reading group meetings.

Part of what made those discussions so lively and fascinating was that the diversity of the Agora Fellows’ educational backgrounds.

“It was actually amazing,” said Ovais Ahmad, a fourth-year Justice Studies student. “All of us love learning, so we went in there with that mindset. Everybody has an informed opinion. And you’re getting totally different perspectives. Radically different.”

Those conversations – and the camaraderie that developed – were reward enough, but still the trip to New York was a special opportunity.

The Agora Fellows visited seemingly every New York landmark, including the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Strawberry Fields memorial, and the New York Stock Exchange.

“It was jam-packed,” said Ahmad with a laugh. “There couldn’t have been a better tour guide than George. Yeah, my feet were killing me, but it was so amazing.”

Added Stein: “The best part, which was shocking to me, was really the New York Public Library. It was just beautiful. I felt I was in this place of knowledge with these knowledgeable people. It just totally blew my mind. I felt like I deserved to be there.”

Ahmad and Stein agree that the Agora Fellows’ challenging readings and open-minded discussions could only have a positive impact on their studies. The bonds that were formed are valuable too.

“It was nice to have a cohort of people you could trust. We formed a nice, strong little crew. If I have a paper I want edited, I’ll send it to Ovais,” Stein said, with a laugh.

“I just think it’s important that people apply. Our university, unlike some others, really gives an opportunity for people who work hard to be rewarded. That’s huge. That doesn’t happen too often – usually it’s just in the form of a piece of paper.

“But this was rewarding intellectually and personally. I definitely grew.”

The deadline to apply for the Agora Fellowship is Friday, April 7. For inquiries, please email

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