Calling All Greasy Girls!

How women can and should be in control of their car’s maintenance

Google “girls and cars,” I’ll wait. All the hits are not safe for work, right? The narrative of girls being the ones who wash and model cars is indicative of a larger idea: women don’t know as much about cars as men do. I didn’t want to believe it — what does my gender have to do with anything? — but I was proven wrong at my car’s last six-month service appointment.

In early October, I took my 2016 Hyundai Elantra to the dealership for its regular service. In the final year of a three-year lease, I’ve had no issues with these services in the past.

During my appointment, the waiting room was unusually warm, like the temperature outside, and the seats as uncomfortable as expected. Just as I was getting drawn in to the CP24 story of Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper being in Washington at the same time, they said my car was ready.

“Hey Savoula, everything looks good,” the ever-affable Ben reported. I had to give the guy kudos—he repeated my difficult name a lot.

“Since I put on my winter tires last week, you guys didn’t charge me for tire rotation, right?” I jumped in.

I felt proud for knowing what usually comes in these six-month services. Truthfully, my knowledge of cars isn’t as detailed as I want it to be, so whenever I’m dealing with car-related checks, I pay close attention.

“Don’t worry, we didn’t rotate the tires. Here’s your total.” Ben showed me the invoice and I nodded. “Savoula, just so you know, usually every two years, cars have to go through a more extensive service where we perform a lot more maintenance. It’s usually $2,000 of work. Since you’ve reached that point in your lease, I’ll go ahead and add that total here and schedule you to come back.”

My eyebrows hit the ceiling; I couldn’t pick which expletive to start with. He spewed out words I didn’t understand, trying to explain why my car needed several different fixes. Ben’s geniality levels plummeted like a rock climber on a slippery foothold when he told me it didn’t matter what year the car was made—this service was standard procedure.

Thoughts 1 through 10 ran through my brain at the same time: should I just agree? But why wasn’t I warned about this upcoming $2,000 service before today? Is he just doing this because I seem naïve? Is it because I’m a girl? Wait…why is he typing right now?

“Sorry, Ben, I’m not going to be paying extra today. I need to think about it. Is there a pamphlet I can take home?” I meekly asked, feeling like not even his thick-rimmed glasses could shield the skepticism in his eyes.

“Sure, but you’re going to see it’s the right thing to do. Give me a call when you change your mind,” he replied, looking back to his computer and dismissing any other questions I might have had.


I couldn’t help but wonder if the same thing would have happened if I was an older driver. Or a dude.

Savoula - Girls and Cars - Photo 3.jpg

I’m not alone in feeling like my gender played a role in how I was treated that day. Studies still show women leave dealerships feeling uneasy, uncomfortable and uneducated about cars.

A study released in December by CDK Global highlights 43 per cent of women who completed online reviews for dealerships found their experiences differed from the experiences of men. The most common words used in their reviews included “stressed,” “overwhelmed” and “panicked.” Rather than wait around for a dealership services manager or mechanic I found trustworthy, I put faith in myself and got educated (largely with the help of WikiHow).

Most recently with the bad weather, I found where the washer fluid reservoir is under the hood of my car and learned how to replace the fluid when I run out. I also discovered where to get fluid from (you can’t just mix soap and water and use it as fluid….I asked).

Ladies, try a more worthwhile Google search, like “girls learn cars,” and arm yourselves with knowledge from like-minded women. Those Google hits look more encouraging: let the Vroom Girls share how much to pay a mechanic; watch Jessica Chou show you how to negotiate the price of a car; or read Grease Girl’s Garage DIYs on how to perform some simple service tasks for yourself.

If more girls learn the basics about car maintenance, we can hopefully make a dent in the current narrative and prove women can be just as knowledgeable about cars as men.

Spoiler alert: my car is still surviving without the $2,000 service.

Savoula Stylianou, Author 

Savoula is a writer, traveler, music lover and Harry Potter fan. She graduated from Queen’s University with her BAH and MA in Religious Studies before entering Humber’s Professional Writing and Communications program this year. The thing Savoula loves most about writing is finding the most creative ways to share an experience with readers, as so many writers she loves, like Judy Blume and Alice Munro, have shared with her.

Millennials in the Workplace

Integrating a blend of older and younger workers in a workplace presents managers with unique challenges.  Differences in values, interests and communication styles are just a few of these challenges.  A lot has been written about the generational clash that’s occurring in work places today as the boomers struggle to accept millennial hires.  For the first time in history, there are five generations of employees sharing office space: traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, millennials, and generation Z, so it’s bound to feel crowded.

The dynamics have shifted as many boomers are reluctant to retire and are working longer than ever before.  The latest census data from Statistics Canada show more and more Canadians are working past 65 “whether for their health, their finances or just for the fun of it.”  This means that there simply hasn’t been as much room for millennial hires, and that the lucky ones who do get hired are unlikely to be making salaries commensurate with their qualifications.

It is unfortunate that millennials have gotten the short-end-of-the-stick so to speak.  Adjectives such as “lazy,” “disloyal,” “self-interested,” and “entitled” are used with abandon.  The reality is that millennials are the best-educated yet worst paid generation, and they are the ones with something to gripe about.

Derek Thompson, a contributor to The Atlantic, writes in his article “The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials?”, “Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you’re disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials–and only for millennials.”

Wynne - Chalkboard

Millennials are a by-product of an unstable job market where part-time and contract work proliferates.  Companies downsized drastically in the second half of the last century and this trend continues today.  Only this past October we were reading about Loblaw laying off 500 office workers in an effort to cut costs.  Millennials have heard the message loud and clear; job security is no longer the norm.

Gone are the days of defined benefit pensions that workers can count on in retirement.  The Sears fiasco illustrates this uncertainty as long-time Sears employees learned that their severance and pension payments are in jeopardy and that it’s very likely they won’t be able to recoup the full amounts owing to them.

In her Toronto Star article “Will the defined benefit plan disappear?” Vanessa Lu writes,

“Things were good in the 1980s and 1990s, but after the 2008 financial crisis, companies were hit with huge deficits thanks to poor stock market returns, and many employers got out of the defined benefit pension business.  Some switched to defined contribution plans, where individuals have investment accounts, but the payout at retirement depends on how those investments fare.  Other employers simply don’t offer a pension plan at all.  Nearly 1.3 million workers in Ontario do not have access to any type of employer-sponsored workplace pension.  In Canada’s private sector, only one person in five has a workplace pension.”

It’s clear that times are tough and millennials are feeling the pressure.  They have been forced to adapt and have come to see themselves more as freelancers.  This doesn’t make them disloyal; it makes them adaptable.  Although they value job security, they have low expectations, and who can blame them?

Adding insult to injury is the cost of post secondary education.  As millennials well know, a bachelor’s degree is often no longer enough and a master’s degree is no guarantee.  This phenomenon is called credential inflation and its costing millennials big time.  A recent survey from the Bank of Montreal found that most students expect to graduate with more than $20,000 in debt, and more than a fifth are anticipating debt of more than $40,000.

A 2012 HuffPost article entitled “Generation Y vs. Boomers in Canada: Is it Tougher for Millennials to Get Ahead Today than Past Generations?” summarizes as follows:

“Yet a high school diploma today is hardly a guarantor of success in the workforce, as most are well aware. So Canadian millennials now face a new financial obstacle in life: While their predecessors struggled with the costs of housing and transportation and food, millennials find themselves struggling with the cost of education as well.”

By the time millennials enter the work force it’s likely they have at least one degree and a variety of jobs under their belt that helped pay for that degree.  They have also likely worked for free as they completed unpaid internships.  Boomers tossing around the word “lazy” should keep these things in mind.

Shawna Wynne - Pre-promo post image

Millennials have a lot of positive traits to bring to the table.  They are collaborative by nature and work well with diverse groups of people; they are tech-savvy and multi-task with ease, and they care about the kind of work they do and want work with a purpose.  Unfortunately, a large percentage of millennials don’t feel they are being used to their full potential and say there’s a lack of mentorship available to them.

The problem stems from the top and it’s not the boomers or the millennials fault that the system is broken.  Issues like ageism, internal competition, and a fragile sense of job security are infecting workplaces.  Companies are focused on profit margins, not people.  As Dani-ElleDubé writes for Global News, “Companies decided it wasn’t worth investing time and money into recruiting and retaining millennial employees.”

It’s therefore high time the boomers cut the millennials some slack and stop making them the scapegoats.

Shawna Wynne, Author

Shawna is a Humber graduate who has worked as a legal assistant since graduating from the paralegal program in 2013.  The part about law she enjoys most is writing, and after careful consideration this past summer she decided to pursue a career in writing, as opposed to becoming a licensed paralegal.  When she is writing, she is content and utterly in the moment.  She also enjoys reading and reads a bit of everything.  She’s read thousands of books throughout her life and always has one (or two) on the go.

Why I Write

I started to write because it was the only way my friends would let me tell stories.

It was 1970. Like many young Baby Boomers, I was a big Star Trek fan. So were my friends. We wanted to pretend that we were Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, and all the others. The biggest fan of all, I even made 3D cardboard phasers, communicators and tricorders for us to use as props.

We lived in a half-finished subdivision, and so would go adventuring among the pits dug for the foundations of houses that were yet to be built. Down into the depths of the pit we’d climb (today’s parents are getting more horrified by the syllable as they read this), phasers at the ready to face any aliens we encountered or foes we conjured up in our imaginations.Paul Keery Blog Image

The real foe we met was me.

“Look!” Henry playing Spock cried, pointing towards a pit wall. “There’s a bunch of bad aliens over there.”

“Spock wouldn’t say it that way,” I as Kirk put in, the pre-teen writer/editor at work. “He’d say ‘Those aliens may present a danger to us.”

“No he wouldn’t!”

“Yes he would! You’re not saying it logically.” And the debate would go on from there, allowing the aliens to go uncontacted and ruining the game.

The same thing happened with other friends playing other characters, with me correcting their dialogue as Uhura, McCoy or Scotty. Finally, I was told to cease and desist, or risk mutiny by being pushed into one of the pits. Grumbling, I went along.

That night, I started writing my own Star Trek fan stories, two-finger typing on my mother’s old manual typewriter. At least the paper couldn’t answer back.


The writing bug never went away. In high school, my friend Kevin and I managed to persuade the English Department to let us publish a science fiction magazine, The Reticulum. We used one of the old hand-cranked ditto machines to run off 100 single-sided copies of a 40-page issue (any more and we risked getting high from the fumes emitted by the copying chemicals, and the English Department wouldn’t let us have any more paper, anyway). To our surprise, it was a hit. We published another issue the following year, then The Reticulum came to a sad end; we graduated, and went our separate ways. In those pre-internet days, there was no way to work together across a 2000-kilometer separation.

When I went to university, I found that I enjoyed writing history, politics and other non-fiction essays for my courses. Writing for my undergraduate and graduate courses took up all my time, and so I stopped writing anything that wasn’t for school.

But I remembered. After I established myself as a teacher, I started to write again. I began with more newspaper articles at first. A foray into fiction brought some very nice personal rejection letters from fiction editors, though no sales. Then I returned to writing non-fiction and expanded my repertoire to include advertorial and educational writing.

Dissatisfied with many of the texts I was using in class, I tried writing books in my classroom teaching style, using humour and anecdotes to make history more interesting. I enjoyed writing the books, and they were both warmly received – though the first had very limited distribution, as the publisher went bankrupt the week after publication. Only later did I learn I was writing creative non-fiction, which, of all the styles I can write in, is the one I most enjoy.

Writing has always been a big part of my life. I always wanted to write for a living, and admired others who did. My goal now is to become a full-time writer, and taking Humber’s Professional Writing and Communications program is a big step towards achieving that goal.

Maybe at last, after five decades, I’m doing what I was meant to do.

A tour through the tunnels

PWC students go below ground to explore the history of Humber College

In this post, student writer Sarah Nieman chronicles an afternoon spent getting closer to the buildings we walk by every day. Sarah is a member of this year’s PWC cohort.

Humber’s Tunnels

With armfuls of legends and ghost sightings, you’d think that the entrance to Humber’s storied tunnel system would be a vault door with iron grating, or at least a hidden door, inconspicuous to the outside world. Instead, visitors to the tunnels begin their journey in the relatively unspooky L building, just past a mundane loading dock.

On Friday, December 2nd, several PWC students braved a cold and rainy day to follow Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre curator and guide Jennifer Bazar on a tour not only through the cottages, but through history.

The tunnels, like the red brick “cottages” they run beneath, were built in the 1880s by male patients of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto. What would first be called the Mimico Asylum and finally the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital was designed as a “moral treatment” experiment; physical labour and a focus on the natural world around the hospital would heal patients.  Even the apple orchard that runs between the two sides of campus was part of this treatment: patients tended it and collected the apples produced.

Used to transport supplies from building to building, the tunnels originally had tracks running through them like in a coal mine. Although the tracks were removed in the 1930s, you can still see the domed brick ceiling and original river rock foundation in some sections.

The layers of building material that cover the walls of the tunnels is reminiscent of the stone layers found on grand ancient ruins. Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital was continuously repurposed as the years went by, changes evidenced by varying materials, changing shades of brick, and bricked-over windows and doorways. Wandering the tunnels, some of which lead to buildings that no longer exist, those on tour can feel the energy of long-gone inhabitants.

A view from the past: Humber’s entrance and cottages

Historically, the facilities changed as the treatment did. The shift to physical intervention in the 1940s with the rise of electroshock therapy and leucotomies (the Canadian version of lobotomies) and then the synthesis of chemical anti-depressants in the 1950s and 60s saw a gradual population decline in the hospital. Patients no longer needed to live there to manage their illnesses.

The hospital closed in 1979, and lay mostly abandoned until 1991, when Humber College signed a 99-year lease for much of the property. The College restored the buildings to their current state: modern on the inside, yet restored to their original red stone beauty on the outside.

This year saw the opening of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, which chronicles the history and culture of the site. “History is a great way of challenging how people see the world,” curator Jennifer Bazar told me when I asked about the importance of studying the property, “It’s so easy to arrive on campus, go to class and head home – without ever taking a moment to realize the life the buildings around us have lived, the events they have ‘witnessed’.”

Tunnel tours at Humber College are available to the public on Doors Open and Culture Days, and to student groups by appointment. Humber College’s Lakeshore Grounds Interpretation Centre will open its first exhibit starting in January, focusing on a history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. For more information, visit

Eileen Magill: My mom, the Superwoman


PWC student Eileen Magill shares a personal reflection on her mother’s experience with Celiac disease.

I must have been 12 or 13 when I realized my mom wasn’t well. She was showing signs of illness before then, but I had been too consumed with teenage affairs to notice. She was Superwoman, and to a naïve 13 year old, Superwoman could defeat any and every type of adversity.

In her 20’s, she was nothing short of stunning. She had thick brown hair, a flawless tan the colour of beach sand, and the body of a supermodel. But most importantly, she was healthy.

When she was 35, she was finally diagnosed with Celiac disease, but was sick for a long time before then. For years, she experienced massive weight loss, chronic pain, constant fatigue, anemia, and confusion. I remember at one point she had become so thin and fragile that I could see the bones protruding from her skin. Her face had developed so many wrinkles and her hair had grown so gray that people were astonished when shown photos of her in her 20’s. She was hospitalized 18 times before doctors finally discovered what was wrong with her. But by then, it was already too late. The Celiac had already eaten away at her digestive tract and it can now never be repaired.

Celiac disease causes the immune system to mistake gluten as a toxin and therefore sends out immunities to attack it in the intestines, destroying them in the process. It causes both physical and mental breakdown – nausea, pain, weight loss, dental enamel, depression, anxiety, irritability, and more.

The day I learned how serious my mom’s illness was, we were baking a cake for my 13th birthday. We were laughing at something my little sister did when my mom sneezed and cake batter flew and showered her face – her mouth, her nose, her skin – with gluten. We knew she wasn’t allowed to consume it, but we were ignorant of the consequences if she did.

Later that day, my friends and I were playing video games on my Nintendo 64 when I heard a big bang from upstairs. I ran up to discover that my mom had fallen over in pain and was too confused to find her way to the bedroom. Terrified, I called an ambulance and they arrived right away. I felt just as confused as my mom when I finally realized the source of her pain– the cake batter she had accidentally inhaled earlier was quite literally destroying her. Gluten was her kryptonite.

Today, my mom is much more careful around gluten, but even a crumb the size of a grain of salt can trigger an episode of violent illness, confusion, weakness, suffering.

While I was home visiting her this past weekend, I tagged along to one of her doctor’s appointments. I learned that her Celiac had progressed so much that it created other health problems such as hypothyroidism and collagenous colitis.

She doesn’t tell anyone about her illnesses because she doesn’t want them to think any differently of her. “My having Celiac may limit me from doing the same things as other people” she says. “But it will never change the one thing I really care about – my ability to be a good mother.” And she is right. She doesn’t let her kryptonite disable her. She has and will continue to be my mom, the Superwoman.


Risa’s Fictional Fundraising Letter


Our students are given a variety of assignments to help them prepare for real world scenarios. Here is an example of Risa de Rege’s letter for Annex Cat Rescue.





February 2, 2016

Annex Cat Rescue
P.O. Box 19028
360A Bloor Street West
Toronto, Ont., M5S 3C9
416 – 410 – 3835

Dear Michael,

I want to tell you a story that I think will warm your heart, even in this weather.

Winter, the lovely cat pictured below, came into our care on a cold winter’s day in 2014. Abandoned in the streets, he had a number of medical issues besides the bitter cold. Arthritis. Early renal failure. Severe dehydration. He wasn’t expected to live for very long.

Two years later, he’s thriving!Picture2

Winter was happily – and luckily – taken into a loving and caring home where he can play, sleep and eat all day. His medical issues are now in check and he’s as happy as can be. Any cat’s dream.

Winter’s is one of countless stories, but they don’t always have happy endings. There are an estimated 100,000 homeless cats in Toronto, and many of them will not make it, at risk of disease, malnutrition, or potential euthanization in overcrowded shelters. And cats need warmth and love now more than ever in these cold, dark months.

But there is hope.

Organizations like the Annex Cat Rescue fight relentlessly to help cats across the city. Operating on a strictly no-kill basis, our extensive network of foster homes gives cats from all backgrounds the love and care they need to thrive so that they can be successfully adopted into their “forever homes.”

In 2014, 180 cats were happily adopted thanks to the dedication and kindness of our volunteers and donors like you. We also helped feed and provide veterinary care to over 400 feral cats. We save lives. And we can’t do it without you.

The Annex Cat Rescue relies entirely on donations to keep running – which we’ve been doing since 1997. In this envelope you’ll find a donation card and a self-addressed envelope, postage paid. We know we can count on you to help us fulfill our vision for Toronto to be a city where all cats are loved and cared for.

With your help, they can all have an ending as happy as Winter’s.


Risa de Rege
Annex Cat Rescue


Winter wouldn’t have received the urgent medical care he needed without the generous financial support of our donors – people just like you who care about animals and agree with us that all cats should have access to the love and care they deserve. Help make success stories like his the norm for all cats in need by donating today.

Christina Williams: Learning to Breathe

We love sharing great writing from our students. Here’s a piece from Cristina Williams, class of 2015-16.

Will you let stress consume you or will you take a breath?

By Cristina Williams

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a cream-coloured MINI Cooper, crawling through an unlit industrial area of a Toronto suburb. My friend Louise is driving, and I’m peering into the darkness, looking for the yoga studio where our friend Kate, a mindfulness coach, will be holding her meditation event Reboot 4.0.

It’s 6:57. The event begins at 7 p.m.

It’s too dark to see street numbers. I’m ready to suggest we go home but remember Google maps on my iPhone. I only ever use my phone for texting and checking email a million times a day. I’m grateful for it at this moment more than usual.

I type in the address. We appear as a blue dot. I’m relieved to see we’re only one minute away from the studio. As Louise drives, the blue dot moves further away from our destination.

We’re going the wrong way.

We turn around. Louise and I have both been under a lot of stress lately, for different reasons, and the stress in the car feels palpable. I almost expect it to materialize in some beastly form and laugh at us before devouring us. I begin to wonder if I’m too stressed to meditate. Is that possible?

A shop window beckons us. Filled with incandescent chandeliers, the shop is magical in the barren landscape. A beacon in the darkness. Next to it stands a discreet building. The yoga studio.

We pull in, park and rush inside. I’m eager to see Kate. This is the first time I’ll see her in action, doing what she loves.

A man and woman standing behind a table with an aqua glass top greet us and usher us into a room. About 50 people sit in fold up chairs that face a window lined with burning candles.

We spy Kate. Her blond hair is growing out. A big smile on her face, she comes over. We all hug and chat for a few moments. The energy in the room feels good, and Kate is serene, vibrant and glowing.

Louise and I take seats in the second row. Kate walks up and begins her talk. She is cerebral and self-contained. Dressed in a grey tunic, leggings and tall boots, she struts back and forth, delivering facts about stress.

Technology has sped up the pace of life. We receive on average 176 emails per day. Sixty per cent of Canadian workers are stressed, on the edge of losing it. Stress makes us sick.

Kate shares her story. She lived on autopilot until cancer stopped her in her tracks. With the help of mindfulness meditation, she learned how to face cancer with openness and to accept it as a chance to change the way she lives her life.

Her presentation rivets her audience. But facts and theory never measure up to practice. Before engaging us in a seated meditation, Kate has us stand in mountain pose, stable and rooted but ever changing.

Stress melts away. Moments of focused breathing usher in awareness and my being lightens. Nothing matters in those moments. I’m present. All I have is now. And it is beautiful.

Although I’m thankful for technology, I know I can live without it for an hour, even two. Even my email can wait.

Tip from Kate: Take 3 Deep Breaths. If you can’t meditate for 5-10 minutes you can likely take 3 deep breaths. Breathe deeply so that your belly moves in and out. Take a few deep breaths before a meeting to clear the noise in your head.