About Student Open Circles

Group of students at a retreat

Since 2001, Student Open Circles has been working with students to support them in their life and spiritual journeys and to make a difference in the community.

Founders, Marybeth Leis and Jeff Druery, have been providing guidance for students since 1995. As they listened to students, they recognized the need for welcoming and respectful spaces for students from a diversity of backgrounds to explore meaning, values, spirituality, and social justice.

We are a Canadian registered charity based in Hamilton, Ontario (registration number 891444309 RR0001).

Our Board Members

Our Vision

Students who care about self and others, and create better communities wherever they go

Our Mission

Student Open Circles mentors and empowers students from diverse backgrounds in personal and spiritual reflection, community service, and leadership development

Our Values

  • Mutual Respect
  • Care and Compassion
  • Spiritual Reflection and Growth
  • Authenticity and Integrity
  • Dignity and Worth of all Individuals
  • Inclusion
  • Resilience in Community

Our Major Sponsors

Student Open Circles is supported by the generosity of donors, local community partners, and grants. Every contribution makes a difference. Become a Donor

Hamilton Community Foundation Logo

Funding for our Community Volunteer Circles program is provided by The Edith H. Turner Foundation Fund of the Hamilton Community Foundation.

Ontario Trillium Foundation Logo

Funding for COVID-19 recovery is provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation's Resilient Communities Fund.

Hamilton Mennonite Church Logo

Recognizing the need for inclusive, non-sectarian spaces for students to engage in spiritual exploration and service, Hamilton Mennonite Church has financially supported Student Open Circles from our inception.

Hands lifted up

Many other individual donors help to make Student Open Circles possible. Become a Donor

Our Board Members

Robert Cockcroft (he/him)

Rob Cockcroft

Rob Cockcroft is a teaching faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Director of the William J McCallion Planetarium, and Secretary for the Canadian Astronomical Society. Teaching science and communicating science to the general public, or "outreach", are both fields that are extremely important to him and activities that he enjoys. Through this work, he is also engaging with Indigenous scholars to work collaboratively on Indigenous astronomy projects.

I appreciated the mindfulness and reflectiveness that Student Open Circles fostered when I was a graduate student; this practice helped me (and continues to help me!) with my academic work and also in life in general.  I want to support SOC by being a board member as I'm keen to support students holistically, and I think reflection circles and volunteer activities are very valuable opportunities.

Clare de Souza

Clare De Souza

Clare recently graduated from McMaster University with an Honours degree in English & Cultural Studies and Sociology. She is currently working for an international charity that provides medical services and community support for under resourced populations. She hopes to continue to work with organizations that nurture personal and collective growth. 

Student Open Circles has inspired me to prioritize reflection, which has helped me be more present in my personal and professional life. I’m grateful for the work SOC does to promote community engagement and self-improvement, and am looking forward to supporting their mission as a board member.

Dave Heidebrecht (he/him)

Dave Heidebrecht

Dave Heidebrecht is an advisor on special projects in the Office of the Vice Provost Teaching and Learning at McMaster University. He supports the development of experiential learning programs, coordinates internal networks of colleagues across campus, and is also an instructor in the University's Interdisciplinary Minor in Community Engagement. He was the founding chair of Cycle Hamilton Coalition Inc., an advocacy organization that promotes a healthy, safe, and sustainable cycling culture in Hamilton.

Student Open Circles is an exemplar of what it means to create meaningful learning opportunities that also contribute back to our communities in various ways. I am excited to support this important work by serving on the board.

Sonika Kainth

Sonika Kainth

Sonika Kainth is a family physician at a community health centre serving marginalized individuals. When she was at McMaster as a student, she attended Student Open Circle’s reflection and mindfulness groups, as well as volunteered with the heterogeneous groups of marginalized populations in Hamilton. Volunteering with Student Open Circles ignited her passion and brought her to where she is working today.

Student Open Circles taught me how to reflect on what I came from, what I am learning, and where I would like to be. Student Open Circles helped me managed my stress and anxiety during my undergraduate years. I'm so glad I can give back now.

Stephanie Koehl

A smiling woman

Stephanie has worked on a diverse array of projects; computer science pedagogy, agricultural hardware, electric aviation and vaccine development to name a few. She loves helping passionate people leverage tech to make a positive social impact.

Stephanie was involved with Student Open Circles throughout her undergraduate years and it made a tremendous difference in her life. She’s excited to give back as part of the board.

Emilie Rayner (She / Her)

Emilie Rayner

Emilie attended McMaster University as an undergraduate student and participated in SOC student groups throughout the entirety of her degree. Following her undergrad, she interned with SOC before pursuing her Masters’ of Teaching at the University of Toronto. Emilie currently works for a non-profit and is driven to find ways that allow youth to understand issues in their communities and empower them to take action.

As a young adult, Student Open Circles allowed me to find my authentic self and discover my personal calling. It is the most impactful program I have been a part of and I determined to help as many other individuals have access to this incredible space as possible.

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson

I am a professor of materials engineering at McMaster. I previously served as dean of engineering and as university provost. My research and teaching are in the area of the strength and ductility of materials, with a particular focus on the development of lightweight automotive structures for improved fuel efficiency.

I have always believed that the students who benefit most from a university education are those who are engaged and reflective, enabling the deep learning that is needed to translate theory into practice. Student Open Circles supports students to achieve this through community outreach opportunities, spiritual connectivity, and guided reflection.

Yufei Zheng (she/her)

Yufei Zheng

Yufei works at McMaster University as the International Graduate Students Coordinator. She enjoys interacting with students and learning about their unique journeys, perspectives, and aspirations. Yufei holds a BA in Information and Media Studies and completed her MEd in Higher Education Student Development and Student Services.

I first heard about SOC when I started working at McMaster and was instantly intrigued by its mission and values, especially the connections between self-care, community service, and growth. Since then, I have had positive experiences working with SOC staff and students and I’m looking forward to supporting this wonderful organization.