Students – the heart of U of T

Posted on November 25, 2019 by

Students walking in front of Robarts Library at the U of T St. George campus.

I have always felt it was a privilege to work at a university. So much so, that I have managed to work in higher education for all but four months of my professional career. I am not sure people outside of higher education fully appreciate why it is such a great place to be, as inevitably the first thing that comes out is: ”wow, must be nice to get your summers off.” Makes me laugh more and more each year that it comes up.

There  are many great aspects about working at the University of Toronto (U of T). Today I want to focus on the students and how they bring energy and excitement to our campus. They bring a purpose and life to our jobs and they are a key reason as to why we are all here. Even at a research-intensive institution like U of T, the students, including the undergraduate, plays a huge role and contributes so much to our daily life on campus.

Thinking back to my student days studying economics we might ask what the output is from someone’s job in order to measure satisfaction. Theoretically, your job contributes to the production of some sort of mythical widget that could create positive or negative externalities in society. At a university, I have always felt that our magical widget is the creation of better citizens who engage and contribute to society.

Students at the annual U of T Student Union orientation street fair.

I absolutely love September and the days when students come back on to campus. Although the work doesn’t slow down over the summer, the number of people on campus certainly decreases. No lines, there is always an empty bench in the quad, the weather is great and you can actually cross St. George without a ton of congestion. But I still love it when the students come back. The energy is expansive and it is like a new beginning. When I take in the University of Toronto Student Union orientation street fair everyone is filled with energy – staff, faculty and students.

I have always been keenly interested in what the students are thinking. When I was at Guelph I used to teach and that always gave me a chance to talk to the students and find out what was really important to them. I also spent a lot of time helping graduate students do their research and that was a wonderful way to keep in touch and gave me a whole new perspective. At Queen’s, things were a little different as I didn’t have all the relationships I had built through grad school and over time. I kept in touch through a student advisory committee as well as talking to students on committees. The students always asked great questions and challenged us.

I am still working on figuring out the student piece here at U of T and we haven’t been able to find the sweet spot in terms of the student advisory committee. That being said, we do get a lot of student engagement around initiatives like Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS). We bring them in and they tell us what they are thinking and critique what we are planning. There is also Reddit, but I’ll save my comments on that for another post. J

I have also tried to engage them more one on one. Over the last 18 months or so, I got to go spend time with a graduate student who also happens to be the niece of one of my best friends. We did coffees, lunches or dinners and she really helped me understand students’ experiences. I always had a million questions for her and she always answered them. She has moved on to a life at Google, but I really enjoyed those chats. More recently, the son of an old friend from grad school arrived at U o f T. It allowed me to reconnect with an old friend who lives overseas, but it as also allowed me to meet a really fascinating first-year undergrad. I am really looking forward to following him through his journey here at U of T and learning how he sees the world.

So, working here at U of T is amazing for a lot of reasons, but number one has to be the students. So many intelligent young people arrive each year and it is a pleasure to watch them contribute to our community while we do our part to help them through their journey.