Photo credit: Kelly Lui
This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with Juan Luis Garrido. Juan is a Sociology and Drama Studies student with a passion for student issues and higher education. The future university executive took the time to speak with us about his career ambitions, how he balances multiple extracurriculars with work and school, and the importance of self-care.
Sociology and Drama Studies – that’s an interesting combination. Tell me a little about how and why you decided on those two majors.
I started off in Drama Studies and French Studies at Glendon. I chose drama because I always had an interest in it, and French Studies because I wanted to be a French teacher. I realized French Studies wasn’t for me and that the sociology electives I’d taken were cool and interesting so I thought, “Why don’t I just study that?” My drama major is the fun half for myself and my own interests and passions, and sociology is more my academic, professional choice. The latter is still in line with my passions, but more forward thinking and less self-serving.
You are very involved in student life. You’ve been a Residence Don, a Peer Mentor, and you’re currently a student ambassador to name a few. What are two activities or programs you’ve been involved in that you’re particularly proud of, and what did you learn from them?
One would be GLgbt*. When I started in first year, it was a club called Positive Space Committee, and in first year we changed the name. We thought it needed to be more than a club, so in second year when I was a coordinator, I ran a campaign to make it a levy-funded organization. I stepped away for a bit, and now I’m back as a coordinator. It’s great knowing that I’ve had an active part in making it a fully funded organization, and that I get to run events and awareness campaigns around inclusivity and creating safe spaces on campus. We do events that bring the queer community to Glendon. We’ve featured professional drag performers, and we just had our comedy night a few nights ago with a performer who has played in comedy clubs around Toronto. In March, we will be welcoming Rae Spoon. They are a songwriter, filmmaker, artist, and writer and they were just featured in a documentary about coming out as trans. We try to bring the queer community to Glendon and make it a safe space for queer folk living their lives and going to school.
The second is being a TEDx speaker. I was involved with TEDxYorkU my first two years as a volunteer. Third year I went as an audience member and it was at TEDxYorkU 2014 that I decided to be a TEDx speaker one day. The next year I was on the stage and got to talk about something I was passionate about: learning. The talk is called The Value of Vulnerabilities and the message was instead of trying to hide from what makes us vulnerable, we should learn from it because sometimes it’s something that you can’t change. So one of my vulnerabilities is that I have multiple sclerosis, and at times it’s as if there’s this asterisk beside my goals and the things I want to do that says, “pending health”. I have these lofty goals like being a university president, but MS is a degenerative disease, and I don’t know what it will be like years from now. As a result of this, I’ve become more involved in teaching and talking about multiple sclerosis and how awareness is key to finding a cure and finding support. Canada has the highest rate of MS and a lot of people don’t know that, and I think that warrants us to make sure we’re doing something about it. As someone who is living with it, I want to do what I can.
You have described yourself on LinkedIn as a “future university administrator and student affairs professional”. Evidently, you have a very clear idea of what you would like to be doing. How did you decide on this? Was there a particular issue or facet of university administration that interested you over the course of your education?
In first year I got a job in student recruitment and was working there as part of the eAmbassador team and the student ambassador team. At the time I wanted to be a teacher but I didn’t get into the concurrent education program, and that sucked. Even though I had other options, I had a bit of a quarter life crisis where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I looked to my mentors, like Courtney Mallam and David Ip Yam, and saw myself doing what they do. It started out where I just wanted to be in student affairs, but being a student senator and working for a couple of different offices in student affairs like the YFS (York Federation of Students) and GCSU (Glendon College Student Union), made me interested in the administrative side of things as well. This past summer, I was interning at Fulbright Canada, which is an American scholarship program up in Ottawa, and it also helped me realize that there is more to this university world than student affairs, however I would still like to do student-centric work. I’m kind of broadening my horizons. My lofty end goal is to be president of a university. That’s the idea that I’m headed towards – to be a senior executive of a university and really help shape it to be a student-centric place where all stakeholders are getting what they want out of it. And hopefully that would affect other universities to change the culture of how they are run.
What came first: an involvement in student life or the desire to make a career in higher education?
Student life came first. I was always really involved in high school, so when it came to university I knew without a doubt that I would be involved. And it was through being involved and working with great people who do this full time and create positive change for students at such a crucial age, that I realized I wanted to do this. That’s kind of my thing. I care about social advocacy and ethical issues, but I’d never been able to find my cause or passion. I’ve realized that my passion is helping others realize their passion. So whenever someone is telling me what they are passionate about and what they want to do in life, I like helping them and thinking, “What can I do to assist them in pursuing that?” That helps me feel fulfilled.
Aside from soft skills like effective communication, problem solving, and being personable, what hard skills are useful for a career in university administration? Are there certain technologies you need to be familiar with or qualifications you need to obtain in terms of accounting and budgeting?
I’ve spent a lot of my time and my work in the last few years doing social media, so that’s definitely one hard skill. It’s not as easy as people think it is. Young people are so involved with social media, so in order to be successful at building a student support system you need to know how to use social media and communicate with students at their level. I hope that my current skills with Facebook and Twitter will transfer over to new social media that will come out later.
And of course when it comes to those loftier goals of getting to a senior executive position, there are things like business administration and budgeting that I would need to learn, especially considering that universities are businesses. I think with student affairs and student services there is this Disney fairy tale thinking of “if a program affects just one student, then it’s worth it” and while that is great, things cost money. It’s not just about how you can affect one student, but rather how you can help the most people at the same time with the resources you have. So to do that it’s important to know how organizations work, not just your university, but other universities as well. It’s important to know how to work with governments, not just domestically but internationally because most universities are not isolated and have partnerships.
What are your plans upon completion of your undergraduate degree? Do you plan on pursuing further education or would you rather look for a job in your field?
I don’t know what my career plans are. I’m graduating in two months, and there’s nothing solid yet. I’ve applied to the Sociology master’s program at U of T because they have a prof there who specializes in the sociology of higher education, and I would love to work with her. I’m also applying to a bunch of student services jobs in the province. I definitely know I would like to continue school. One of the reasons that I want to work in higher education is because I want to be a student forever. I know that in a few years I want to go down to the states and get a master’s degree in Education.
Why the States?
It’s a new field here in Canada, and the ones in the States are a bit more established. It would give me a different opportunity and a different learning experience, which also makes me more competitive. I can say that I’ve worked in both the Canadian and American education systems and experienced the differences there. I’m also looking into dual programs where you can get two degrees, and that will help make me more well-rounded – for instance, learning about both business theory and student development theory. Also, a dual degree would be cost-effective. School is expensive in the States, so if I can get as much value out of it by getting a dual degree, that’s great. I would like to pursue a doctorate down the line, but that’s something I would do much later – out of personal interest, but also because more often than not presidents in universities have a doctorate.
What if you got a job in student affairs AND were accepted to that sociology graduate program at U of T?
If I got the job, I would defer the acceptance and make the decision next year because I want to pay off my student loans a bit.
What kinds of issues are you specifically passionate about, and would like to commit energy to tackling personally, when it comes to students and higher education?
One would be access, so ensuring that higher education is accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of anything like race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. There are studies showing that people of colour are far less likely to go on to get a higher education. I did a whole paper last semester about Latinos in higher education who have higher rates of having to work full time while being a student, higher drop out rates, and lower grades [Note to reader: Statistics used in paper refer to Latinos in the United States.] In Toronto, Latinos have the highest high school drop out rates, so they’re not even getting to university, let alone doing well once they get there. And that has a lot to do with institutional racism.
In addition, it’s also about access once you get there and ensuring that there are the proper resources. So for instance when it comes to people with disabilities it’s about getting proper accommodations, understanding that people have different learning needs, and offering programs that are accessible and interesting.
You specify university administration, but there are a number of post-secondary options, namely college and apprenticeships, so student issues span a variety of different programs and institutions. Can you see yourself establishing a career in education in one of those areas – or even in government working someplace like the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities – or do your interests specifically lie in the university environment?
Right now it’s just universities because that’s what I know, but that said, the university and college systems in Canada are starting to merge. We’re seeing more joint programs and more paths where students get a post-graduate certificate from a college after getting a degree. In addition more colleges are offering degrees – OCAD just became a university a few years ago. Apprenticeships I don’t know as much about because their structure is just so different, but with colleges there are similarities. Colleges are catering to universities, and a lot of student theory and student development theory has come from colleges, so I would be happy to work in one.
Are you currently working?
Yes, I work for the Office of Student Recruitment as a student ambassador, office ambassador, and eAmbassador, so I work on all fronts of the student ambassador team. I give campus tours, answer admissions related questions from students calling and emailing in, and I write a blog that gives students an opportunity to see what it’s like to be at Glendon.
I also worked with Fulbright Canada through the York Global Internship Program over the summer. At the time, my responsibilities included running social media, event planning, and logistics. At the end of the summer I prepared a presentation for my exit interview which presented the work that I had done with social media over the summer including hard facts and figures about how I had increased their engagement online. I proposed a new internship where I could do a long distance, remote internship running their social media and they accepted, so I still work for Fulbright Canada.
How do you effectively manage your time, and what are some challenges you have faced along the way?
I’ve faced a lot of challenges, and an important one has been learning to say no and realizing that I do have a limit. One thing I’ve always said to myself is, “I can do everything, but should I?” I don’t have any secrets, yet I somehow am able to do well and balance everything, but that doesn’t mean I should keep trying to find my limit. In terms of getting things done – I just do them. I know what I have to get done, and I know what’s a priority. If I’m finding that things are not getting done then that’s a sign for me to look at what my life’s like. Sometimes it’s my fault – maybe I took a week off. Other times I may have spent the whole weekend doing homework and didn’t get anywhere close to being finished, so I realize I may need to drop a course or work less hours. So my tip would be self-awareness, and also self-care. One thing that’s important to me is getting eight hours of sleep. Also, a large part of self-care is responsibility. Self-care means making sure I do what needs to get done. Self-care is ensuring I have three proper meals a day and do meal prep for the week. Self-care isn’t just curling up and watching Netflix. There’s a fine line between self-care and procrastination. Taking a break to watch an episode of The Office is self-care. Taking a break only to watch the entire season of the Office instead of writing your paper is procrastination. You can’t call that self-care.
What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?
Lunik Café at Glendon. It has a cool vibe and it opened in my first year, and I have been involved in it, so it’s cool seeing that develop over the years. The food and coffee is always good, and I can relax and study with friends. Another place would be Starbucks. I like places that have a bit of noise to them. I don’t like place with libraries where there is no noise. I like to be able to take a break, grab a coffee, and people watch. Any coffee shop is fine, but it’s usually Starbucks.