With Your Woman Wednesday: Naomi Wolfe

This week on with your woman Wednesday we’re chatting with Naomi Wolfe. Leaving school doesn’t mean the end of your education, and for a lot of people deciding to take a break from college or university is a frightening step. Naomi was generous enough to share her current experience navigating her academic career, and she provides thoughtful insight about making honest decisions when it comes to pursuing post secondary studies and looking after your mental health.

Please give me a brief outline of your academic path after high school.

  • Started at the University of Toronto in September 2012
    • Decided to leave the following year (September 2013)
  • Returned in September of 2014 with a major declared in Women and Gender Studies and Environmental Studies
  • Left midway through the first semester of the 2015/2016 school year

Deciding a program is not for you or not in line with your goals is something a lot of students go through. Deciding to make a change is so much scarier, and something few students actually do. Tell me a little bit about your thought process that led to this transition.

In my first year of university, I struggled with some mental health issues that really pushed me to re-examine why I was in university, or rather, why I was in such a rush to figure it all out. Leaving high school, I really had no concept of what it was like to exist outside of an education system that was structured to teach us in a very specific way. Despite that, I went right into another educational institution that had been pre-ordained by that same system. While what I learned in university was hugely eye-opening and beneficial, something didn’t seem to click, so when the time came to decide to stay or go, there was a thrill in leaving that meant exploring a side to me that maybe I hadn’t thought of before.

The idea of making that jump is pretty scary, because there really is no plan when you finally do it, but that’s also part of the excitement. It presents new challenges and forms of stress, but in doing so, also teaches you the skills to manage them. When I left, however, I knew that I would go back to University at some point. I guess I hadn’t completely let go of the structured system to which I was so attached. When I returned to U of T in 2014, I expected to be a new version of my academic self – one that was more committed, engaged, and maybe slightly less of a procrastinator. I was very wrong. It turned out to be the worst academic year of my educational career. The confusion and self-doubt that came out of it really sucked, for lack of a better word, but instead of letting it consume me, I forced myself to again re-examine the choices that had led me there. When I finally decided to leave my program a second time, I was less certain I would return. In some ways it was scarier, and in others, not scary at all.

While I didn’t know what I was going to do, I knew that I was finally open to exploring new options and experiences. It’s important to allow ourselves some room for creative, personal growth outside of the things we know, and more often than not, this can lead to amazing things. While I don’t have more certainty, answers, or even direction, I can safely say that I’m confident in the decisions I’ve made. It’s amazing how believing in those choices really helps you understand the personal strength we all have.

What program are you considering now, and what things do you want to do before diving into it?

I am currently hoping to pursue a career in midwifery, but since it is quite a jump from my plans earlier in life, there is some catching up that is required. In high school, I was determined to be a lawyer, and ignored the sciences to follow other passions. Unfortunately, this now means I have to complete grade 12 biology in order to meet program requirements. I never thought that high school, of all things, would be such an experience in self-motivation. I also need to start saving toward the program itself. Luckily, having taken time off has helped me build some work experience and an understanding of how to manage work and leisure in a way that allows for some balance. So on the whole, I’m just trying to learn and save, while leaving room to continue exploring my passions.

What are the biggest lessons or takeaways from your time in your previous program?

I think that I can safely say that the most important thing my previous program taught me was how to critically think about the world in which we live, and how to apply that thinking in a way that promotes positive change. So, I guess I would say that the lessons were both personal and academic. In the realm of academia, it has allowed me to further explore and challenge the material with which I engage, in a way that has changed how I think about information in relation to the greater social, cultural, and political contexts. On a personal level, however, the takeaway has been so much more. Critical thinking allows for a re-examination of our own beliefs and preconceptions in such a way that we are able to form, and continually re-form, our opinions. I guess you could say that before university, I had ideas of what my opinions should be, but after I left, I could believe in the things I was preaching. I think that believing in what you say is so important in the process of knowing and liking who you are, and so this skill has been valuable in some of the most important ways.

What are you currently doing for work, and how does your current job allow you to learn new skills and stay challenged?

 I currently work for a couple of farmers who both grow organic food and produce baked products for farmer’s markets around the city. It is a job that not only continues to challenge me both on a creative and social level, but also has a customer service and management aspect that works together in building valuable workplace skills. As someone who hopes to pursue a future career that focuses on relationship building and one-on-one interaction, I have found it to be an invaluable experience. I have also had some amazing opportunities to get involved in Toronto’s neighbourhood communities and meet some interesting, dedicated people. Interacting with people who are passionate about food systems and ethical farming has not only taught about a realm of labour about which I had previously never thought, but has also increased my awareness about local environmental and community issues. It has pushed me to re-examine the way that I exist within these systems, and has opened my eyes to an important economic and lifestyle choice.

What are some issues or causes you are passionate about, and how do you plan on incorporating them into your future work or career?

I think that part of the reason that I left my program was that, while I was passionate about the topics I was studying, they were fields into which I was already engaged and exploring on my own. While I loved the information I was learning, it felt like my time could be better focused on a career that put those principles and beliefs into action. I think that midwifery appeals to me for this exact reason. Issues surrounding female health, support, and access on a local level are hugely important to me, and as a career, it focuses on the importance of self-agency in decision making, allows for healthcare access where other options may not exist, and can be a great opportunity for building positive female relationships.

If you were a trust fund baby with terrific connections, and you could work at any organization or on any project or initiative, where/what would it be?

 It would probably be a mental health initiative. Having seen so many people struggle with mental health issues, I see the major problem to be solved being that of communication between, and for, those who are living with what can be debilitating illnesses, or just simple day-to-day life. Often, the conversation surrounding mental illness is about eliminating the stigma of the illness itself, but I don’t think that’s enough. Part of eliminating that stigma is about allowing for people who go through these experiences to feel able to connect with others who may be experiencing similar things. Medication has been something that has hugely helped me in my daily life. While mental illness itself has started to be destigmatized, certain forms of treatment are still often frowned upon. I think that people being able to share their narratives with others who may be struggling means a break down of those prejudices. It means that we can fully understand the tools and resources available, and continue working toward positive relationship building that allows for different experiences and informed decision making.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?

I have to say, I love the UC Junior Common Room at U of T. It’s cozy, has lots of outlets, and is home to some leather couches that are GREAT for naps. (Just remember to bring some headphones!). Otherwise, I tend to be a coffee shop kind of girl. I like to visit a small cafe in my neighbourhood and get my work done, or visit some beautiful parks around the city, and pray that my computer battery doesn’t die in the process. That can really prevent you from getting things done.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Darryl Gentil

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with budding entrepreneur Darryl Gentil. With his mind focused on market trends and his heart set on helping others, Darryl is presently engaged in shaping the future of e-commerce. He talks to us about the pursuit of success, the productive power of fear, and the importance of surrounding yourself with driven people.

You started your post secondary studies in International Studies and Political Science at York before transferring to Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management to study Business Administration. What prompted this transition?

Well I realized that social sciences would limit me in terms of what I wanted to accomplish. I realized at an early age that business was the way to go if I wanted change to happen quickly. Ryerson and Ted Rogers offered that opportunity to me, and it was a simple decision.

You have a very enterprising spirit, and that’s evident from talking to you or simply observing your posts on Facebook. What jobs are you currently working, or projects are you pursuing on the side?

This is a great question. I’d like to admit I’m only working on one or two things, but the truth is, I’m working on various projects, simply because my circle of friends are constantly inspiring me and themselves to achieve what they’ve always wanted – from fashion bloggers such as 53 marcel to small to medium size business owners. I realized that I couldn’t limit myself to what I wanted. Being an entrepreneur in this day and age seems like a logical thing to do. We are not living in our parents’ age where a typical life would be working for 45 years, to repeating the same routine day after day, year after year. My goal is to live my life to the fullest while I’m young, and to stay young. Over the next three years, I will create something that no one has ever done, and that’s creating my own economy on an e-commerce platform. It will take time, there will be challenges, but I can assure you of one thing, with the help of my friends and family, this goal is certainly achievable.

Aside from profit – we’re all trying to make money – what draws you in to a project or a job? Is there a certain passion or interest you have that you try to incorporate into your paid work?

First of all, money has never been a priority for me. I know what I want and I know that it has never revolved around money. I will invest my time in an idea or project if it means it will help the greater good. If there’s one thing I realized, as long as you do the right thing, by helping the right people and serving a purpose, money will always follow.

One peek at your Instagram suggests you’re definitely on the path towards getting what you want. That said, there is a very glamorous perception of entrepreneurship and hustling where people think all there is to it is inspirational quotes, and they launch into it with their sights set on the rewards, but no real conception of the work involved. What have been some of the toughest skills to pick up, or lessons to learn, so far?

This is a very interesting yet crucial question. I say this because we’ve all experienced different situations, we all come from different walks of life. Mine was like no other; it wasn’t easy, and it’ll not be easy. Three lessons I’ve learned since I’ve decided to jump into the unknown are as follows. One: keep your ideas secret and work on them secretly, and focus on them. Ask yourselves: who will benefit from it? What are the challenges you’re going to face? Who can you trust with this idea? If you’re willing to trust people with the idea, you have to make sure that they are worthy, and they agree with the vision that you have for this idea. Two: fear. A lot of people would look at fear as a bad thing, as an obstacle. The truth of the matter is, fear is a friend. Fear for me is fuel. Fear of failure is what keeps me going, and what’s kept the negativity and haters away because I realize that at no point do I want to fail. Because if I fail, the people who doubted me won’t be affected. The person that will be affected is myself. Therefore, I have no choice but to keep going. I’m working on bettering myself. Three: consistency. For something to become a habit, it needs to be done repeatedly, and I truly believe that. Consistency is to do a little bit of something everyday, and eventually those little things will add up to a greater thing – whatever it is. Regardless of fear, the naysayers, challenges, if you consistently challenge yourself to be the best that you can be, then you’ll achieve what you want.

On LinkedIn you say that you want to “learn as much as I can while helping others along the way”. Have there been important people who have guided you along the way, and what is one significant thing you learned from a formal or informal mentor?

Wow. To be great, you have to follow greatness. At different stages of my life, I had different people impact my decisions ­– from my girlfriend, Sophie, challenging me everyday to my first girlfriend’s parents encouraging me to get a job, from my high school teachers and coaches to my dear friends such as Benson Li and Andrew Chee, and my mom. Mentorship is crucial to someone’s personal development. You cannot achieve something without knowing the challenges that it takes. I find that mentorship is what guided me to the success that I’ve had so far, and there’s no doubt that mentorship will guide me to where I want to be. You have to understand that mentorship is given through many experiences. For example, I was on a plane to Miami for an e-commerce and technology conference, and the person that I happened to sit beside on the plane taught me the importance of family and balancing my life through business, friends, and loved ones. Truth is, you’ll have those people that will be physically near you, but what I value ultimately are lessons from strangers.

What advice would you give to people who are hesitant to reach out and seek mentors?

A simple lesson with a simple word: jump. Steve Harvey explains what “jump” means. It simply means, that to get where you want to be and to achieve what you want to achieve, you simply need to jump; take that leap of faith. Envision your goal and work at it, because if there’s one thing I can tell you, the right person, the right mentor will come. When they come, you’ll have something to present to them.

Is there a specific issue or cause you’d like to dedicate your energy to working on throughout your life and career?

I have to say that over the course of my adventures, I realized in order to get things done, I have to surround myself with strong and ambitious women. My mom has been working since she was 19 years old. She studied and worked her way up the corporate ladder, took care of me everyday and motivated me to be more than average. For success to occur in my life, I need to empower women to be at their best because if you can empower women to realize their vision for this world, I truly believe that we’ll be in a better place.

What’s the ultimate goal? Is there a particular industry you’d eventually like to wind up in, or large-scale idea you’d like to develop?

The one thing I can tell you is that I won’t invest my time in something that’s already been done. To be a successful entrepreneur you need to evaluate where the market is going, and the current trends. Clearly the trends now are strictly online. Through our innovative platform, we’re able to build something that will last a lifetime. With partnerships with Wal-Mart, Nike, Under Armour, Victoria Secret, and so on, e-commerce is the thing, and will be the thing, and I don’t anticipate that changing. Ultimately, I can tell you that I have one vision and one goal, and that’s to retire with my team. And by team, I mean my girlfriend, my brothers, and my family.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city? 

  • Le Gourmand (Queen/Spadina)
  • Kensington Market (in general)
  • Anywhere where I’m able to observe people and to have a conversation with them

When Late Marks No Longer Make You Flinch

I often say that it’s a shame the sky didn’t come crashing down the first time I submitted something late, because now I treat deadlines like suggestions.

I should point out that this mentality is exclusively applied to unpaid, non group, school work. (How you doin’ future employers?) Perhaps it’s because in this case the only person I’m really letting down is myself. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Recently, a friend messaged me to ask whether we were supposed to submit an assignment online or in person.

“What assignment?” was my response.

Apparently it was due the day before. Normally, approaching deadlines send me into a mild panic that isn’t strong enough to get me started, but is present enough to colour everything I do that week with the knowledge that I need to get something done. The interesting thing about this deadline was that I hadn’t known it was approaching or present. Period.

In order to procrastinate, you need to be putting a task off completely. In this case, I hadn’t even known there was something to put off. I can’t even say I forgot, because forgetting implies you’d known about the assignment in the first place. (Full disclosure: It’s not that I wasn’t told, I just wasn’t paying attention.) So when I realized how royally I had screwed up, I had to laugh, and the first thing that came to mind was something Donald Rumsfeld said:

“There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Forgive me. After all, he was using these words to justify the eventual war in Iraq. But anytime I open a test and there’s a question I didn’t even know was in the realm of things I should have studied, or I totally blank on an assignment deadline, Rumsfeld comes to mind and I have to giggle.

It’s a shame that the sky didn’t come crashing down the first time I submitted an assignment late, because now I treat deadlines like suggestions. Once I finished laughing at myself, I sent my friend another message:

“I will not let this alter the course of my day.”

I’d start working on it tomorrow.

Moral of the story: Life’s short. Lose three or four percent.

The student life moral of this story: Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind. Catch up, and make some adjustments in the future.

THE REAL MORAL OF THIS STORY: I will not be going to law or grad school anytime soon. Do not use me as an academic role model, kids.

R.E.A.D.I.N.G. Week

We’re more than halfway through reading week, otherwise known as “sleep in for five days and give your textbooks side eye”. Or perhaps, in a bout of ambitiousness, you told your boss you could work all week and now you’re feeling

REGRETFUL

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because now not only do you have to get out of bed, you have to pretend you give a damn about lattes, or that person who insists their food was awful even though they ate the entire thing. You’re trying to make yourself feel better by reminding yourself you’re making money – you are making paper! – and when that cheque comes in, you’ll wonder why you ever thought sleeping in was more important than cash. You scroll through Instagram on your break and feel a pang of

ENVY

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looking at all the sunny photos of classmates on vacation in the Bahamas or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. But you shake it off. You know what you’re doing. You’ll save your money and take a trip when you can pay for a ticket AND still have a decent amount of change left over. You’ll save your money and focus on school. But now you’re reminded of school, and all the work that’s left to do, so now you’re

ANXIOUS.

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Hell, you would have preferred to write all your mid-terms before the break instead of having it hang over your week like this. Now you’ve got to, you know, read. There’s that feeling of

DREAD

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because the week’s almost over, you’ve still got three outlines to write and a trillion concepts Microsoft Word keeps putting a squiggly line underneath – because they were just invented yesterday – to memorize, so to stifle that panic you choose to think about the summer vacation that’s only a few months away, and now you’re feeling

IMPATIENT.

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This break is an unkind creation. It’s a torture device wrapped in seemingly good intentions – nothing but a tease. You know what Smokey said, “A taste of honey is worse than none at all.” You think of sunny days, BBQs, pools. Now you’re all lost in that

NOSTALGIA

for a simpler time when being the smartest kid in class meant knowing how to carry the two or unscramble a sentence. But then you remember you’re good. You’ve got this! You are smart and capable. You’re gonna get some sleep, you’re gonna write those papers, and you’re gonna study for those exams because you are a grown ass man or woman and you

GET. SHIT. DONE.

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Featured image via Pexels

With Your Woman Wednesday: Caroline Kamm

Photo credit: Riikc

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Caroline Kamm, a Human Geography student at the University of Toronto. She has made school an organic part of her life by combining academics with projects that allow her to gain more experience pursuing her personal interest in farming and food systems.  Her most recent project is the development of a cool new app meant to change how we think about our relationship with food.

Tell me a little about your time post high school in terms of school and work. 

I graduated high school in 2011, and I took a year off before going to university. At that time I was registered at a university in the States, but I had no idea what I was doing there and what my eventual purpose was. That year was good for figuring out what I was passionate about. For the first six months, I lived in India with my boyfriend at the time. His family lives there and were able to set me up with work at a school. I spent the rest of the year working in DC for the Foundation for National Archives, which is a non-profit that does educational programming based on civic education. Essentially institutions like the National Archives get public funding but that funding is not enough to run things like the museum and school projects. So they have a non-profit on the side to make sure all these cool things can happen. It was in the process of doing all of this that I figured out that the program that I was originally enrolled in didn’t make sense for me. I wanted something more internationally focused. I found Glendon. I did my first two years there in International Studies, which I liked, but I wanted something that was more focused. In my first year, I had taken the mandatory geography course, which struck a chord for me, and after my second year I transferred to the University of Toronto where I’m currently studying Human Geography.

What motivated you to make each of these transitions, and how do you generally go about making these decisions? Is there a lot of hand wringing involved, or do you just do a very sober assessment of what your needs are?

I tend to make decisions pretty fluidly. I’ve made a lot of transitions in life, so they don’t scare me. What scares me more is sitting in one place, knowing I need a change, and not acting. In terms of my year off, I graduated from high school young and felt like I’d be going from one insular bubble to another, and in terms of transferring universities, after I got that initial feeling in first year I just decided to act on it.

Let’s talk about this cool project you’re working on, Fresh Data Network. In a nutshell it’s an app that empowers users to make informed choices about their food. When you shop, you can see where your produce is coming from, if it’s organic or locally grown. And like any good app, there would be additional tools available to the user like the ability to calculate their carbon footprint based on their shopping choices, a map that displays nearby farmers markets or organic food options or retail stores that offer local produce. Could you tell me how this would work? Do people type in the store they’re shopping at or scan something?

Ideally, something like scanning the products would come later since that’s a difficult thing to do. The initial plan is to have three layers that work between each other. The first is a grocery list where you compile the things you’re looking for and can ask suggestions from the season guides. Once you have that list, you can go to the map layer which will map out in different colours the farmers that are producing those things near you and markets that are selling those products nearby. It’s a way to make an informed decision about where your produce is coming from. In the later stage, there would be a third layer that is an analytic component that allows you to chart your grocery basket week to week and shows you, in total, how far your food travelled and what kind of environmental impact your food choices are having. For instance, if one week you bought half the meat you bought the week before, your impact would be significantly smaller. And you would also have the ability to set goals for your carbon footprint and energy consumption.

What’s the scale of this project?

My initial research was in Toronto and Belgium, and the project is currently being conducted in Mexico. Ultimately, we’d like it to be an interactive network between producers and consumers. Ideally, there would be user contribution and essentially, a shortening of that distance between the producer and the consumer. Basically, all the decisions we make around food are economic decisions. We make our choices based on what’s cheap. Importers source their food based on the global food prices. Our basic theoretical idea behind this project is that food is not an economic good, and not something we should think of economically. This app is a way of reintroducing the social aspect and cultural aspect of food, and to create a system where you can make decisions based on more than what the global market is doing at any given time.

What prompted you to decide to take on this project? There are a lot of issues related to human geography and global affairs. What was special about food networks and food management that made you want to focus on it? Do you think it’s one of the more pressing issues, or is it simply something that piqued your interest more than other problems?

Food and farming issues has been a big thing for me for a while. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly why, but I guess a large part of it is that I grew up in a very agricultural part of the US, in Illinois, and my hometown was right in the heartland of big corn, soy, and dairy production. I remember even as a kid having a kind of uneasiness with seeing the way that my food was produced. I went vegetarian very early on and have gone back and forth between vegan and vegetarian since then. I think getting into farming on an academic level was a way of marrying my personal belief system with my studies. It definitely started out much more as a personal interest. I’m also fortunate to have grown up knowing a lot of farmers and continuing to know a lot of farmers, so I’d also say it’s an emotional thing for me. I think that farming is one of the noblest professions so having this emotional connection to it really helps to fight off the cynicism and fatigue of working on a start-up project.

It sounds incredibly ambitious. You have background knowledge of food systems and experience working in farmers markets and non-profits, but did you have any experience in terms of app development or managing app development? Was that side of it – the technological side of it – something that was intimidating or daunting, or did you have an idea already of what you need to do to get started?

This is very outside my skill set. As a nearly graduated person it is super scary realizing just how many things are outside our skill set. You have a very narrow definition of the things that you can do. That’s another part of it: you can’t plan everything, and you’re going to have to react to things while the project is happening. The tech side got figured out through my boyfriend whom I’m working on the project with, and he’s also how we’ve managed to get the project off the ground in Mexico – he is Mexican and has a number of contacts there. The grant we’ve received is geared towards tech, so it is going towards hiring the developers, most likely two. You usually have one for Android and one for Apple.

What’s been the most challenging and unexpected part about getting this project started? I guess funding is always the big challenge, but that’s known from the beginning. What was an aspect of planning and implementing this project that you didn’t foresee?

Something we’re still grappling with is how to build this network properly. Technology can be a very exclusive tool, particularly when you’re working with farmers. We don’t want to turn this into a tool of exclusion as opposed to a tool of inclusion. So that is something that we’re continuing to talk to people about so that we can make sure this is something that works for farmers. We are thinking about them and constantly keeping them in mind and asking ourselves, “How can we include farmers in the process of creating profiles of themselves and data on themselves without being exploitative, and do so in a way that benefits them more than anybody?”

If I’m not mistaken, development of the app is already underway. What is the projected rollout date of the app?

We have a developer at this point. When it comes to the grant, we have to have something functional by August. That would mean having something in app stores that is functional and that we can show to potential investors because we would need more money for building the network.

There’s this mentality among students that your life can’t start until you’ve finished your undergrad, until you’ve finished your graduate degree, etc. etc. There’s this constant deferral of goals and projects. It doesn’t seem that way with you. I get the impression that you just organically work something like school into your life – you learn, if your current institution isn’t providing the resources you’re looking for you find one that does – and more than that you pursue your own projects and travels. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?

Yes. I think that you will get out of a university education what you put into it. My mentality has kind of been, particularly since transferring, that I am going to make this degree work to my advantage as much as I can. I wanted to start working with farming as soon as I could. Last year, I applied for funding to do research on that topic and I got it and through the university I was able to study what I wanted. Having side projects and other things to captivate your attention is a good way to stay motivated. Focusing only on the academic and theoretical is not going to keep your attention with the exception of the few super theoretical PhDs. You need something that’s going to tie it into the real world. Once I did that for myself, school became easier and it didn’t feel like a drain. It gave me a spark to make me more motivated with school.

Has it always been this way?

School used to take up so much more of my energy, and now I don’t feel like it takes much energy at all because basically every class that I take I can link back to farming issues and that makes them a lot easier.

How do you manage to stay disciplined when it comes to balancing your workload? Is it relatively easy because you’ve chosen things that interest you, or have you developed certain time management skills over the years?

It’s mostly that I’m interested in what I’m studying. I don’t have any big tricks. I’m a free form studier. I don’t really study a lot; I just go to my classes. Recently for exams, I tried this experiment where I cut my studying in half, and worked out more, ran more, made myself good meals and it was the best exam period I had. In fact, I didn’t have coffee at all during that exam period and that’s never happened.

My second year was the most hectic because I was involved in everything all of the time, and I never figured out during the year how to fit good habits into my day so everything I did took two times longer because I didn’t have the energy I needed to get those things done.

It seems a bit dismissive of everything we’ve talked about to ask what your ultimate career goals are after graduation because I imagine after you graduate you’ll continue doing what you’re doing so instead I’ll ask, where do you think you’d like to commit your energy in the coming years? Do you see yourself continuing in academia, working for a non-profit, pursuing start up solutions? Perhaps a combination of those?

This one is tough for me, because I have a very academic brain, and that is not something that I can ignore. I don’t see myself falling into academia as a profession, but it is something I would like to continue doing by possibly pursuing another degree. In Human Geography there are a lot of combined MA/PhD programs, and I would consider getting a PhD. The big thing for me is I would like some big chunk of time to be involved in actual farming, firstly, because I think it’s the best work in the world and done by the best people in the world, but also because since I’ve gotten involved in this I’ve read a lot of the big works on farming and agriculture and the thing that always strikes me is the question of “who are you writing for?” and I think that’s one of the biggest issues with academia and why I don’t want to fall into it for the rest of my life. If you decide to make studying farming as your career how do you get to that point without ever actually speaking to a farmer, seeing what knowledge they can access, what knowledge they can’t access, and why would you privilege the university knowledge over the vast body of knowledge that the people you’re supposedly working for possess. The big thing for me is that when it comes to any projects I do about agriculture, I want anything I do to be for and from the farmer’s perspective.

What are some of your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?

It used to be the Centre for Social Innovation on Bathurst, but that just moved. I can be surprisingly productive in my room. I also take GIS, and the GIS lab at U of T is one of the coolest places to work. 

At Your Man’s House Monday: Juan Luis Garrido

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.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Anthony Brum

Photo credit: Katrina Ferrari

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday, we’re speaking with International Studies student Anthony Brum. An engaged and active member of his student community, Anthony hopes to pursue a Master’s degree and a possible diplomatic career upon graduation.

The great thing about the International Studies program is its breadth. You can take courses in politics, economics, communications, health, and more because all of those topics can be studied at the international level. This also means that the career opportunities are quite broad. What are some career paths you’re considering upon graduation?

The greatest thing about the International Studies program is that you will never know everything. You cannot memorize, understand, or fully comprehend everything. I love being exposed to such a vast wealth of knowledge. If I were to take the degree again ten years from now I would still be learning about new issues, concepts, institutions, and conflicts on the international stage. I truly love the challenge of constantly trying to absorb as much as possible about the history that has made the world the way it is today. It’s quite breathtaking to be honest.

After graduation I will most likely participate in a program offered through the French embassy to teach English in France for a year in order to increase my bilingualism to levels beyond my wildest dreams. After that year abroad in France, I would come back to pursue a master’s degree at either the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs or the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The other option is to possibly take Public Affairs and Public Policy Management at Carleton. I would really like to do a master’s program bilingually. After grad school, I look forward to seeking job opportunities in the government or abroad related to foreign affairs. Being a diplomat would be the goal.

Aside from doing well in school and hoping your grades give you an edge, what are some others ways that you work to prepare yourself for those potential careers? Are you actively networking? Strategically choosing projects or organizations you are involved in?

Absolutely. Let me tell you something. When I was a child my mother would scare me with stories of being jobless, and being without a home unless I properly learned my ABCs, and it worked. I currently work for York University at the Keele Campus as a Leadership Assistant on the Student Leadership Development Team at the Centre for Student Success. I also work for another department at York University under the HUGS Program at the Glendon Extended Learning Office. Through both of these work environments I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people who are moulding me into a better-rounded individual and enabling me to gain experience that will prepare me for wherever the workforce may take me.

You’ve been quite involved at Glendon as a student leader. Extracurricular activities are rewarding, but they can also start to take on the obligations of a job, especially if you’re somebody who takes pride in your work. Obviously, one of the reasons people choose to take on these responsibilities is to be involved in their community and in student life. How do you strategically choose which commitments are an effective use of your time?

Well I choose the ones where I genuinely enjoy them. I’m actively involved in GLgbt* as a co-facilitator for our own Glendon Queer Support with the great and amazing Juan Garrido. I am a member of Glendon’s oldest club, the Model United Nations Club, which I do have to say is very intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. Lastly, I am a voting member of Student Caucus for Faculty Council, which I enjoy with a passion. I choose them because they have reasonable commitment times with great rewards. GQS gives me joy and happiness like nothing else. I love being able to help other people with whatever their struggles may be, and it’s amazing hearing people’s stories and having discussions on Queer topics locally and internationally that I think aren’t talked about enough. GMUN is always really rewarding and enjoyable because of the great debates that stimulate factual discussions on relevant issues. I enjoy Student Caucus because it’s where student voices are heard on academic issues and topics. It’s a place where students get the opportunity to debate on relevant student issues that can contribute to positive change on our campus and in our university. I love them all, and they all give me the breather I need from the stressful work days and endless hours of homework.

On that note, a lot of students experience burnout juggling these extra commitments. How do you assess whether something is being a drain on your energy and resources?

Well I had a little burn out last year where I had to revaluate a lot of my life and start again. I had to quit all my commitments and re-evaluate where I wanted to spend my time and how it could best benefit myself. I believe that once something stops bringing you happiness, you have to say, “Enough is enough. I have to stop doing this.” Sometimes it could just be that you need a change of pace. What I do to find solace in what can sometimes be a hectic reality is go to the gym where I can get my mind off the things in the day that have been bothering me.

Career paths are not necessarily linear and you’ve mentioned your desire to enter the workforce before possibly pursuing more studies (such as graduate school) at a later time. What advice do you have for people who are trying to decide how to map out their lives after undergraduate studies?

This will be cliché, but I strongly suggest that you follow what makes you happy and keeps you afloat in life. Strike a balance between emotional and rational decisions towards your continuous journey of being content with yourself, and if you’re not then take the necessary steps to get where you need to be.

What is your preferred spot for getting things done in the city?

I’m so sorry, York University but I have to say the Student Learning Centre at Ryerson University has my heart in pieces every time I go there with my friends to study.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Tope Ajayi

Photo credit: UFashion University of Toronto

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with Babatope Ajayi, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Toronto who is specializing in Mechatronics and Energy & the Environment. We’ll be talking with Tope about the heavy workload in engineering, post-grad options, and the sweet internship opportunities waiting for those who make it through the program.

Could you tell us a little bit about what exactly mechatronics is?

At U of T, you pick from two specializations out of five in the mechanical engineering program. The two that I chose are mechatronics and energy & the environment. Mechatronics deals with anything that uses electricity, but has a mechanical component to it. A simple example would be a watch. The part that’s spinning in sequence is the gear train, and that’s its mechanical element. The electronic component is the conversion to digits. The digital output it produces is the numbers you see written on it. That’s a small-scale example of the relationship between mechanics and electronics that is studied in mechatronics.

What made you choose engineering and eventually decide on this particular area of specialization?

When I was younger I had a keen interest in aerospace engineering, but my uncle advised me against going into that field because it was a bit limiting. With mechanical engineering, I can touch upon all areas of engineering. I learned bits of electrical engineering from my analog and digital electronics for mechatronics course and chemical engineering from my thermodynamics course and heat and mass transfer course. There’s a little bit of all the different specializations of engineering that I get to study.

The general belief is that once you’ve decided to pursue something like engineering, you’re set. You’ve got a job straight out of school. What is the job market like for mechanical engineers, and what things do you need to do outside of school in order to make yourself more competitive? Do engineering students even need to network?

You don’t really need to network. With engineering you could be a complete loner and still get a job. Networking may only make a difference in terms of how quickly you get a job, not if you’ll get a job. And of course, you need basic people skills to get through interviews. But for the most part, so long as you know your stuff, you’ll eventually find employment. Also, they design the program so that you have broad knowledge. For example, in second year I had to take accounting and finance courses, so if I decide to open a business I know basic things like how to balance my books. I also had to take courses in programming because everything’s automated now, so I can go to a tech company and say I have programming experience. You can get a good starting salary with an engineering degree, and you are prepared for many graduate programs.

You currently have an internship with DCL International, a company that specializes in advanced emission control technologies. What is the process of applying for internships like for an engineering student?

Internships usually start in May. At U of T, you have the option of doing an internship after your second or third year and you pay to access a portal where all the internships and jobs are posted. Usually people do their internship in third year because you can’t really claim to have knowledge of engineering until then since in the first year you mostly take general courses. For instance, I took a lot of courses in accounting, finance, and programming. It wasn’t until third year that I took courses specific to my discipline such as mechanical design and design for the environment. It’s not entirely simple to get an internship. Even in engineering, they expect you to have experience. You still have to prove to them that they should hire you.

So are engineering internships paid?

Yeah, that’s why you have to really prove yourself to them. You get paid, and it’s the same starting salary that they’d give a regular engineer.

Get out. As an intern?

Yeah. But how much depends on where you work.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 10.25.23 PM
Here is what interns in various fields of engineering are making before they’ve even graduated. Read it and weep, friends. Read it and weep. Source: University of Toronto.

Do people take courses during the internship?

Not usually. You’re still enrolled in school on a part-time basis, so you can take courses, but the internship’s a full-time job, so the people that do decide to take courses will usually take night courses.

So when do you graduate? Does it take more than four years? And if so, is the internship optional?

Yes. The internship is optional, so some people choose not to do it and can graduate at the end of four years. I’ll be graduating after five years. But it’s advised to do an internship because most employers are looking for experience. One thing I regret is not joining clubs. I’ve known people who’ve had terrible grades, but were the first to get internships because they had hands-on experience through their clubs. For example, there are a couple clubs on campus where you race cars, but the members have to build the cars themselves. A lot of these companies want to see that you have experience doing hands-on work. It’s one thing to design something on SolidWorks and just conceptualize it on a computer. It’s a whole different thing building it in real life.

What have you learned from this internship and has it been helpful for you in terms of deciding on your career path after graduation?

The best part about doing my internship is that it helped me realize that I don’t want to work for anybody but me. The only exception would be working for the government whether it’s at the provincial, national, or if possible, international level. But my goal is to start my own business. I’ve realized that, like they say, if you don’t follow your dreams, someone else is going to pay you to follow theirs. I’m currently chasing someone else’s dream. I want to be at the point where I’m paying someone else to chase mine or I’m chasing it myself. I want to be able to make my own schedule and be my own boss.

My internship has also been very useful because I work in research and development. Almost everything I test I get to build myself. As a result, I’ve received so much hands-on knowledge. For instance, the other day my mother said we have a leaky faucet and she told me, “You’re an engineer. Fix it.” Before I wouldn’t have been able to, but now I was able to take a look at it, go to Home Depot, and get the things I need. Through my internship I’ve developed the practical experience needed to apply the theoretical knowledge I’ve learned in school.

Do you plan on continuing your studies after graduation? How vital is graduate school for your job prospects?

I would like to eventually get a master’s degree. Originally, I wanted to start it immediately after my undergrad, but my boss advised me not to pursue one right away. My thinking was that since everybody has a bachelor’s degree these days, getting a master’s was a way to separate myself from the crowd. But with an engineering undergrad you can have a starting salary of $60,000 a year and move up to $100,000. It’s only once you start considering moving into higher levels like in management that a master’s degree makes you competitive. My boss’s advice was that if you’re this little boy coming out of undergrad with a master’s and then go into a company and try to be the boss of people who’ve been working there forever, it’s not going to fly very well. But if you’ve worked at a company for a few years the idea is that you’ve done your time and you’ve gained experience. Basically start from the bottom and work your way up. If you jump for the top right away, people are going to make sure you fall, so gain the respect of your colleagues first.

Are there any particular causes you are passionate about, and how do you plan to incorporate your desire to give back into your training and eventual career in engineering?

I’m involved with my school’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). At the moment my position with my school’s chapter is as Director of Development. EWB tells us what its financial goals are and we help them fundraise a certain portion of that. My involvement with this organization is also tied to my own personal goals to work abroad. As much as I love Canada, Nigeria is still home, and I see myself setting up a business there. In Canada, we have everything we need. Back home, we have the potential to get what we need. We just need the people.

Engineering is considered an intimidating area of study by a lot of people. What do you say to people who think of it as this extremely difficult, inaccessible program?

Anyone can do engineering. Like I said to a friend once, “You’ve got what it takes to do engineering, but it’s gonna take all you’ve got”. I’ve missed a lot of family events. There’s been times during exams where I’d pull an all-nighter and all I’d do when the sun came up is go home, take a shower, and then come back to school and do it all again. I’ve gone days without seeing people or my family, but that was through a combination of procrastination and a huge workload. I used to get caught up in last minute work because of my social life, but if you plan your time well it’s doable. It’s hard in the short term, but it pays off in the long run.

What is your favourite spot for getting things done in the city?

I’m a library person, specifically Robarts Library. I need complete silence to get in the zone and study.

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Michelle Kearns

Photo credit: Clare Scott

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Michelle Kearns. Michelle is a suburbanite-turned-city dweller who is pursuing an MSc in Planning at the University of Toronto. While we complain about the city’s problems, she’s going to school to figure out how to solve them. Talk about developing street smarts!

To start, what is your educational background?

I just graduated from the Glendon Campus of York University with an Honours BA in Environmental and Health Studies. I also wound up going on exchange to Maynooth University in Ireland during my third year, and to the University of Saskatchewan in spring 2013 on a quest to learn French (I know. I got placed there. It was wonderful, however.)

Oh, and I have a year of nursing school under my belt. I was a misguided 17 year old coming out of high school and nursing looked like a sure shot at financial stability. I hated it.

What made you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Planning? Were you simply drawn to it as an area of study based on your previous academic work, or were there specific issues regarding cities that you noticed in your everyday life and were eager to address?

I’d always been very aware of urban form growing up. We moved from pre-WWII transit-oriented East York where you could walk everywhere to the traditional sprawl of Ajax when I was little. My mom, being the city dweller she’s always been, didn’t want to buy another car. I vividly remember attempting to traipse through open fields with her trying to find a pedestrian shortcut to a shopping complex, only to be stopped by a huge fence. Or waiting an hour for a bus that only went in one direction and took us through every single subdivision north of the 401 before reaching our destination. As a kid, I had major anxiety about being outside on the empty sidewalks with my mom, walking. “What if someone else sees us?” “People keep staring.” “This is so lame.” “Can’t we just buy a car?”

When I got older, I realized how much I was affected simply by the design and culture of the suburbs. I took a lot of classes at York about urbanism, the history of cities, and the socioeconomic pressures that result in places like Ajax. I got to travel and see how other cities deal with the same problems of sprawl, transit, traffic, walkability, etc.

Honestly, when I applied to various planning programs, I only had an abstract idea of what “planning” was. I knew it would entail zoning, and I’d read a lot of articles about cool things some cities were doing, but I had no real idea. Thankfully, my first semester has gone well and now I somewhat know how to explain it. Somewhat.

What does an MSc in Planning entail?

It’s a two-year master’s program, as is every master’s program that’s officially accredited by the Canadian Institute of Planners. The program is class-based, meaning you don’t do a typical thesis that you have to defend. In your second year, you research and write a “Current Issues Paper” – which I believe is like a thesis, just shorter and/or without the defense. In the summer between first and second year, you need to secure some sort of internship. This is where all the stress comes from during first year!

Planners can get professional accreditation. You don’t necessarily need to be a “planner”, but some jobs require it. You have to go through a few years of logging your hours and connecting with a mentor, but I’m planning to pursue accreditation. You also have more pull when testifying at the Ontario Municipal Board when you’re accredited.

Is there a deliberate reason the program is referred to as Planning and not Urban Planning?

I’ve started to notice that the entire profession is just called “planning”. This makes it incredibly difficult to search for jobs on LinkedIn, by the way. You can be a social planner, community planner, rural planner, environmental planner, transit planner, policy planner, urban planner – it’s a very fluid sort of program. There are probably more that I’m forgetting. I usually just say “urban planning” when I’m being introduced to new people, because “planning” could literally be anything to most people. My boyfriend had a good laugh when he found out that Toronto’s top document guiding development is simply called the Toronto Official Plan.

What are your career goals? What area of planning do you want to be involved in, and what steps do you have to take in terms of academics and networking in order to get there?

Right now, I’d love to get some experience with land use planning from the private side. We had a great assignment in my land use planning class that took us through a theoretical planning rationale for a plot of land. It was so difficult to get through, but I learned a lot. Land use planning looks at what is the highest and best use of land on a site. You need to take into account current bylaws, area precedents, shadow effects, infrastructure concerns, community resources, the history of the area, and so much more.

My mentor, whom I’ve been connected with through our program’s alumni committee, is a land use planner at a well-known firm. Academically, I’m taking courses on real estate development and infrastructure, on top of my land use planning course first semester. A lot of it is about interpreting various policies at the municipal and provincial levels and how they work together. Hopefully I can score a relevant summer internship in this field!

What are your side hustles? By side hustles I mean jobs you are working in order to support your studies. More importantly, how do you find ways to incorporate your area of study into your part-time work?

A side hustle that actually makes me money is being an Invigilator. It’s a CUPE job only open to grad students. I love it. The scheduling system for shifts is so great for grad students, as you do your shift selection each week online. I’ve also got the chance to meet grad students from all over U of T doing a variety of really cool work, which is something I have not had the chance to do otherwise.

Side hustle that is actually 110% relevant to my program: Research Assistant at the Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank. I love biking. I love research. I’m learning so much in regards to actually designing, performing, and analyzing a study.

I have dropped the ball on being a keener in my program, however. At Glendon, I was part of so many on-campus things – here at U of T I’ve gone a bit slack. I didn’t even run for any positions on the program’s student society. I sort of regret that.

How competitive would you say your field is in terms of the availability of jobs?

It’s a bit worrying, as there are three planning schools in Toronto at the graduate level (Ryerson, York, U of T), and one at the undergraduate level (Ryerson). THREE! So there are lots of people looking for jobs.

Condos and developments keep happening, however, so hopefully things will be okay when I graduate in 2017. The second years in my program don’t seem too worried. They’ve seen the year before them graduate and end up in good places.

What is your favourite theory of urban planning?

Can I do an anti-favourite theory? Or my favourite “OHHHHH, THAT’S WHY IT LOOKS LIKE THIS” moment?

In my theory class, we talked about Le Corbusier’s “Towers in the Park” style of modernism. Modernism aimed to separate and organize the traditionally intertwined “street ballet” (see: Jane Jacobs) of city life. We ended up with blocks of huge, menacing towers, with huge setbacks from the sidewalk. You can see the influence of this style of planning all over Toronto (St. James Town, for one).

Name a favourite planner or academic in the field.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on walkability, and Paul Hess has written some wonderful articles on the subject. He’s actually the director of my program at U of T, but he’s currently on sabbatical. You can see his Google Scholar profile here.

If you had VIP connections, and it was simply a matter of being qualified for the job, what urban planning project would you want to work on or position in the field would you like to occupy?

I would love to work on some sort of rejuvenation/infill project for certain areas of Toronto’s inner suburbs. Just driving around southwest Scarborough you can see so many empty, overgrown lots surrounded by broken fences. Ideally, a developer would buy a lot and have me on the planning team to figure out what is feasible and ensures respect and benefits for the community.

In your opinion, what is the most frustrating urban issue in Toronto?

Funding. There are so many things we know we can do to improve TTC service and get people out of their cars or at least provide a practical option to, but there is not enough money. People commuting to Glendon (at Lawrence/Bayview) from Ajax, for example, have to pay both GO and TTC fairs. For a three-hour class, it’s easier just to drive in, if you have that option available to you. All those wonderful, grand ideas, for building bike superhighways and improving safety fall by the wayside when there is no funding. Plans can be commissioned, people can get excited about changes, but years later still nothing is changed because there is no funding. It’s incredibly frustrating.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city?

There’s a little cafe by my house on Dupont called Cafe Con Leche that’s chill and has great WiFi. I’m also a big fan of my department’s computer lab. Boring, I know.

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Christian Lopez

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday, meet Christian Lopez. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Christian had stage presence from the start, performing at birthday parties and giving speeches from a young age. He moved to Toronto close to a decade ago and is currently a student at Glendon College pursuing a trilingual iBA in English with a minor in Linguistics.

As I understand it, your immediate plans are to be an event planner before pursuing a career in speech pathology. I am a strong believer in not getting caught up in the expectation of a traditionally linear career path. How did you make this decision? Have you always wanted to pursue both, or did you start with one, discover the second, and then struggle between the two before deciding you could do them both?

I have never really stressed about following the traditionally linear path to a career. I have talked to so many professionals who have led extraordinary paths to get to where they are now and they reassured me that doing the whole high school-university-career thing in that order is not essential for getting to where you want to be. My parents have always told me that success is not measured by how much money we make or what job we hold, but by how happy we are and how independent we can make ourselves. That all being said, I knew I liked planning events (originally just parties and get-togethers) and I also knew that I loved languages and working with kids. All of these realizations helped me to create my plan of being in event management (because you don’t need a master’s for that) until I feel stable and independent enough to get a master’s degree in speech pathology later down the road. I do not put pressure on myself about WHEN it will happen, only about HOW it will happen. And for me that means volunteering, getting job experience, networking, and putting myself out there.

Event planning sounds like all fun and games, but it is an extremely stressful and demanding line of work. In my opinion, the pay-off only comes once the event is safely over, but I have a colleague who insists she gets a thrill out of the whole experience. What is it about event planning that appeals to you?

My favourite part of event planning is putting the event together. I love logistics and scheduling, so this is the most fun for me. I like feeling the pressure of getting all of the moving parts together and creating my vision. All of the stress, however, is contained to the planning. When the events themselves are going on I believe in being relaxed in order to facilitate a stress-free and inviting environment for guests and team members who might be working on an event with me. I believe in enjoying a glass of wine and taking your time to benefit from networking and meeting people. As the host or event planner I believe that the most important part of your job is to make sure everyone is comfortable at the event you put on.

You have quite a bit of experience in the area considering your work with the Glendon College Student’s Union, your time with Glendon’s Dance Team, and your current position as Communications Officer of Pro Tem, Glendon’s newspaper, which involves its fair share of logistics and event planning. What are some concrete skills you’ve picked up that will benefit you once you start working professionally?

Extracurricular activities at Glendon have proven to be very useful in acquiring skills for later on in life. My experience as VP Operations for the GCSU gave me skills like organization, time management, and general office managing skills. I learned how to lead a team of over 20 students and was in charge of maintaining a clean and organized office. These basic logistics and office work gave me first-hand experience with maintaining a team and being in charge of supply orders, etc. The job of communications officer did the same, but also gave me great experience with engaging audiences. As communications officer I did the promotion and marketing for our new logo and new branding and that gave me a new understanding of how important aesthetics and catering to your audience is.

People often think “parties” when they hear “events” but there are so many options for an event planner. A couple that instantly come to mind are managing sports events and organizing conferences. Is there a specific kind of event planning you’d like to go into?

In the future I hope to be in charge of putting on charity events and conferences. I would love to put on any sort of event that benefits the arts or that revolves around the arts.

How do you go about making genuine connections while also leveraging existing networks in order to set yourself up for job opportunities upon graduation?

I see all networking as a way to set myself up for opportunities. There are several instances where a connection from the past has come in handy for professional ventures. For example, an old dance teacher asked me to do choreography for an amazing festival that she was helping to organize. That same dance teacher (that I helped out a lot and always offered to assist) gave me paid contracts to teach dance for the Dufferin-Peel school board.

If you were a trust fund baby with VIP connections, and it were simply a matter of being qualified for the job, which event or conference would you love to be in charge of organizing?

My dream job would be putting on events for the United Nations, or any other sort of international organization that meets in order to facilitate change. Environmental conferences would be awesome too.

How do you plan to segue into a career in speech pathology down the road? Will you keep one foot planted in the field to keep your knowledge current (maybe through courses), or are you planning to shelf that career until you return to it later on?

I mostly plan to shelf it until I am ready to pursue my master’s. I think that language acquisition and developing language skills is something I will be doing naturally by a) working abroad and b) living in places with other official languages. I will eventually pursue speech language pathology seriously, and I plan to make it my long-term career with hopes of eventually owning my own business.

What is your preferred spot for getting things done in the city?

I love getting things done at any Starbucks. I know it seems basic, but their WiFi is always strong enough (unlike most Tims) and their layout is usually pretty clean and linear which helps when I am trying to concentrate. The upstairs seating at the Starbucks south on Mount Pleasant and Eglinton is great!

Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.