City Studies: Student Testimonials

Joelle Mokhtar

Majors: Political Science and Major City Studies

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 

I chose to enter my major in Political science because I originally wanted to pursue a career in Law, so I thought entering a program on political science would best suit my interests. Also, when I was in high school, I had a class trip for my law class and we had met multiple people who occupied as judges, officers, lawyers, etc. I had asked most of them which program they had used for their undergraduate degree, and they had all answered the same, Political Science. Once I finally got into it in my first and second year, I immediately knew that this was a good choice for me. I loved to learn about the current events taking place around the world, and I liked to hear different causes and/or theories in order to make some sense out of it all. For my major in City Studies, I did not know how it started. I needed one more major during the process of adding my majors and I did not exactly want to specialize in political science because I wanted a broad learning experience and didn't want to focus all my capabilities and learning from one main topic. I chose to study City Studies as my second major because after reading the overviews of the required courses for the program, I grew interest in the subject fairly quickly. I wanted to understand how my city that I was born and raised in came about and the policies linked towards building anything in that city. This program is really interesting and I personally had started to learn towards this program by my third year. I did not see this coming but this goes to show how keeping an open mind and trying new things will start to shape your mentality and show you what you truly enjoy and fix you in the direction that you should head in.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Political Science is about politics, policies, theories of understanding why all issues possibly exist, and the solutions that would help cease those issues. City Studies is about learning about the city of Toronto and how it formed, all the issues it had been through, policies when developing a structure like zoning by-laws, the official plan, etc. I find this course interesting because I find it nice to know about how we could possibly make changes to our city and knowing the fact that we are capable of making these changes through learning all about it in lectures and courses related to different subtopics such as transportation planning, strategic planning, municipal planning, etc. I would honestly say that I enjoy taking any courses in city studies/planning.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

1. Take opportunities!!! Join any club to get started on building your resume ASAP because before you know it, you will be walking on that stage, receiving that degree and not realizing that you did not do any extra-curriculars in the meantime. Also, making it harder to get into a grad-school of choice.

2. Take your time in courses! If you are unable to take a full course load every semester, give yourself a break. Spread out your courses. If that means summer school for some years, so be it. If that means another year, what’s one more year added to four? You will complete your degree anyways, so isn't it better to complete it well with great marks and a deeper understanding of your courses/program?

3. Talk to your professors! If it is simply about a question that you had in class but were too shy to ask in lecture, go to office hours and ask that question that your gut has been asking you to ask!!! You would rather know the answer in private than be curious as to what the answer could be by figuring it out for yourself.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 
I plan on attending graduate school to get my master’s degree in urban planning.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
In my first year, I took different courses from different subjects; I tried to keep my schedule very diverse with the intention of realizing what I am truly interested in. I took courses in political science, psychology, sociology, media, and humanities. By the end of my first year, it was time to add my subject posts and I had chosen not to specialize in political science, but to major in it, so I had chosen to take a second major in city studies. I did pretty well in political science in my first year, which was why I had not chosen to mainly focus on city studies. Again, I tried to keep my options broad for my future in case anything was to go wrong. I believe that first year is meant to be an introductory year of experience in university and trying to find your strengths so when you reach your next couple years, you will be playing to your strengths. Although I did not join many clubs in my first year, I took it as a year to adjust to university because the jump from high school to university is a big step. In my second year, I had taken my first city studies course and I really enjoyed it. Second year was the year where I tried to join clubs, make friends with people in my program, and got to know professors. In the middle of my second year, I had unfortunately fallen in academic probation, because of the fact that I was over occupied with classes and homework, and work outside of school. Maintaining all those things was hard but that showed me how to pick myself up after falling that hard. By the end of my second year, I picked myself up out of probation, and started choosing my courses wisely. In my third year, I was involved in one club, started being familiar with professors and interacting with more people. By this point in my life, I have realized almost exactly what I plan to do with my life and I started thinking about graduate school and how to write a proper academic resume. By third year, students should have a sense of what they plan on doing for their career and start working on it at this time in their lives. Also, the process of planning includes how to graduate and what courses are left to take in order to graduate for the purpose of having a set out plan and not experiencing any bumps in the road in the meanwhile.

Yasna Kharadi

Majors: Human Geography and City Studies Co-op
Minor: Geographic Information Systems

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

When I first joined UTSC, I didn’t plan on taking Geography at all. I just happened to take a first year course as an elective and fell in love with the discipline. The topics we learn are all interesting and relevant to issues in the real world. The faculty is extremely supportive and encouraging, and all the other students in the program are friendly and accepting. I chose to pursue the program as a major coupled with City Studies, and a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These three programs work really well together as there is good combination of theory, application, and real world skills that can be learned.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Many people think that Geography is about learning countries on a map, but it actually isn’t like that at all. There are many different types of Geographies including physical, urban, human, and cultural. Geography is about understanding the world around us, including concepts such as urbanization, globalization, migration patterns, changes to the environment, and inequalities of space. One of the highlights of this program is that it can be taken as a specialist, major, or minor. It can also be coupled with City Studies and be part of the co-op program. This allows students to take part in two competitive work terms with employers such as Environment Canada, Metrolinx, Ontario Energy Board, Ontario Power Generation, and many more. By doing so, students get an opportunity to apply their knowledge in real work environments and gain valuable experience. The curriculum for Geography is really diverse and students can pursue a broad range of interests. The first year Geography courses set strong foundations in understanding the different concepts and theories, while the upper year courses allow students to branch out in topics such as land development, megacities, health and sexuality, spaces of travel, and many more. This allows students to gain a breadth of knowledge they can use in their career path.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

1. Be involved in activities other than academics. Get to know the departmental associations, go to their events, they’re catered for students and their needs. Join a club or sports team, go to mix and mingles, talk to professors. All of this enhances the student experience. It helps in making friends and connections that are valuable, and you’ll enjoy your time in university much more.
2. Assignments and readings are hard so don’t be afraid to get help. Academic writing is a tough skill to learn but it’s an important aspect for your success. There are many services available on campus such as the Writing Centre, or workshops that teach students how to build these skills. It’s important to start assignments early so there’s enough time for editing. Readings are part of this as well as they help in understanding the material on a much deeper level. Take the time to question who the author is, why their perspective is the way it is, what in the reading is challenging, and what are the limitations within the reading. All of this facilitates critical thinking needed for academic success.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

Geography is inter-disciplinary and has the ability to be incorporated anywhere. Upon graduation, I would like to take a year or two to work and gain experience before possibly perusing a Masters. I participated in the co-op program and had the opportunity to work with the Ontario Energy Board for 8 months. I would like to return there and continue to learn and participate in the public sector. Geography prepares students with important skills in research, writing, and evidence-based examination of our surrounding environment. These skills can be transferred to many jobs, and gives students the ability to apply them in the real world.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

For my first year, I took courses from all disciplines including Environmental Science, Health Studies, and International Development. By doing so I knew what disciplines I liked and possibly wanted to pursue and which ones I didn’t. I also tried to attend and participate in events because it’s really beneficial to talk to upper year students and hear their perspective and advice. Second year, I started to get more involved as I joined my departmental student association as a Second Year Representative. The courses I was taking were more detailed and therefore more interesting. It was at this point that I really started to get the hang of academic writing and the skills for critical thinking. By doing so, I was able to engage better in all my courses and learn about subjects I was passionate about. Third and fourth year courses are tailored by themes and there’s a wide variety of options for students to choose from. The class sizes are much smaller and intimate so I got to know my professors and classmates a lot better. Many fourth year courses are seminar based and students get to share their thoughts and experiences in an open environment. This type of learning is much more personal and much more rewarding.

Camille Pandela

Majors: Sociology and City Studies

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

One of the things I love about both Sociology and City Studies are the professors. Most are friendly and extremely approachable and want nothing but to ensure that their students receive the best education they deserve (and paid for!) For someone like me, who's totally shy and easily intimated by authority, it's nice to know that there's a good balance between professionalism and casualty within the Social Sciences department. Another factor that helped me decide in choosing my majors is my ability to envision myself pursuing them in my Undergrad career. I LEARNED to love Sociology and City Studies, not just because of my "super cool" professors, but because of the things I was taught, and my personal self-development as a young adult while pursuing my majors, has made me want to go forward with it even more. That said, I wasn’t set on actually taking these programs to begin with—they were just electives I was taking in first year, and then things sort of just “clicked” for me, the further I progressed in the introductory courses. I’m pretty fortunate in that sense.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

It's no glitter and glamour, that's for sure! Like all Social Sciences, both Sociology and City Studies are very generous when it comes to readings. And, oh, the ESSAYS! Honestly, the only kind of paper I don't have is monetary. Seriously though, from annotated bibliographies to ethnographic accounts, you'll learn to do all sorts of papers that also vary in formality and even citation formats. They're not like English papers or formal lab reports at ALL. You're also going to experience a LOT of people picking on you, and questioning the validity of Social Science as an "actual" science. Don't mind them and just brush it off! I mean, seriously, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "science" is defined as, "knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method" And guess what? You'll learn that in Social Science, there ARE theories, hypothesis, observations, and findings that are made about the world. City Studies is a broad, multi-disciplinary program. That means you can find yourself taking geography courses, environmental studies courses, political science courses, etc., that go with your degree. One of the things I really love about my programs is that I can learn about different things that still go toward finishing my majors.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

Let me begin by telling you right now that if you don't like writing essays, these programs are NOT for you. Or rather, that when considering any program, that--as interesting as all programs may seem or be--not every program is fit for you. (No kidding, I'm sure y'all knew that, but it's something I needed to learn, because I'm definitely no Anthro-whiz or Human Geo-genius or IDS-extraordinaire and even though all of these fall under Social Science, I just can't with them, man...) A few more things to keep in mind, (along with swallowing the fact that you're not an invincible, impenetrable, heart-made-out-of-stone-and-can-do-anything-you-feel-like person) are your interests, because both Sociology and City Studies cover broad topics. In the same way Biology students will specialize to focus on something like...cell molecular biology or animal physiology or become fauna-specialist or something. Ask yourself, "What do I want to do with my life?", "What do I LIKE doing?" One of the things I really highly recommend in figuring this out is to go to the Registrar website and find Sociology and/or City Studies programs and read up on your requirements, along with the courses they have to offer. Both majors have a neat little chart that divides their C- and D-level courses by the topic they fall under. So, for example, if you're interested in becoming a lawyer and providing legal-aid for immigrants, it'd be useful to take courses from sociology that focus on immigration.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?

After graduation, my intention was to go into a co-op Human Resource Management program in a college. I'm still looking at my options, but my heart is definitely set on eventually pursuing my Masters in Planning, working internships and becoming the next Jennifer Keesmaat (Chief Planner for the City of Toronto). I'll essentially be pursuing one of my passions as an advocate for re-intensification and mixed-use developments.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
Like I said earlier, I fell into both my major programs “by accident”—they were simply electives I was just taking to figure out what I was really interested in, because I already knew exactly what I WASN’T interested in. Going into university, my goal was to just finish and do post-grad co-op program in Human Resource because I thought that would be the easiest course of action for me. But I truly got a chance to learn that life is—by any means—not easy. My first year was pretty rough, I gotta say—it’s nothing like high school. The stakes are higher, it feels like. And you’re in debt, and you’ve got more responsibilities now than ever before. The transition into university—the first semester—was the WORST. None of my high school friends were in my program and so they’ve grown apart from me. But occasionally, I run into them on campus and catch up. All my group leaders at Orientation told me to talk to my profs, I couldn’t do it. Second year was better, I knew my way around by then and I was set on doing Sociology as my major by the end of first year, so the second year was my year to determine what ELSE I was going to do, and that’s when I took the Foundations of City Studies course taught by Professor Allahwala. In my third year, I got to really grow as a person. I know now exactly where I want to go with my life in relation to my studies and it was a pretty good idea taking a C-level course in second year, because it has definitely alleviated how much C-levels I needed to take this year.

Major: City Studies
Minors: Geography Information System (GIS) & English-Chinese Translation

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
The reason I choose city study as my major is, as an international student, I would like to know the city first, and browse how the city operate in western countries, while seeing what the relationship is between city planners, government, and the communities.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
City Studies is a mixed-discipline, the program requires students to get information from diverse subjects, such as geography, environment, sociology, policy, and statistics. GIS, the full name is Geography Information System, sounds like a technical issue, and that is correct, GIS is a kind of method which makes information visible on a map.  For example, what is the criminal rate in a specific area, one can get the information and see it visually on a map. English-Chinese Translation is the aspect that I am interested in, this program provides me with a deep understanding of the language, and the importance of performing as a translator.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

If you are, like me, not a native English speaker, I would suggest that you do your reading material several times to improve your skills and understanding of the topic. I suggest this as these three programs will offer you huge amounts of readings. Particularly, if you are a social science student, I highly recommend that you take GIS as your minor, as that will help you in the future projects and careers. While, to be honest, it is often hard to get the point of the knowledge at the beginning, as these are new theories and concepts to most students. However, don’t get discouraged, as after you take the B-level GIS course, you will gain better understanding of what the beginning course is talking about. Although the B-level probably will be a tough period for students to learn, just keep going, when you practice more, you will know  the material more clearly.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

Based on my GIS skills, there are some analytical jobs I can do. Also, city- related jobs, for example, research, project, and so on.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
I suffered a lot in my first year, I was even on probation for a period of time due to the fact that I am not that familiar with the programs offered by this campus and I had language problems. The language test does not mean you are on the way to success. One year later, I decided to be a city studies student. I learned knowledge from different aspects, while I became more practiced on the academic studying, but I still felt that what I learned was so abstract that I cannot touch it. Thereafter, when I took C level and D level courses, things became better, we had projects that needed to do research and interviews in the community, this time I felt what I learned from the book, has been applied, and I recognized that there are gaps between the readings and the reality.

Masooma Ali

Majors: City Studies and Public Policy
Minor: Urban Public Policy and Governance

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

I actually began on a completely different path when entering UTSC. Starting off in Political Science I soon figured out it was not for me, I then found Public Policy was a better fit based on my interests and aspirations. Taking a class to complete my degree requirements is what led me to discover City Studies which has shifted my career goals all together. My minor program was introduced a couple of years into my academic career, and since it encompassed the different aspects of the topics I was already learning about between my two majors, I chose to add it on to further my education.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like? *

City Studies is based on city building, city governance and community development. The greatest thing about my City Studies classes was not only were we learning theories and historical practices but there is constantly new research and information that is available to us to broaden our knowledge on the topics at hand. There are also many opportunities for experiential learning and field work through diverse course types like seminar and workshop style and even field trip courses which are very helpful for those who find it easier to learn in methods more diverse than just lectures. There are times when you are working directly with the community, helping solve real problems through a variety of methods rather than just sitting in a classroom studying them. What is great about my Public Policy program is that it gives me a second perspective on what I learn in my City Studies classes. Instead of just thinking of one solution to the issues we discuss in class, I am able to grasp a comprehensive understanding, which includes the policy and politics behind the topics. The Urban Public Policy and Governance minor only further confirms that these two majors work really well together.
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
Do your research: Don't just read the course calendar to make your decision. Almost every department has open houses which are attended by professors who will be teaching you. Go and talk to them, listen to the presentations and ask questions! Talk to students who have completed AND are currently in the program: The greatest way to do this is through your DSA's which are your Departmental Student Associations. These are students who are elected by their peers in the program to represent their concerns to faculty and the administration. Having been a part of my own DSA, I think it helps to talk to students who are currently in the program because they can give you tips that are relevant to the courses, professors and teachings you will be experiencing first hand. However I think it is also very helpful to talk to students who have completed the program. Ask what their academic path was, see what they are doing and where they are going after graduation in order to understand if their results and feelings towards the program match your goals.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

I am currently hoping to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Planning next Fall, to further my education before pursuing a career in City Building.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My journey was not an easy one. I struggled to find my place and really love what I was learning, and because of that, I was very unmotivated in my first year. Instead of sticking to something that was not for me, I explored other options and ended up finding programs that made me excited to learn. The most important advice I can give and the reason I feel things worked out for me was because I took my time. I find many students worry about sticking to a schedule that they have laid out for themselves for the next 4 years and are pressured to finish in time. Things do not always work out how we want them to, but it is better to focus on the end goal and work towards it than to worry about how long it will take to get there. I also found that getting involved on campus was essential. In my second year I found a work study job on campus, I joined the GCSA, I was involved with research projects with my professors and I was a part of UTSC's official student publication, The Underground. These activities kept me grounded and involved within the UTSC community which only enriched and helped my academics. In my third and fourth years, I looked forward to going to class, I loved what I was learning and my marks reflected that. In my last semester I even had the chance to travel to Japan through my program for a field trip course. Now as a graduate I look back at my time at UTSC very fondly. Like I said it was not easy, but if I am totally honest, I would not change a thing because as student at UTSC, I learned so much both in and out of the classroom.

Hazel Mae Valenzuela

Majors: Public Policy (co-op) and City Studies

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 

I didn't know exactly what I wanted to be. But I knew I wanted to make a difference in other people's lives through policy (especially involving children) and this is why I choose UTSC. I was first drawn to UTSC's public policy co-op program, the only UofT campus with a co-op program. I knew UTSC would be the best choice as policy is not only an academic theoretical application but also requires some practical on hands experience. Looking in advance, I knew my co-op work term experience would be able to offer me invaluable experience in the policy field, expertise and mentoring from government officials as well as helping me become competitive for masters programs.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Being a part of this program is a lot of hard work, the effort you put in is what you get out in the end. Since my first year, I've been taking a full course load (5 courses), mandatory co-op courses and workshops as well as balancing extra-curricular activities as well as a part time job. After completing my two work terms, and one more year left of school, I would still say choosing city studies and public policy (co-op) programs is the best decision I have made. These two programs are designed to cater to both theoretical learning and out of the classroom practical experience as well as being inter-disciplinary drawing from political science, economics, sociology and women studies. One of the highlights of my program is my co-op work experience at the Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care. During my co-op work term, I worked as a project coordinator consulting with stakeholders, managers, consultants and public health units on monitoring timely delivery of services and programs. My proudest accomplishment was coordinating a full day workshop for over 100 participants from all over Ontario on prioritizing data quality initiatives and solutions. I was also fortunate to further explore two of my research interests of disability in the media and gendered planning. Research is another aspect I valued the theoretical aspects of my programs, in my upper year course I was fortunate to have a class with David Onley, previous Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and complete a research piece on gender differences of disability representations in the media. I presented my paper on gendered planning at the second annual women's and gender studies conference.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

1) Find a mentor / always be ready to be mentored but before doing so, seek out expertise. I've been advised "ask for help" many times but you can only ask for help from professionals, researchers, or future job prospects only if you know what you want to ask. Once I figured out my interests and developed enough knowledge I was able to reach out to experts on those topics while specifying what I wanted to learn more about or develop on as well as what knowledge and experience I could contribute and what experiences I wanted out of possible opportunities they might know of.
2) Get involved in extra-curricular activities, volunteering, once in a life time exchange trips, weird opportunities or a call out you see on the bulletin board. Why? Aside from building experiences for your resume and graduate applications, getting involved allows you to learn more about yourself what your skills are, what your interests are and how you deal with new experiences. For me, there's something about the thrill of doing something that seems impossible or out of my comfort zone! One of the most fulfilling experiences in my undergraduate was being President of Co-op Students Association, during my year I increased our presence on campus, worked tirelessly with other clubs and DSAs on event collaborations, executed 10 major events, 2 new initiatives and our club won the SCSU most active club award that year.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

 
The opportunities are endless! I've had friends graduate and work in the government right away, other friends went on to graduate studies and are now working - then there's me who's younger and is confused which is the best road. Throughout my degree, I've contemplated on pursuing research or graduate studies or work right away in the government. Through speaking with friends, mentors, attending networking events, informational interviews - what I've gathered is the decision to pursue your masters depends specifically on what you want to do in the government. Right now, I see myself working as a policy analyst with a focus on disability or children. I'm almost done my undergraduate so as of now, I plan to keep my GPA high and apply to graduate schools in Ottawa, these graduate programs are a great choice as a majority of government jobs are in Ottawa and there is a mandatory co-op placement component to the graduate program which will increase my chances of securing a job upon completing the graduate program.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 

My program takes a very interdisciplinary approach; throughout the years I've enjoyed taking classes from many different programs and being able to explore my interests. In my first year, I took a handful of pre-requisites from economics, sociology, political science as well as electives such as English and Anthropology. I spent a lot of my time volunteering as well as trying to get involved on campus groups on campus. My second year was a very important year, I was able to declare my majors of public policy (co-op) and city studies, begin my co-op work term recruitment as well as be a part of several extra-curricular activities, I was a publication editor for the Political Science Student Association, a first year mentor and worked as a graphics editor at The Underground, UTSC's student publication. During this time, I developed strong time management skills, dividing up my time between looking for my co-op position, a full course load, several extracurricular activities as well as a part time job. In the summer of my second year I began my 8 month co-op work term with the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. I returned to school in January 2016 for the winter semester and fall semester. Currently in my fourth year, I am taking many D level courses that allow me to further explore my interests and conduct research on some interesting topics.