Public Policy: Student Testimonials

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.

Andrew Situ

Majors: Public Policy & Sociology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
Initially I chose both of my programs because 1) I enjoyed what I was learning within their respective introductory classes and 2) I loved the professors that I met at networking events. From my second year to my third year now, both programs helped me figure out what I wanted to potentially do after my undergraduate studies; this was one of the main selling points that made realize that this was the program combination choice for me. I am highly interested in the areas of student engagement and retention at the university level. My general focus is on how to make you, as a current student, feel like you belong on our campus in terms of having the proper academic and social supports. Public Policy & Sociology not only complement one another as fields, but also allows me to delve deeper into creating student support systems that are transparent, equitable, and sustainable.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
Within Public Policy and Sociology, both fields push you to think critically about the social context that we all live in. Both programs challenge you to go beyond your preconceived notions of how things are supposed to be within society and how to develop solutions to the problems that are present. This is done through the emphasis each program places on developing writing skills and having knowledge in both quantitative and/ or qualitative methods. Public Policy focuses on examining the rules/ laws we have in place and how to make them better for everyone that is impacted. Sociology allows you to delve further into the underlying processes that govern us by considering the lived experiences of people; this program allows you to generate the best possible outcomes. Both programs offer multiple streams or course clusters that allow you focus your studies. This provides students with the ability to not only learn what appeals to his or her areas of interest but also allows one to differentiate oneself from another; you are able to create your own personalized university experience. In terms of the non-academic side of things, both programs offer a strong network of professors and other professionals that help you transition from not only from high school to university, but also from your undergraduate studies to the realm of possibilities (either the workplace or further education) that are present before you. Students are given a wide array of opportunities to take advantage of, ranging from one-on-one support to networking events and even post-undergrad transition programs to remove anxiety within the application process. The communities in each program are amazing in how it values and prioritizes the student experience.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1) Use your departmental student association (DSAs) in any way possible to help you. DSAs act as the liaison between you and your program, whether it be other students, professors, or alumni; they are there to provide you with as much support as they can to help you succeed during your studies. They can tell you a lot about their respective departments and what they offer to you in terms of academics and community life, all of which is vital to with getting the most out of your time here at UTSC. 2) Get a mentor. If you are a first year student, the Department of Student Life offers an amazing First Year Experience Program for both regular and First Generation students. Within the program, you get matched with an upper year student within your program that can help you transition from high school and allow you to get the most out of the opportunities that UTSC offers. As a previous mentee, a previous volunteer mentor, and now a Peer Academic Coach within this program, I highly recommend it. Alternatively, if you are not a first year, connect with upper year students or professors and see if they would be willing to provide you with guidance. Outside of the Peer Academic Coach Program, I also mentor two other students who are in different programs than I am. Never be afraid to reach out and see who can help you along your journey. 3) Research possible routes that you can pursue after your time here at UTSC as early as you can. Make sure that you don't blindly map out your future as university education is a long-term investment. Figure out what you can do with your degree and how you can make an impact in whatever area(s) resonate(s) with you the most. Consult with every possible person or organization that you can, whether that is professors, upper year students, alumni, or the Academic Advising & Career Centre.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
I currently have three paths in mind: two revolving around further education and the other with going straight into the world of work. I am thinking of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) and pursuing a Masters of Education (M.Ed) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in either Education Leadership and Policy or Higher Education studies. Alternatively, I am also considering a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at Rotman Commerce and specializing in either Leadership and Change Management or Health Sector Management. After finishing one (or maybe another) degree, I want to work within the university setting either as someone that is able to actively engage with students or within the background with policy. On the other hand, going straight into the workplace is also something that I have been considering. In terms of options, I am thinking of either the healthcare sector within hospitals as a policymaker or within the educational sector again with student retention.

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

My first year was all about transition and being able to keep up and succeed with the university's academic standards. It was also about starting my network of friends and professors who could help support me in my journey. This year also was the start of my university extracurricular experience, whereby I joined the Sociology DSA, Students of Sociology, as a First-Year Representative. I began to develop hard and soft skills that not only benefited my first year self, but also for my own professional development for later on in life. By getting involved I figured out how to make the best use of my time by balancing my academic and extracurricular activities. Second year was focused on finding the passions I am the most interested in pursuing and refining them. This was done through the courses I could choose from and seeing what areas I wanted to focus in. This year was also about building on the relationships I had with others and expanding those networks so I could meet more people. By doing so, I was able to expand my own world view and learn more from those around me. Academically, this year had an emphasis on passing the real hurdles of university. In this sense, second year was the hardest because professors are no longer treating you like a first year; you are given higher expectations and you need to be able to meet them. This was especially true through my extracurricular involvement as I was working within two DSAs and the Department of Student Life. I had to fine tune my abilities to balance my priorities of being a successful student but also a leader at the same time. Currently with my third year, it feels like an accelerated version of what happened in my second year. You have a lot more priorities to balance because there is this struggle between focusing on school but wanting to do more and making an impact towards those around you. Additionally, this is the year where refining your network is key as graduation is right around the corner. Although it is tough sometimes, in the end, it is extremely worth it. I am able to get the most out of my time at UTSC and make it worthwhile. The experiences you gain through the efforts you put in are definitely worth the struggle.

Srusti Pandya

Major: Public Policy Co-op,
Minors: Political Science and Biology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
I have been changing programs from my first year at UTSC till recently, my 4th year fall semester. I came to UTSC interested in pursuing a Chemistry co-op program and ever since then, I have shown an interest for programs in biology, psychology, management, environmental science, health studies and political science. As I progressed throughout my undergrad, I was always curious to explore the wide variety of courses UofT offered. Having always been a science student, I decided to use these four years to explore my interests and discover which program I can thrive in. Multiple factors, like academic & personal interests, future career opportunities, professors and academic performance, have contributed to these choices. Ultimately I decided on these program choices, specifically Public Policy co-op, because of the multidisciplinary nature of the program. It encompassed my multiple interests, as it allowed me to take courses in public policy, political science, management, health studies, while also giving me valuable professional experience in the industry.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
The multidisciplinary approach to this program allows you to gain a deep understanding of public policies and government processes, while still being able to study and apply this to your other interest areas. This program equips you with the qualitative and quantitative analytical skills you would need to be successful policy analysts. In my case, it even enabled me to be a successful business analyst. This is in large part due to the great professors in the department and the classroom dynamics, which allow you to actively interact with the professor and other students. You can always count on professors to help you with coursework as well as guide you in your professional aspirations. Another highlight of the program is the co-op option where you have the opportunity to apply your skills and knowledge at great placements, in the public, private or non-profit sectors. Through my 8 month placement at Cancer Care Ontario, a provincial agency under the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, I was able to grow professionally and personally. The exposure I received and network I built made my Public Policy experience truly comprehensive. This is largely attributed to the rigorous Public Policy program and resources offered by the Co-op department and AA&CC. Although the courses and co-op search can be difficult, successfully overcoming these challenges makes a tremendous contribution to your professional and personal growth.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1) Public Policy is a great program to be in and at an early stage one of the things I would advise is to really use the opportunity to explore your interests. In order to be successful in any program you need to have a passion for what you are studying and have a purpose for studying it. This enables you to thrive in it and be able to face any challenges. The best way to really do this is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do the research. This can mean exploring different courses, talking to faculty members about opportunities in public policy, connecting with students who have gone through this program and meeting with representatives from AA&CC and the Co-op department. The key is to really internalize your program choice and ensure what you are studying complements your interests, skills and aspirations.
2) The second piece of advice I would give is to be active on campus. One thing I have always kept consistent throughout my four years is my extracurricular activities, along with seeking out new opportunities. These experiences allow you to meet new people and network. You will find you have a lot in common with them, yet still realize that every UofT student has a unique story to share. As you build your network, you will learn of new opportunities which can only add to your growth. In addition, being involved with clubs and DSAs makes you feel like you are part of a community yet still allow you to stand out. Your extracurricular activities will be just as much of a learning experience as your classes.
3) Have fun! As a 4th year student, I can say how important and memorable your undergraduate experience is. I know it can be stressful and you can often lose direction. It's just as important to take the time out to take care of yourself as it is to work hard in school. This involves managing your time and giving yourself a break when needed. Remember, there is no one path to being successful so always go for the experiences that reflect who you are as an individual.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
One of the best things about an undergraduate degree, especially one in Public Policy, is that it equips you with the essential skills needed to be successful in any post-grad direction you take. Whether you want to secure employment or study further, all the doors are open for you. Upon graduation, I have a few directions I am considering. Since I continue to work at Cancer Care Ontario on a part-time basis, I may return to the organization on a full time basis after graduation; or find employment in another public sector organization in Toronto. Alternatively, I may take a year off to pursue a public policy internship or social entrepreneurship in India. In the long term, I see myself completing a Masters in Public Policy and/or a Masters in Business Administration. I think one of the key things is to not stress about committing to what you will do after graduation. Continue to explore and gain different experiences!
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My first year at UTSC focused on taking the key courses for the sciences, while also exploring out of the sciences to learn more about management and economics. Outside of academics, I joined clubs and began to socialize and meet new people. I also opted out of the co-op program. By second year, I was more used to university life and had developed good study habits. I continued to take more courses in the sciences and maintain involvement on campus. This was also the year I took courses in the social sciences and started volunteering off campus. As I broadened my exposure, I began to reflect and critically think about my interests and future aspirations. At the end of second year, I made a big change and decided to pursue a Public Policy major and opt back into the co-op program. I was initially hesitant to do so because I didn't know what to expect but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I was able to fully immerse myself into the coursework and gain a better understanding of which direction I wanted to head in. The first half of my third year was spent juggling public policy and science coursework, clubs, volunteering, a part-time job and seeking a co-op placement. The second half was spent at my co-op placement: Cancer Care Ontario. Now being in my fourth year, I recently decided to do another program change and switch from my second Human Biology major to a double minor in Political Science and Biology. The focus of this year has been completing my program requirements and trying to squeeze in as many interesting courses as I can. I also look forward to completing an undergraduate thesis in innovation policy. I am also continuing my involvement with clubs and a part-time position at Cancer Care Ontario. While I look forward to graduating this June, I am also trying to make the most of the last few months of my undergraduate experience. Although my academic journey has had a lot of ups and down, it has been a great memorable experience. The impact it has had on my personal and professional growth is tremendous!

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.