Mikhail Burke keeps his office door open.
As the inclusion and transition adviser at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, part of Burke’s job includes empowering students and guiding them toward a more well-rounded university experience. Each week, he sees students for informal discussions during his designated office hours.
Some drop in because they’re struggling to stay motivated in their studies, while others say they haven’t found their footing at the university. In addition to his own advice and mentorship, Burke is often able to point these students toward a range of supports at U of T Engineering and across the university to help undergraduate and graduate students succeed – and not just in the classroom.
“Student success should be viewed as a combination of self-realization and co-curricular enjoyment,” says Burke.
“A student has succeeded here if they’re able to identify their goals within this institution – is it a high GPA? Is it managing your time better? Is it building community or advocating for others? – and feel empowered to achieve those things.
“Defining what you want to get out of your time in university is actually hard, and I deeply empathize with that.”
He encourages students to visit him if they’re struggling to adjust to university life, feel disconnected from their classmates and the U of T community, feel unmotivated or are struggling with time management – or just need someone to talk to.
Coffee with Chris
Chris Yip is the dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering (photo by Roberta Baker)
While Burke meets with students during office drop-in hours, Chris Yip, the dean of the engineering faculty, prefers to chat over coffee.
Throughout the year, he hopes to meet directly with the faculty’s student body to learn more about their experiences, whether one-on-one, or through open forums such as his newly launched “Coffee with Chris” event.
“I believe it’s important to hear from students directly and candidly so that we, as a faculty, can better support their development into the engineers of tomorrow,” says Yip.
During the first “Coffee with Chris” on Nov. 4, students were welcomed to voice their thoughts and concerns on topics like: mental health and wellness; equity, diversity and inclusion; and overall student experience at U of T Engineering.
Towards Inclusive Practices Session (TIPS)
Overcoming imposter syndrome – which occurs when a person doubts their abilities and feels that their achievements are unearned or “fraudulent” – can be challenging at any age and at any stage of a person’s career.
Towards Inclusive Practices Sessions (TIPS) creates a space to allow students, staff and faculty to know they aren’t going through this, or other issues, alone.
Hosted by the Engineering Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Group (EEDIAG), the TIPS topics are directly impacted by conversations on equity, diversity and inclusion. Previous TIPS events welcomed staff and graduate students to discuss accessibility and student accommodations in design teams, for example.
This week, TIPS hosted its first workshop on imposter syndrome for undergraduates.
“Imposter phenomenon affects us all, myself included,” says Cori Hanson, the assistant director of student experience and teaching development. “It can especially impact those who are underrepresented on campus, whether they are racialized or first-generation Canadians, or gender non-conforming, among other factors.”
The workshop included tangible ways to support others and care for oneself, and a panel discussion by undergraduate students who openly shared their experiences grappling with imposter phenomenon.
TIPS workshops take place every other month. On alternate months, EEDIAG hosts Open Discussion, a more informal gathering open to all members of U of T Engineering to share ways to create a more welcoming environment at the faculty.
Alumni mentorship program
Alumni Luigi La Corte and Victor Xin remember signing up to be mentees of the faculty’s alumni mentorship program. They found the experience so valuable that once they graduated, they came back to volunteer – not just as mentors, but as co-chairs.
Between the two of them, they’ve mentored more than 15 students and counting. “We know the curriculum is structured, but life isn’t,” says La Corte, who now works as a project manager at private equity firm, Plenary. “Having gone through the professional and personal growth of my undergrad years, I felt the value of sharing that experience as a mentor.”
Since 2005, the program has matched undergraduate and graduate students with alumni mentors who help students achieve success in the classroom, in the lab and in their career paths.
Xin, who is now a managing partner at investment firm Athena Capital, remembers one mentee who aspired to follow in his footsteps in finance. “I helped him prep for job interviews and introduced him to colleagues working in different roles in banking,” he says.
“At the end of the program, I’ll always remember him saying, ‘I wish I had met you sooner.’ That’s the value of doing a mentorship program – it’s having someone help you fine tune your goals and how to achieve them.”
Engineering Campus Experience Officers (engCEOs)
Students looking for more informal peer-to-peer mentorship can now reach out to 12 Engineering Campus Experience Officers (engCEOs).
The newly launched program, made possible through the dean’s strategic fund, allows students to meet with peers to discuss and seek advice on any student experience topic, whether it’s keeping up with coursework or making friends.
The engCEOs represent all engineering streams and offer different perspectives on student experience – from international students to commuters.
“The students even came up with a motto: ‘More than marks,’” says Hanson. “Yes, marks are important, but what else is going on in your life, and what else is important to you and how can we support that?”
Hanson hopes resources like engCEOs will encourage more help-seeking behaviour on campus, “where students feel it’s absolutely OK to ask for help. Part of learning is asking questions.”