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#UofTGrad17: New College grads pursue equity and social justice principles

From left to right, Madeline Peters, Simon Spichak and Vanessa Bart-Plange are among the 727 grads at U of T's New College (photo by Diana Tyszko)

When the equity studies program was launched at U of T's New College in 1998, it was the first of its kind in Canada. 

Today, as 727 New College students graduate from U of T, the college continues to be recognized for its focus on equity and social justice studies.

A Ghanaian education reform advocate, an American student in ecology and evolutionary biology and a neuoscience grad who got involved in collecting used suits and ties, and re-selling them at low cost to students are among this year's grads continuing to look at the world through a social justice lens.  

Vanessa Bart-Plange is graduating with a double major in international relations and political science and a minor in African studies. She is interested in education policy and pedagogy and hopes to improve the educational system in her native Ghana.

Thanks to the MasterCard Foundation – which provides full scholarships to outstanding students from Sub-Saharan Africa – she said her education at U of T has set her on her path.

“When I entered high school, I struggled with paying my fees but people chipped in until later when I was awarded a tuition scholarship by the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority where my dad worked at the time,” she said. “It was a community effort. I want to give back in my own way eventually by sponsoring someone and being a mentor.”

In the fall, Bart-Plange will enter a master’s degree program in development studies at York University.

Read more about Bart-Plange

When Madeline Peters decided to come to U of T for her undergraduate degree, there was really no question about which college she would choose. After all, her mother had also attended New College many years before. 

The Pittsburgh native completed her bachelor's with a specialist in ecology and evolutionary biology. She also received a Cressy Student Leadership Award, a prize the recognizes students for their contributions. She peer mentored 20 students in a first-year life sciences learning community. 

For her PhD, she will be studying evolutionary epidemiology at U of T. 

Simon Spichak completeed his bachelor's degree, specializing in neuroscience. 

His participation in student life at U of T helped him win a Cressy Student Leadership Award for extracurricular involvement.

Among the organizations he's participated in is Suit U, a not-for-profit group that canvasses businesspeople for donations of used suits and ties to resells at lower prices to students through sales events at Hart House.

He enrolled in a neuroscience independent research course this past year, as well as the capstone research course offered by the biomedical engineering program. This summer, he has a research job at Toronto Western Hospital, exploring stem cells and spinal cord regeneration.

In the fall, he will begin pursuing a PhD in neuroscience focusing on the way gut bacteria affect the brain.

Read more about the students