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Progressive Programs

These three campaign-funded programs are enabling U of T students to experience unique learning opportunities

The generosity of campaign donors has expanded student opportunities by improving on existing programs and creating totally new learning experiences. Of the $1 billion raised, an impressive 27 per cent was directed to improving programs and enhancing the student learning experience. For example, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and Scotiabank Group contributed to the First Nations Mentor-in-Residence program. An endowment from music enthusiasts funds annual visits from eminent composers, ensuring that Faculty of Music students are continually exposed to new talents and ideas. And a major donation from Jeffrey Skoll, eBay’s first employee, established a cutting-edge program that integrates engineering and management skills. This is just a small sampling of the programs made possible by donations to the Campaign for the University of Toronto – programs that propel U of T to the top of the class.

First Nations Mentor-in-Residence Program
When Terry Spanish is struggling with an assignment, he knows whom to reach out to for help. As a student in U of T’s Transitional Year Programme (TYP) – a year-long access program for adults who do not have the formal educational background to qualify for university admission – Spanish meets regularly with Jill Carter, the First Nations mentor-in-residence. As part of TYP, Carter offers personal and academic support to all of its students. In her role as a tutor at U of T’s First Nations House, she primarily works with aboriginal students in arts and humanities and is also available to any aboriginal studies undergrad who needs academic support. Mentorship is significant to the success of many U of T aboriginal students. “Jill helps me with essay writing because English is a second language to me,” says Spanish. “I have a way of writing things down that is culturally based. I’m native and my first language is Ojibwa. But instructors want you to write essays a certain way. She helps me understand what I have to do.”

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund donated $260,000 toward a three-pronged project that included the First Nations Mentor-in-Residence Program, a position for a recruitment officer of aboriginal students and an annual Aboriginal Awareness Week at U of T, which features public lectures and readings, artist workshops and celebrations of native peoples. Scotiabank Group has recently committed $30,000 for the mentorship program, which enables Carter to spend one to two days a week tutoring. Carter, who has been the First Nations mentor-in-residence since 2002, also acts as a resource on First Nations issues and helps non-aboriginal faculty members across the university understand the aboriginal teaching and learning style.

For Carter, who is a PhD candidate in drama at U of T, helping TYP students navigate their way through course work is all in a day’s work. She understands the aboriginal-student experience firsthand, and sees her main role as a facilitator of voice. “One thing that I was as an aboriginal student was silent. We come from a silenced people, a people whose voice has been taken away,” says Carter. “I want to let them know that it’s OK to use their voices and make them proud to use them again in their writing and speaking, to make their presence known and make a difference.”

When these students arrive on campus, Carter helps ease their transition to university life. “Many of us are a long way from home. Some of us have been orphaned, cut off from our communities, our ceremonies, languages and families,” she says. “And then we come to the university and we start to learn about ourselves again, and we can learn our language again and speak it with other people. It’s incredible that through U of T, many of us have come home. The university has been the path home because of First Nations House and the mentor-in-residence program.”

The Jeffrey Skoll BASC/MBA Program
When James Colaco started job-hunting after graduating from U of T last spring, the credentials on his resumé quickly landed him a job. Colaco was in the first graduating class of U of T’s new Jeffrey Skoll BASc/MBA Program, which fast-tracks students who want to combine studies in engineering and business. It also focuses on leadership skills, management training and hands-on experience. In the program, students earn a bachelor of applied science and a master’s of business administration degree, as well as gaining close to two years of work experience.

Skoll graduates are also prepared to join the workforce as entrepreneurs, leaders in technology-based ventures such as biotechnology and managers in software development or any other modern business. “It’s a forward-thinking program geared toward the new high-tech world,” says Peter Pauly, associate dean of research and academic resources at U of T’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. “It’s strongly focused on innovation management and on management of technology. It expands on what students get in their engineering education; namely, how to put their skills in a managerial framework.”

As part of the Skoll curriculum, students participate in engineering and management work-study programs, which are both eight months long. Colaco gained hands-on experience as a systems engineer at Allied Signal Aerospace, and as a program manager at both Microsoft and Brightspark, a technology incubator and software venture fund. “If you want to work in investment banking or management consulting, the program equips you for those environments because you have the technical experience from the engineering degree coupled with the intensive management training,” he says.

Last September, Colaco accepted a position in management consulting with the Toronto office of Deloitte Consulting, a professional-services firm. “I couldn’t have gotten the job with just an engineering degree,” he says. “Deloitte looks for candidates with significant business experience, so the degree gave me an advantage.”

Jeffrey Skoll, the first employee of the online auction house eBay Inc., contributed $7.5 million to establish the Skoll program, the first in Canada to combine engineering and management skills. It was a winning combination for Skoll, who, after graduating from U of T’s electrical engineering program, enrolled at Stanford University in California to earn a master’s of business administration degree.

Of Skoll’s gift, $3 million was matched by the Access to Opportunities Program (ATOP) – an Ontario government initiative to help young people prepare for jobs in advanced technology – bringing the total to $6 million. This portion helped fund the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, which houses the program. Skoll’s remaining $4.5-million donation, which was matched by the University of Toronto to total $9 million, endowed three new chairs – two in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and one in the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management.

Skoll recently made another significant donation; this time he donated $3.75 million to provide students in the Skoll program with financial assistance. The Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund (OSOTF) matched the funds, bringing the endowment to a total of more than $7 million. Thanks to Skoll’s tremendous generosity, the program is helping University of Toronto graduates become leaders in the new world of business.

Visiting Composer in Residence Program
One of the most memorable moments in Diego Soifer’s music education came last October: the aspiring composer and third-year student in U of T’s Faculty of Music shared one of his fledgling compositions with Argentinean composer Mario Davidovsky, a Pulitzer Prize winner. A pivotal figure in electro-acoustic music, Davidovsky spent five days on campus as a guest of the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition Program. Davidovsky, who has gained international acclaim for combining live performances with electronic sounds, also gave lectures and critiqued student compositions. “He gave me feedback on one of my compositions, which gave me a different perspective on my music. He liked my composition and tried to understand who I was through my work,” says Soifer. “And I was able to sit in on his rehearsal with student performers, so I was able to see how he dealt with musicians and made the music work.”

The Visiting Composer in Residence Program has also brought in another Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Joseph Schwantner of Spofford, N.H. Schwantner visited for six days in January. Montreal composer Gilles Tremblay was the guest musician in March. In the next school year, the guests will include Ottawa composer Kelly-Marie Murray, whose music has been performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Heinz Holliger, a noted Swiss composer and oboist.

“We’re delighted with the program. The visitors all compose music but in very different styles and idioms,” says David Beach, dean of the Faculty of Music. “Any young composer should be exposed to as many ideas as possible during a four-year degree.”

The program was launched with two $250,000 gifts, one from Roger D. Moore, the former vice-president and director of I.P. Sharp Associates Inc., and one from Michael Koerner, president of Canada Overseas Investment Ltd. Through the Special Initiatives in the Humanities and Social Sciences, funded by the Connaught Fund, their generous contributions were matched. The annual interest generated from the two $750,000 endowments brings two composers to the University of Toronto campus for several days, or up to an entire term. As well, the Michael & Sonja Koerner Fund enables the Faculty of Music to alternate between inviting Canadian and international composers, and to have the invited artists compose a new work to be performed for the first time by U of T music students.

Koerner, an enthusiast of both contemporary music and 17th- and 18th-century harpsichord and organ music, is a longtime U of T supporter through his involvement with the University of Toronto Art Centre and the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. He hopes that the program will be an inspiration to students. “It’s exciting for students to be involved in a new piece, to get to work with a composer and eventually to have the opportunity to play a public premiere performance,” he says. “Hopefully the creativity around it will be very stimulating to all concerned.”

The dean points out that the new program also sets U of T apart from other university music programs. “Other good music schools occasionally have visitors, but we’re guaranteeing that two a year will come here and do something unique,” says Beach. “And with the commissions, we’re building up a body of work written specifically for students in the Faculty of Music.”

Judging by Soifer’s enthusiasm, the program has struck a chord with students. “Every composer has something to say,” Soifer says. “I’m interested in learning how to write music in a technical way, but that’s just the starting point of the discussions with the composers. They talk about their lives and different experiences, and they teach us how to be artists. That’s what being at U of T gives us – opportunities that we wouldn’t have anywhere else.”

Rhea Seymour is a Toronto writer.

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