IN MEMORIAM: Faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends across the global OISE Community are mourning the passing of our longstanding alumna and supporter, Dr. Keren Brathwaite – who passed during the week of June 23, 2023. Among her many legacies, Dr. Keren Brathwaite's year-long, access-to-education Transitional Year Programme (TYP) continues to prepare learners for the academic rigours of University of Toronto life. She will be deeply missed.
“To Dr. Brathwaite, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Professor Erica Walker, Dean of OISE. “The Transitional Year Programme she helped to found has been changing the lives of adult and mature learners for over 50 years. Her selfless resolve continues to make the University of Toronto an institution that is open to all learners of different backgrounds.
“As an educational institution, we can all learn from her example to make this world a better place. On behalf of the OISE community, I send our deepest condolences to Dr. Keren Brathwaite's loved ones.”
The below 2022 story highlights how TYP has continued to deliver access to many who would not otherwise be able to attend the University of Toronto.
Before Ana Chiguichon found her way to OISE as a Master of Education student, she knew that she had to go back to school.
By age 19, she was already a high school dropout and a young mother. By the time she was in her late 20s, she recognized the need for more education and training.
“I realized I needed to go back to school as I got older because I'm not going to get a better job in any other way or in a field that I'm interested in,” said Chiguichon. “I really needed to find my passion in some way because I'm tired of working jobs that are from nine to five that pay minimum wage.”
So, when she resumed her education at George Brown College, an instructor made a recommendation that has since made a tremendous impact on her life. “‘You seem really bored in this class. And I think that you would excel better if you went to university,’” Chiguichon was told. “I felt a little intimidated just hearing that, I'm like, ‘How am I going to get in – a person like me?’
“And she kind of said, ‘Well, there's a program, especially for that.’”
That program, the Transitional Year Programme (TYP), has been helping students like Chiguichon for decades.
Co-founded by OISE alumna Dr. Keren Brathwaite in 1971, it is a full-time, eight-month access-to-University program, intended for adults who do not have the formal qualifications for university admission. Most TYP students have grown up in communities where very few people have access to higher education. It is meant for those who did not have an opportunity to finish high school or did not succeed in high school because of financial problems, family difficulties or other circumstances beyond their control.
Growing support for access programming
It’s an exciting and busy time for the programme, as they field applications for the next school year and help their current students finish the program and their work for the year.
Speaking with Professor Lance T. McCready, director of the programme, he couldn’t deny that the programme’s strongest quality is its overwhelming support of students. The programme currently accepts about 60 students each school year.
With a faculty of five, a registrar, an administrator and a program assistant – as well as a team of academic advisors – supports for students come in many forms.
“Sometimes folks say ‘This is one of the most supportive programs I've ever been in. I really appreciate the way the faculty and staff are supporting my aspirations,’” said McCready, who has served as director since 2018. “But I think when you think about support, it's really quite an extensive, holistic thing.”
Staff work to support everyone's academic growth, making sure that they get the critical thinking, writing and quantitative literacy they need. But, McCready says there’s also an emotional component – listening and understanding student’s life circumstances, including whether they are operating as single parents or supporting multigenerational households.
“So that, especially at a place like U of T, can require some understanding because there's so many people that do come here through the more traditional route,” said McCready, currently Associate Professor in OISE’s Department of Leadership, Adult and Higher Education. “But, if you don't necessarily have a transcript for the grades [for example] or if you haven't necessarily taken some of those courses that you need to make you eligible [for programs], then you have a different path.”
It is these circumstances that have made access programs like TYP so important. Institutions like U of T recognize have, more than ever, are showing their support. Helen Tewolde was appointed as Director of U of T’s Access Programs Support Office in March 2022. And more admissions staff, with a focus on these programs, have been hired.
Professor McCready says that running these programs still have their challenges. TYP recently undertook a self-study to understand how they can better support students and campus visits from external reviewers are also in the plans. “We're trying to build and update the infrastructure and where the Transitional Year Programme is situated within the larger Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” he says.
“I want [TYP] to be a bit larger, I want to improve pathways into some humanities and social science programs of study that students want to be in, as well as some clear pathways into life sciences that some students are wanting,” said McCready, who envisions at least 10 students heading into STEM programs after concluding TYP.
He also envisions more of a faculty culture within the program, where professors are invested in a scholarship of teaching in the context of access programs and effective practices – including why this work is important in the big picture of equity, social justice and contributing to community development within the city of Toronto. “It'll be great to see us really have a full complement of faculty that are committed to that work, because I think that'll stabilize the program even more and help it be recognized for its access work.”
No culture shock, a fun TYP year and her OISE path
Chicguichon’s first weeks on U of T campus were not quite the “culture shock” that the experience can be.
“No, no, it felt really good,” she said. “And I was kind of saddened afterwards, because I thought, ‘Oh, it's only eight months and then everyone else goes their own way.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that's sad.’”
However, she gained an intimate, close-knit community in a short period of time, and it was key in navigating tricky coursework and the new academic rigour. That family helped guide her to OISE, where she looks to apply principles of equity to the field of education.
“They made it so motivating, in a way where I compared it to high school and what made me drop out, and why I didn't continue,” said Chiguichon, who took courses in equity studies during her program stay. “They were just so supportive in so many aspects. They made it fun, they really did.
“It was just felt like, you were just welcomed into this family.”
Changing student lives
And when students recognize their path here, they excel. Many go on to explore doctoral studies in the social sciences, humanities, and life sciences. Some find careers in government, the arts. Some become community organizers. “It opens doors”, says McCready.
“They all speak highly of their time with the transitional year programme – as really having been transformative and setting them on a different path of life than before they started the program,” said McCready. “There is also a sort of personal transformative work that happens, thinking about themselves and their capabilities and what's possible for them in a way that was different than before they came into the program.”
Alumni have “a deeper critical framing” of the work they want to do, an understanding of how what they're doing is contributing to equity and social justice, says McCready. “It’s not just [growth] in their personal lives but what they achieve in the world at large. I think that's really important and it’s one of the reasons why I love this program.”
For Chiguichon, she continues to try translating what she learned to prospective students.
“Oh, I honestly feel like someone was making a joke about it. And they were like, ‘Yeah, you're like, TYP’s ambassador,’ because wherever I go, even the younger crowd, they talk about their experience and stuff with high school and everything.”
The people she's spoken to have trepidations about going back to school, she says, and have lost hope for the future. She can relate to those sentiments – Chiguichon also experienced disenfranchisement at school in her past, with negative interactions with educators and administrators who made her feel a certain way about education. But, the Transitional Year Programme can help find solutions for prospective students.
“I always try really hard to give them my experience and say TYP is a really good program – like, ‘Trust me, you'll benefit from it,’” she added.
“Honestly, I believe that TYP can get you through a lot.”
The Transitional Year Programme actively encourages applications from members of the Indigenous, African-Canadian, and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as from sole-support parents, persons with disabilities, and students from working-class backgrounds of all ethnicities. For more information about TYP, and how to apply, visit typ.utoronto.ca.