When asked about her time at OISE – her trajectory so far and what is to come – Susan He simply said, “It has changed me.”
He, who has finished her second graduate degree at OISE this spring, entered the Institute expecting to become a STEM educator. Instead, she gained that passion and much more – specifically, an appreciation for higher education and the student experience.
“I wanted to teach science in high school, because that was my background,” said He, who earned a Master of Teaching at OISE in 2018. But, as she saw more intricate relationships with issues that plagued students – including how students navigated high school, the transition from high school to university or the issues of navigating postsecondary education – she thought there were so many more unanswered questions.
“I couldn’t sleep at night, knowing that there were those answers still waiting to be solved,” she recalled. “Teaching in the classroom – standing in front of a class of 25, 30 students wasn’t where I wanted to be all the time."
“My bigger calling was to really research the questions and issues behind education.”
He, who now earns her Master of Education, begins her PhD with OISE this fall. She is also a program coordinator at Trinity College, where she assists students through that college’s first-year foundational program.
Forging relationships with faculty, staff
Much of her skills and experience were formed through her academic and professional relationships at OISE.
Based at the department of curriculum, teaching and learning (CTL), He undertook graduate assistantships in three of OISE’s departments – at the departments of leadership, higher and adult education and applied psychology and human development, in addition to CTL. These are placements for students engaged in research or field development projects that contribute to their academic and professional development.
Those stints helped broaden He’s understanding of higher education.
“Not that many students have the opportunity to study in different departments, nor do they get the chance to help out with the behind-the-scenes work within departments,” she says. “But, to see how faculty and programs function has really opened me up to different possibilities, not just for academic positions but also research that I’m interested in doing.”
Lasting impact of mentorship
She also credits the mentorship of three OISE members who have given her tremendous guidance and leadership.
Professor Ruth Childs, her Master of Education and PhD faculty advisor, took He under her wing, even before she started her first day in class at OISE, nearly four years ago – providing guidance within the Institute and encouraging her growth as an academic. They are in constant contact – Childs advises He on questions about coursework, for example, and helps He relate her academic work to what she’s learning.
“That’s one faculty mentorship that I’ve been really grateful to have and that I’m going to continue to have going into my PhD,” she said.
Her practicum coordinator and cohort advisor, David Montemurro, really helped He think outside the box when she began her teaching career. While he helped connect her to traditional practicum opportunities, Montemurro set her up with higher ed opportunities, too.
“He’s been a key mentor, trying to advise me in terms of blending my teaching with higher ed, and how I can navigate through two distinct professional programs,” she said of Montemurro, an associate professor, teaching stream with CTL.
The third person, Ian MacLeod, had a significant impact on He. As a student ambassador in the Office of the Registrar and Student Services from 2016 to 2018, she says MacLeod saw the potential in her and provided so much motivation and confidence to pursue higher ed work.
MacLeod, OISE’s Director of Student Services, praises He’s time in the office.
“Susan was a great team player and a natural leader,” he said. “She brought creativity and determination to the office and worked hard to bring her ideas to life.”
In that role, He was involved in a range of activities – blogging, representing OISE at recruitment events and helping students and applicants at the ORSS front desk.
Macleod recalls that He once undertook a special project to produce a set of music videos around the life of a student-teacher at OISE. “The amount of effort, organization and initiative required of her for that work was exceptional,” he said, “especially considering she had to balance her job with her student workload."
“It is fair to say that Susan was one of the best student ambassadors that we have ever had,” he added.
The praise goes both ways, now and always.
“I definitely want to give a shout out to all three of my mentors there because they’ve done so much for me. I don’t know whether or not they know that they have – I just want to take this opportunity to make it known that they have made an impact.”