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Like mother, like daughter: Educators, OISE PhDs, higher education advocates

May 7, 2020

By Perry King

In this June 2016 photo, Krista Holmes celebrates her convocation, graduating with her PhD from OISE, with her mother Valerie Lopes, daughter Fiona (who was 2.5 years old at the time) and baby Eloise (who was 1 month old at the time). Photo courtesy Krista Holmes.

They each have PhDs from OISE and work in education today, but Valerie Lopes and her daughter Krista Holmes took different paths to the present.

And they each value their time at OISE.

Valerie, first graduated from U of T in 1980 with an undergraduate degree in Life Sciences. She worked in Cytogenetics at North York General Hospital for 20 years. In 2002 she “returned to school,” completed an MA in Education and joined Seneca College as a faculty member.

Encouraged by her mentor, OISE lecturer Katharine Janzen, she applied to the Community College Leadership PhD program and graduated in 2008.

Meanwhile, Krista’s professional path, highlighted by an OISE PhD that took seven and a half years to complete, evolved over time. With an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Global Development Studies, a Masters in Public Administration and plans to work in international community development, Krista began her studies at OISE in 2008 in what was then called the Adult Education and Community Development flex-time program.

But, “I ended up finishing in a different program,” said Krista, who is currently the director of research and innovation at George Brown College.

Unlike her mother, who was looking to boost her leadership skills as faculty, Krista was looking to boost her career. It was a rocky path – changing programs and dissertation supervisors, and a lot of life happened. “I wrote my proposal on maternity leave with my first daughter and then defended when I was seven months pregnant with my second,” said Krista, who earned her PhD in 2016. “It was just a really different time of life.”

It was a fraught period, but Krista saw it through – she found OISE faculty, especially Janzen (who ultimately became her dissertation supervisor, coincidentally) to be dedicated to her success and accommodating to her situation.

This was especially so towards the end of her dissertation. “I would come home from work, make dinner, put [my daughter] to bed and then work from like nine o’clock until whenever I fell asleep and then wake up early again the next morning to keep going,” said Krista. “Katharine would reply to [my emails] at all hours. She knew what I was up against.”

And when Krista was pregnant with her second daughter, and really wanted to defend before she was born, Janzen was understanding and supportive. “Katharine – and my mom – showed up for all of that and really were very present, constantly motivating me to keep going and finish.”

That work eventually led Krista to become an associate dean at Humber College and, subsequently, succeeding to her current role at George Brown.

“I’m very happy where I am now personally and professionally,” she said, describing the OISE experience as value-added, elevating her career trajectory. “I’m happy to have it behind me in a much earlier stage of life than my mom was when she did her [PhD].”

Valerie’s time at OISE was memorable, studying with faculty like Professor Emeritus Michael Skolnik, Professor Charles Pascal and Angela Hildyard – currently the Special Advisor to the University of Toronto’s President and Provost.

She gives a lot of credit to her mentors for adding to a positive experience at OISE, including Professor Emeritus Dan Lang – her dissertation supervisor. He went above and beyond in his efforts to see Valerie succeed – who patiently and carefully read draft after draft and answered her endless questions. 

“That was the best thing that ever happened, between Katherine just encouraging me and being on my team to Dan, as my supervisor, I had the absolute best experience at OISE,” she said.

The OISE experience, and their professional work, have taught them a tremendous amount about motherhood – and each other.

“To answer the question honestly, my professional life has taught me that the working world is not made for parents of young children in senior management positions,” said Krista, “but if you have the privilege like I do, of having a strong community to support you, you can make it work. My mom is a central part of my community."

Along with a lot of work there’s certainly a bit of luck involved too, which is a privilege in itself, says Krista. “I don’t take any of that for granted.”

Community is a common takeaway for the duo.

“If you look at just the two of us, our paths, our reasons, our stages in life, were so very different. Yet, OISE certainly offered paths that both of us could follow,” added Valerie. “There were people trying to help us to overcome whatever barriers we faced.”


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