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'A friend we can always go to': OISE mentorship program brings lasting alumni, student trio together

October 14, 2020

By Perry King

Retired teacher Cam Kilgour and his partner taught at the Phaung Daw Oo Monastery School in Myanmar earlier this year. This school year, Kilgour is a mentor to two OISE students. (Courtesy Cam Kilgour)


The OISE Mentorship Program is one of the Institute’s more popular and fast-growing programs. With nearly 600 student and alumni participants this year, the mentorship program is devoted to creating meaningful connections between alumni mentors and student mentees – across 25+ different areas in education. With an annual launch event for participants to meet for the first time, followed by a series of mentorship “how-to” workshops, seminars and resource packages, participants are encouraged to meet, chat, collaborate or job shadow often and by any means they’re comfortable – whether it’s in person or online.

OISE News wanted to explore the strengths of the program and how it has fostered relationships between many in the community. This story is the first in a series, where we meet mentors and mentees and the ties that bind them. 

Learn more about the OISE Mentorship Program

The bond between Cam Kilgour, Shanelle Henry and Vivian Hoang is made strong by the OISE Mentorship Program, but the threads that brought them together can potentially make them unbreakable.

Kilgour, a now-retired teacher, came to the program with a passion to help others. After a short stint practicing immigration law, he realized that education was a more effective way to make a difference. “The reason for the switch is I thought, given my personality, I would have more impact as a teacher than as a lawyer,” he said.

His education journey is a global one, with teaching and learning stints in Bhutan, Myanmar and Australia (he’s also taught in the Toronto District School Board). On that journey, and now in retirement, Kilgour found that social and emotional learning was crucial to a child’s education.

In recent years, he came to volunteer with Friendship in Action, a charity that collaborates with the TDSB to run a peer support program – one that helps students facing pressures to identify their feelings, share their experiences, and develop strong emotional skills.

Coincidentally, Kilgour introduced Henry and Hoang to Friendship in Action and they have all taken part in its program in some way. Henry, for example, observed one of their clinical group meetings.

“I think I can learn so much from Vivian and Shanelle – through their studies, through their interests, through their insights,” said Kilgour, who joined the mentorship program in 2019.

Henry, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in school and clinical child psychology, was excited to learn of Kilgour’s experiences. “I’ve learned a lot about how we can use the education landscape as a way to facilitate mental health and social emotional learning,” she said.

With the end of her formal education nearing, Henry has been building expertise. She has been working in clinical research, but has completed school psychology placements within the TDSB. She certainly has a deep interest in education, as well.

Shanelle Henry is studying school and clinical child psychology. Her mentor Cam Kilgour, a retired teacher, gives her insights on child development in the classroom through the OISE Mentorship Program. 

“I’ve been interested in the education field and how we can support children's mental health in education,” says Henry, who is also a psychometrist for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “What’s nice about OISE is that the alumni have so many capacities. And when I heard about the mentorship program, I was just interested in maybe meeting an alumni and seeing where the alumni are going forth and working.”

Kilgour has been a fantastic mentor for Henry. Above all, she says that he has been open – with his advice, time, resources. She recalls that he introduced her to another mentee of his, a doctoral student involved with Friendship in Action, that has really added value to her time there. “He's quite flexible with his time – even throughout the pandemic,” she said.

“It’s also quite nice having a second student. Vivian comes more from the education side of things and it’s been nice to also get her perspective and meet as a group.”

Hoang, a second-year masters student in the department of curriculum, teaching and learning, praises Kilgour’s tutelage and Shanelle’s perspective in the early years of her professional development. “It feels like I have a friend I can always go to in terms of asking about education relevant in Toronto, because I'm still not very familiar with it,” says Hoang, a native of Calgary, Alta.

“With Shanelle, she’s been great because I’ve always been interested in psychology,” added Hoang, who is currently in Calgary. “But it’s a very unfamiliar world. It’s good to get her perspective on things here and there.”

Vivian Hoang, a masters student in the deparment of curriculum, teaching and learning, says she really enjoys her mentor Cam Kilgour and fellow student mentee Shanelle Henry's insights and company as she becomes more familiar with Toronto.

Hoang’s focus within the Language and Literacies Education program is focused on ESL education – as a native Cantonese speaker who experienced ESL classrooms and curricula, she loves connecting with non-native speakers. With Kilgour’s experience teaching abroad, Hoang has appreciated his insights into that world.

“Yeah, I just wanted someone I could reach out to whenever I had a question. I don't have too many questions now because there’s no opportunity to look for work for me at the moment being in Calgary,” she said. “But when I do start job searching, or I have questions while I am teaching, I know I have Cam to reach out to."

“It’s nice to have like a long-term friendship with someone before entering a school – and establishing different relationships. But, right now, I feel I’m very happy with this pairing."

Ultimately, she really enjoys Kilgour’s and Henry’s company. The pandemic has kept the trio apart but their bond is strong as ever.

“He’s been very on top of the news. He's like a very woke old person,” Hoang says, laughing. “Before, we were talking about like Black Lives Matter and the Asian discrimination that’s happening in the States right now, he’s always up with news and he's always giving us resources."

“In fact, I think he's more up to date than we are because sometimes I get lost in school and he’s feeding us with the news. And I really enjoyed that. It shows us that he's, you know, actually very genuine and he’s very involved.”

Read part two of our mentorship series


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