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Takeaways from the OUSAmazing Race

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with various stakeholders in the Post-Secondary Education (PSE) sector. Other than running around Toronto in the most indecisive of weather conditions, I had a great time meeting various individuals working for a variety of organizations relevant to the sector.

Here’s a quick rundown of my meetings:

Chris Fernlund, Project Lead of Student Services @ eCampus Ontario
Sean Madden, Senior Policy Advisor @ Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Jennifer Nguyen, General Manager @ College Student Alliance
Krista Orendorff, Senior Director, Government and Stakeholder Relations @ COU: Council of Ontario Universities
Lauren Hudak, Senior Researcher and Manager of Strategic Projects @ HEQCO: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
The Office of Lorne Coe, MPP for Whitby-Oshawa. PC Critic for Advanced Education & Skills Development. Associate Critic, Ministry of Education
Peggy Sattler, MPP for London West. NDP Critic for Education, Advanced Education & Skills Development, and Women's Issues.

Whether it’s providing access to online/technology-enabled learning, working on the new funding formula for Ontario universities, operating advocacy organizations on behalf of students and universities, providing evidence-based research to improve the quality of PSE, or directly influencing government policy related to PSE, the focus of each individual and their organization helped me gain a better understanding of all of the moving pieces and interests of various stakeholders.

While the majority of my time meeting everyone was spent talking about each individual’s organization and its mandate (a topic that would definitely turn into a 10-page paper), I found my biggest takeaways from my conversations were on personal development and about the sector as a whole. Each individual has had such an interesting, often unconventional career path leading up to where they are today and has learned about what it takes to be successful in the sector. “In this environment, with so many different organizations at so many different levels of the system, you really need to learn the ability to adapt and to work with others; part of that is being flexible on the thoughts of others, their timelines/priorities, and the various challenges they may face as an organization”, said Lauren Hudak of HEQCO. One thing I found interesting with most of the people I interviewed was that I was able to broadly categorize everyone into two groups based on the trajectory of their careers. About half of the individuals I met had paved their careers through experiences related to student government throughout their own PSE career, oftentimes in roles related to provincial advocacy, while the other half of individuals had a variety of experiences working for Canadian political parties, both at the federal and provincial levels.

At the end of the “OUSAmazing Race”, there was a prevalent theme of bettering the sector as a whole, together. Each individual I met stressed the importance of a connectedness in PSE and the value of empathy when working with various stakeholders, each with a different facet of PSE as their focus. “It takes time to foster relationships [in the sector], something that has to be reciprocal. Communication, empathy, and the sharing of information with others is key”, said Krista Orendorff from the COU. Even after speaking to the critics for post-secondary education from both the PC and NDP parties, the same sentiment was echoed. “There is no monopoly on good ideas”, said the office of MPP Lorne Coe. “We [all parties] have a collective goal to better the sector.” MPP Peggy Sattler similarly stated, “Good policy is good policy, regardless of where or who it is coming from.”

It’s promising to hear that so many key decision-makers and advocates in Ontario PSE do understand various perspectives in the sector and ultimately aim to improve education across the province. As both a student and as someone involved in student government on my university campus, this experience has been a reminder of the importance that student leaders play within PSE. We have to continue to work with PSE stakeholders to ensure the student voice is heard, while understanding various perspectives to create informed policy that equitably benefits everyone in the sector.

Thank you to everyone who followed the race on social media!
Until next time,

Danny Chang