As part of the ASC’s Staff Spotlight blog series, I got an opportunity to chat with the Director of the Academic Success Centre earlier in the semester. Tanya Lewis has been in this position for the past 5 years in addition to being the Director of Accessibility Services at U of T.
As the Director of the ASC, Tanya spends most of her time helping staff to develop programming that will resonate with students’ needs. She wants to ensure that the ASC delivers the best possible support system for students. This requires understanding what students are experiencing academically and what they need to be successful.
This is where her work as the Director of Accessibility Services helps her in her role at the ASC. Through her experience as the Director of Accessibility Services Tanya has found that students with disabilities can accurately identify difficulties in academic work for all students. She says, “People with disabilities are often seen as people who require something “special” rather than as leaders who can guide effective programming.” When Tanya moved to the Learning Success Centre at Ryerson University from their Accessibility Services Department, she knew all the “killer courses” based on her work with students with disabilities. So, students registered at U of T’s Accessibility Services provide her with valuable insight into the kinds of programming that the ASC should develop. ASC staff also think broadly across the range of learner and program needs in order to ensure the needs of all students are reflected in programming.
By understanding student needs, Tanya, in her role as the Director of the ASC, reaches out to potential partners on campus with the colleges; professional programs and the Faculty of Arts and Science to deliver effective programming.
Tanya is “really committed to holistic approaches to education and to learning,” and this passion stems from her general interest in learning as well as her academic journey. She says that a few of her family members have undiagnosed learning disabilities, which made her curious about the way in which people learn. She is also very interested in understanding how traumatic experiences can impact the learning process. She explored these interests after completing a BA in English at Victoria College with her work in supporting people with disabilities in an employment setting. Next, she studied environmental studies at York University and had the opportunity to learn about experiential learning. She examined these interest areas in her PhD as well.
Tanya is a strong advocate for the integration of experiential learning into academic work. She says that some people learn by understanding the application of theories rather than simply learning about the concepts. U of T offers a number of service-learning courses and projects that provide students the opportunity learn in the field. Check them out!
When asked whether she faced any challenges as a student, Tanya says that she struggles with writing essays.
“I’m not a very linear thinker and how to write an essay effectively still eludes me. I fundamentally don’t understand that kind of a process from a thesis statement through an essay. I have a PhD so I clearly did enough to get through, but I really feel like essay writing is something I still struggle with and it’s probably why I’m still here.”
She also had some great advice! She mentioned that it’s important to know how you learn since we are always learning. She is constantly learning at work whether it’s learning how to work with people or how to make the system operate effectively. Life changes as we get older, and so there will always be opportunities to learn and grow. Tanya also talked about doing what you love. “I’ve always followed what I’ve loved and built my life around what I’ve loved.”
Written by Shifa Tauqir, a work-study student at the ASC