What Matters to U of T Students

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In the What Matters to U of T Students? report, the Innovation Hub compiled student stories, highlighting the important connection between identity exploration and the university community. Ava shares her personal testimony highlighting her journeys in self-discovery at U of T.  

Ava Hawkins, Blog Editor & Digital Content Writer, Honours Bachelor of Science, Cognitive Science & Psychology 

What Matters to U of T Students  

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During my first year of university, if someone asked me what I thought mattered to U of T students, I would have guessed something to do with dining hall food. Little did I know that students share deeper concerns across campus. Our work at the iHub focuses on understanding student experiences and leveraging that understanding in partnership with organizations on campus to design a future that meets unique student needs. 

Today we published “What Matters to U of T Students?” This report highlights major takeaways shared by many students on campus across three years of data from 2020-2023. We found that students come to university hoping to explore their identities academically, individually, and within the community. Students shared a common desire to connect with others on campus and feel validated in their self-discovery journeys. Our data reveals that self-discovery motivates students to build relationships, self-advocate, and discover new passions. Most importantly, our research highlighted one major finding:  

When students feel secure to explore their identities, they feel more connected to the university community.  

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One example highlighted in the report shows the importance of feeling connected to the community and secure in university. One student shared that they were hesitant to access the support services at U of T when applying for a financial bursary, but they felt a sense of compassion and care from staff and faculty after doing so, making it easier to seek help in the future. Knowing that others are there to support them helps students feel more secure advocating for their needs and engaging with the community. To learn more about students’ stories and personal experiences on campus, visit “What Matters to U of T Students?” 

A Journey of Self-Discovery   

The findings from our research show that self-discovery aids students in self-advocating, building relationships, and discovering new passions. Multiple forms of self-discovery exist, such as emotional growth, finding new passions, and setting future goals. There are also many ways to aid self-discovery, but I find that external support helps make this very individualized process less daunting.  

When met with challenges, having a support system and resources to utilize makes the process of self-discovery more manageable. Coming to university, I was unsure of my majors and class choices. I felt pressure to choose a major without fully exploring my options. I communicated this concern to my friends on late -night coffee runs, and they encouraged me to seek assistance from my college registrar and speak with upper -year students in my fields of interest.  

From there, I received resources to aid me in major finding and guidance to enroll in courses that fit my interests. I took classes ranging from computer science to linguistics before choosing a major. I used guidance from my friends and resources at school to help me discover what courses were interesting to me. Rather than choosing a major blindly, I explored my options and ended up finding a passion for cognitive science which I could not have discovered without first utilizing a support system on campus. 

With the support of my community, I felt grounded at university and confident in my work. By collaborating with peers, I felt empowered to venture down unknown paths to uncover passions that led me to future goals.   

The Importance of Self-Discovery  

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When exploring identities on campus, students embark on journeys of self-discovery: they learn about themselves, their values, desires, and needs. Their identities develop through life experience, ethnicity, race, religion, family, culture, gender, sexuality, personal interests, and more. At university, students are gathering this knowledge, determining future goals, and planning the next steps in their academic and professional careers.  

This idea of self-discovery sounds exciting and powerful, yet many may feel that the process is a daunting one. That’s why these journeys in self-discovery are not solely important to students, but for staff and faculty as well. Staff and faculty can learn what matters to students and apply that information to their teachings, classrooms, and interactions.  

Students feel secure exploring their identities under different circumstances and with different support systems. Some important factors include access for every student, fostering connectedness, and preparedness for the future. Staff and faculty can use the information and student stories gathered in the “What Matters to U of T Students Report?” to help build a stronger community. Students are encouraged to get involved with the community while staff and faculty work to make campus life more accessible and prepare students for academic and professional careers.  

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