Is U of T really listening?

You know, a friend asked me a very interesting question the other day: “You’re always so chipper about the university in your blog posts; aren’t you just paid to be “rah rah U of T!” every week?”

I laugh because that’s barely a question, but she did make me think about my experience here.

I wanted to tell you about two surveys (National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Globe and Mail’s University Report Card) that the university is asking more than 40,000 undergrads to participate in starting from now until the end of March, but before I do, join me in a little digression.

To answer her question, it’s true I get paid to do this every week, but seriously, I can hardly BS 800+ words of cheerful happiness every week for more than two years if I didn’t believe in what I was saying. You, dear readers, would smell it a mile away.

Not everybody likes it here. Some hate it. It’s true. I hated my first year at U of T. You’ve heard it all before – U of T is big, the classes are huge, it’s hard to make friends, etc. These are all valid, and I shared all of those sentiments.

But working behind the scenes (apart from blogging, I interned at Student Life two summers ago and interned at the Office of Advancement last summer) has given me a unique perspective into the student experience.

To say that U of T doesn’t care is simply not true.

It’s the little things, like watching the staff develop Web 2.0 strategies to make the online experience more interactive and engaging for students, or listening to staff/faculty conversations and hearing them championing for different student bodies.

It’s my overall experience of working with administrators from two of the three campuses, and professors and staff from the different departments in Arts and Science and Engineering that culminates in my assessment. If I did shout-outs to each person who I think is making a difference here at the University, I can probably fill the length of another blog post.

What is true though is that U of T is a very big university that functions through layers of bureaucracy. It takes ages to get anything approved or passed. For example, most of us realize the limitations of UTORmail. The University knows too. I was part of the committee to decide what to do about it. The issue was identified in 2009. I was in that committee last year. The plans are being implemented this year. It’s amazing the sheer magnitude of considerations that need to be deliberated before the university can go ahead with anything.

This is hardly breaking news. Anybody in any sort of executive position in a student group can probably tell you this. A snail can probably crawl a marathon on the Varsity Centre tracks before something major gets changed here.

This is probably why most students I’ve talked to feel like they are just a number at U of T. Your voice feels lost, and you feel like it’s impossible for your thoughts to be heard even if you tried voicing them.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – you think you’re not going to be heard, you don’t voice your opinion, nothing changes, and you go, “aha, nobody listens.”

The university has been participating in NSSE since 2004 to get student feedback. So I talked to Melinda Scott, Coordinator of Assessment & Special Projects at Student Life, and asked her what the university has done since. “Based on the 2008 results,” she said, “we interviewed close to 400 students in focus groups to understand how we can make U of T better. This feedback has helped us form working groups to address specific student concerns, like mentorship, orientation and transition, communication, co-curricular participation, and the quality of student-faculty interaction.”

This is why I wanted to ramble a bit about my experience with the back end of the university before telling you that you should respond if you get the email invitation to either of the two surveys. It’s easy to see the posters around campus that say “your opinions matter” and that “U of T is listening” and scoff at it, because you don’t see the instantaneous change and improvements we’re used to with technology. (I bought an iPhone app last week, emailed the developers a suggestion, and not only did I get an email back, my suggestion was implemented into the next update.)

At such a large institution, change can’t happen over night. Change is a process. So you know what? With what I’ve seen working at the University, when I read the posters that say that U of T is listening and that my opinions matter, I believe it.

– Cynthia

What do hatha, yin, and ashtanga have in common? Yoga!!!

Readers, do you know the difference between ashtanga yoga, hatha yoga, yin yoga, and Pilates? Neither did I. Or I should say, neither do I. But I’m learning.

Following my commitment to get fitter and healthier, I’ve registered for the “Mind/Body Flex Pack.” This allows me to go to any registered yoga or Pilates class at the Athletic Centre. Last term, I did a few drop-in yoga classes, and always felt so calm and relaxed afterward. And, my muscles always felt really sore from holding poses like “downward dog” and “triangle.” So, for me, yoga has been a challenging workout, much different from the running, cycling, and aerobics-style fitness classes that I’m used to.

I’m hoping, that by registering for the Mind-Body Flex Pack, I’ll have an easier time staying committed to keeping my body healthy and managing my stress. So far, it has helped. On Tuesday, I’d planned to go to a 12:10 pm ashtanga yoga class. If this were last term, when I hadn’t been registered, I probably would have skipped working out and kept reading to prepare for the sociology seminar I had later that afternoon. But, since I’d registered for the Mind/Body Flex Pack, making it to the class was a real priority.

What I discovered was that while I really enjoyed the drop-in yoga classes I’d done before, I prefer the experience of participating in a registered class. The class was much smaller- a mix of about 20 staff and students. In Tuesday’s class, some were beginners, like me. Others, from the way they easily twisted into positions I didn’t think were physically possible, had clearly been taking yoga for a while. Also, unlike drop-in classes, where there’s a different mix of people every week, participants in registered classes sign up for regular weekly sessions. So, it’s the same group of people every week. This allows us to learn new progressions, making each class a little tougher than the last.

I also prefer the equipment we use in registered classes. The mats are thick and cushion-y, which is comfortable for my knees and feet. We also use foam blocks. I’d never used these before, but I found it helpful to have the option to place the blocks under my hands or shoulders to add extra support for some of the more challenging poses.

The instructor did a great job of demonstrating proper technique and giving options for the poses so that everyone felt challenged. I was inspired by how gracefully she was able to move from one pose to another. She made everything look so easy. And for me, she was a live example of how strong and flexible I might get if I stick with yoga!

Since this class was ashtanga yoga, the focus is on breathing and concentration as we went through a series of poses.  Ashtanga yoga means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit. This refers to the eight systems of practice developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, like breath control, sense control, and meditation. So, by practicing ashtanga yoga, I’ll learn how to strengthen my body and cleanse my mind of stressful thoughts that might be damaging  my health. I have a bit of work to do on my technique, but after the class, I noticed right away that I felt really relaxed and less stressed out about all the reading I had to finish for my seminar!

So, now I know that ashtanga yoga is about connecting the mind with the body through breathing. Next up is yin yoga. Readers, have any of you tried it? Any advice to help me out before my first class? Don’t know what it is? Well, you’ll have to just have to check in next week to find out…or, you, readers, can be adventurous and try it out yourself!


I might be a masochist…

masoch·ist n. A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.

Exactly one year ago last Monday I embarked on what most of my friends and relatives believe is a mad journey. At the age of 31, one happily married woman with two children returned to University.

I knew it would be a balancing act akin to that guy who rode a unicycle on a tight rope – without a harness – over Niagara Falls. Yet, most days I feel more like the lady who went over the falls in a rickety wooden barrel. (see the above photo of fellow masochist, Annie Taylor, who in 1901 became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. And yes, she and her cat survived. This gives me hope!)

I currently have a full course load, a six-year-old, a husband, a three-year-old, one ornery cat, kids’ karate classes, kids’ swimming classes, a part-time job, five loads of dirty laundry, three volunteer positions, dinner to cook, 241 pages of course readings, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Someone asked me a few weeks ago how I balance everything. I laughed at the notion of actually being able to balance all of this. There is no balancing. There is just an endless barrage of activities, reading, studying, writing, cooking, cleaning, and child rearing.

Like I said, I think I might be a masochist.

However, the sheer volume of schoolwork that my professors joyfully assign is not the primary source of stress in my return to school. Instead, it is scheduling. My schedule as much as I attempt to manage it, is always vulnerable to outside influences. If my child wakes up with the flu in the middle of the night, I am sure to miss my classes the next day. If my husband gets caught in traffic on his way home from work, I most definitely miss my evening classes. I have no control over these situations, yet they have an impact on me in a very real way. As a mature student with family responsibilities, I am an invisible minority.

Most of my professors don’t know how old I am or that I am married with children. They assume I am the age of my fellow classmates. I don’t like to announce my age, nor do I wish for preferential treatment. Yet, my situation presents challenges that only a student with children or perhaps one who cares for an aging or ill family member could understand.

The Family Care Office is a great resource on information about childcare options on and near campus. However, all daycare facilities in the immediate area of the university have waiting lists that are long and slow moving. My youngest attends a daycare in the suburbs because it was the only facility I could find that had space.

The Family Care Office also has a list of student babysitters, but I have had no luck in the year I have spent trying to contact someone from the list. The University offers a backup childcare service which operates out of various locations. The registration fee is $350 and registration must take place between November and January. This service allows you to use 15 visits between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. But this option doesn’t address the problem of evening classes and exams.

So what are the options for a determined student parent, like me?

Well, I have made a few friends who live on campus and they will occasionally watch my children when I’m in a real pickle. I have also brought my six-year-old to lectures with me on multiple occasions. His presence either went unnoticed or solicited oohs and giggles from my female classmates. One of my professors quite enjoys my son’s presence and is sure to ask him what he thinks about the lecture after class. A six-year-old’s take on structural linguistics is quite amusing!

Little tricks like these can help to decrease the number of classes you might have to miss. You have to be creative with the situations that life presents. A laptop, headphones, and a wireless connection is a great way to stream kid’s movies during a lecture and will enable you to take notes undisturbed by your chatty child.

My kid quite enjoys taking pretend notes during my lectures. I think it makes him feel grown-up, and it’s a unique experience for a child his age to be exposed to the university environment. Unfortunately, if your child is too young to bring to lectures, the reality is that unless you have a relative, babysitter, or friend that can take your child on short notice, you will be missing a lot of classes.

Issues like this are really unseen problems for student-parents. Organizations like Matsa (the mature students association) advocate for mature students who have responsibilities outside of school. Such organizations are trying to bring the issues of student-parents to the attention of not only the university, but also the student body. I recommend that if you are a student-parent that you join this organization, if for no other reason than camaraderie with other students who have children and outside responsibilities. It’s extremely therapeutic to find out that you are not the only person experiencing university while trying to parent. On January 31, Matsa will host a coffee hour and in February, they will hold a “befriending” event at Hart House. These are great opportunities for you to connect with other mature students. Details for the events will be available on Matsa’s website soon.

It’s a struggle to marry a family life with a student life, to be a good mother or good father and a good student. Yet, I find the rewards of doing so definitely outweigh the annoyance of scheduling. Soldier on my fellow student-parents. After all, a BA only takes 4 (or 5, or 10, or 15) years to complete!


Photo by wikipedia user pobrien301, used under creative commons licence.

Robarts is a Peacock? Campus Touring with the Visitors Centre

In the daily hustle and bustle of campus life, I have frequently passed the Visitors Centre, always reaffirming that one day I would drop in to see what they offer. That day came last Friday, and I’m really glad that I stopped by.

The Nona Macdonald Visitors Centre houses the office of the central Student Recruitment team (there are also recruitment teams at both the Scarborough and Mississauga campuses), which does outreach to attract the best and brightest to the University of Toronto.

The Centre is also where approximately 20,000 visitors stop by each year, to find out more about our university. Members of the public can take tours through various parts of the St. George campus. These tours occur daily – there are formal tours twice daily on weekdays (beginning at 11 am and 2pm), and they take approximately 1 ½ hours to complete. There is also a daily tour that occurs on Saturdays. In addition to these regularly scheduled tours, during the months of October and November extra tours are added that are specifically geared towards high school students and their families. That said, visitors are always welcome to drop in to the Centre at any time to ask questions. Further to this, the tours extend through the entire summer break as well.

The Centre organizes Fall Campus Day, which was described to me as being “one stop shopping” for potential students and their parents. The day is organized so that different locations host the various faculties and disciplines – for example, Hart House was the location for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences during the last Fall Campus Day.

I found everyone at the Centre to be very welcoming; and an impromptu tour was organized for me within minutes. I was introduced to Sophie, a 3rd year student and official tour guide. Sophie explained that our tour would cover four main areas: the Koffler Centre, the Athletic Centre, Robarts Library, and Hart House.

Sophie was very knowledgeable about the history and architecture of our campus. She offered a lot of tidbits that most visitors – and current students – are probably not aware of. For example, did you know…

  • That the University of Toronto consists of approximately 75,000 students spread out over our three campuses: 55,000 at St. George campus alone, and 10,000 each at Scarborough and Mississauga?
  • That the design of Robarts Library was inspired by, and built to resemble, a peacock?
  • That Hart House contains a campus map drawn in the early 1900’s, and that this map does not contain any references to the western part of campus because it did not exist as yet?
  • That there is a chop mark embedded into the door at University College, where stonemasons Reznikoff and Diablo dueled for the affections of a lady – and that one of these men ended up murdering the other and throwing his body down the tower? (more on their story can be found here)
  • That the Athletic Centre’s Varsity Stadium field has an artificial surface ranked 2 stars by FIFA – the highest international ranking that FIFA gives to fields, and that U of T is one of only four fields in North America to have obtained this ranking?
Do you see the peacock???

Do you see the peacock???

Temper, Temper, Mr. Reznikoff... when aiming with an axe goes wrong.

Temper, Temper, Mr. Reznikoff... when aiming with an axe goes wrong.

Hey! Where's the western part of campus??? Old Map at Hart House. Photo taken with permission from the Hart House communications department.

Hey! Where's the western part of campus??? Old Map at Hart House. Photo taken with permission from the Hart House communications department.

Sophie gave me an extended tour, which I really appreciate since it was cold outside – I have much respect for the job of the tour guides!
I hope that more students will take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about our campus. The Visitors Centre is a great resource, and the tours are free and frequent, so why not? Learn your campus!!!

Take on a new challenge this weekend… The Hart House Film Challenge!

I have always wanted to film a documentary. It’s just one of those things that I would love to cross off my bucket list one day. I’ve since realized that films take time, skills, resources, editing, and sometimes even a little money. But really, all obstacles aside… you don’t have to be among the likes of Michael Moore with high tech equipment or exclusive access to an out-of-the-ordinary lifestyle set for the big screen. These days people make films about anything and everything! I’m serious. There’s even a film about Helvetica!

The only thing you really need is an idea, a camera, and simple editing skills. We live in an iMagical world where devices can capture photos and videos that can be easily cut, paste, and neatly strung together to create a story. It all might sound like a bit of a challenge, but if you’re up to it… I present you with the Hart House Film Challenge!

Hart House film challenge

Hart House film challenge

Their website gives all the information on the initiative and how to participate in the weekly challenge. Basically, there is a given theme set for each week that ranges anywhere from horror to tragedy and everything in between. Once you’ve decided that you’d like to enter the challenge, a given word, phrase or prop is spontaneously e-mailed to each participant or team to create a short film under 5 minutes in length. You are given from 10am on Friday to Monday at noon each week to submit and upload your video.

Best of all, there are prizes! Each month, there is a prize-draw sponsored by the Bloor cinema for all eligible participants.

I was able to get in touch with two past participants of the challenge who had great things to say about the experience and whose short films I personally enjoyed very much.

  • Ammar Keshodia, a first year student studying Economics and Political science entered the first challenge with the genre Comedy and had to use the challenge words: Student and Laboratory to create his short film. Along with a cast and crew of other U of T students their submission led to a short comedic film titled “Diversion” about a girl who keeps procrastinating when she needs to finish an essay.

Here’s what Ammar had to say about the experience:

I’ve never really made any films before this one, I’ve just been really interested in movies and moviemaking. We saw the HHFC as a good excuse to get into it, and it was a great starting point for beginners like us, mostly due to the fact that the challenge provides you with some restrictions and keywords that set some boundaries for your creative realm rather than just leaving things open ended and ambiguous. Creating something like a film in a constrained period of time is hard work, mostly because filmmaking is so dependent on quick and efficient collaboration. We definitely learnt a few things as this was our first time around filming anything; carefully planning out what you’re going to do rather than jumping straight into things is key to avoiding any problems or roadblocks. All the team members are enthusiastic in participating again. As for me, if the right category or theme comes along and I have a good idea to go on, I’d love to do it again. That being said, I am looking at working on some other bigger projects that may not be suited to the confines of the challenge, even though it was a great starting point. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience; given the time limit I think the resulting film turned out well and our team did a great job.

  • Darrin Campbell was a participant of the Horror genre challenge that used challenge words: Scientist and Gloves. Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

I’ve always been an avid participant in everything “film” and the hart house film challenge was a wonderful avenue to express my ideas and passion for film. Making a movie as amateur as it turned out just encouraged me to pursue greater knowledge about film making. I will continue to learn the techniques and technical aspects of film making so I may submit more appealing movies into the HHFC, and eventually submit a movie into the University of Toronto film festival.

You can view both films and more on the submission page. I definitely encourage you to do so! It was great to see the creativity and hard work that these participants put into this challenge. The HHFC is in its start up stages and has already had a great response from several talented students and participants. Even if you don’t think that being behind the camera is for you, don’t worry – there are other ways to get involved! You can volunteer to help run the challenge by contacting HHFC at

I spoke with Rick from Hart House who says:

There are many similar  competitions all over the world in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours and at the U of T Film Festival we have run film contests in the past. We decided to set up something a little more permanent. On-line and Ongoing. We had a call for volunteers and 3 people stepped up to take care of some nitty gritty operation. We can use more help, especially thinking ahead. As a long-time staff member at Hart House I know we get these great volunteers who will inevitably leave the nest as it were. We always need people to keep the good ideas going (and getting new ones started, like this one).The rules say under 5 minutes maximum but that doesn’t mean it HAS to be 5 minutes. Small 1-minute, 2-minute movies are easier on everyone. One entrant asked me if it was okay to not have a team and do something myself and the answer was a resounding YES. Simple can be very effective. Of course, if you want to go to town, that’s good too. What I love about this is that everyone can hone their chops at their own level. That’s what it’s about: honing your chops. And challenges like this force you to concentrate for a short period and spit something out the other end. It’s the only way to learn. Finishing what you start, for better or worse, is an important part of the process.

In a nutshell, the HHFC falls under four f-words: FREE, fun, and up to five minutes. Lastly, it could lead to fame! That’s right. All entries are eligible for the annual U of T Film Festival that will be held on March 23, 2011 at Hart House this year. The submission deadline is March 4, 2011.

So if you’re thinking of getting a little creative, give it a shot! There are even several creative classes offered at Hart House in film making, among other creative outlets such as music and theatre. There is a new offering of classes that all sound interesting and fun! I might even try my hand at one of their new interesting classes learning the ukulele. You never know, it could be an upcoming challenge word in the Hart House Film Challenge…!

– Danielle

Blackboard got an upgrade?!

Raise your hand if you noticed that Blackboard got an upgrade in the beginning of last semester.

When I first logged onto Blackboard in September, my thought was, “pretty”! And then I spent the next half hour playing with the customization. See how I get UpbeaT front and centre? Hee. Just click “Add Module” and find us!

Blackboard now looked more Mac OS sleek than Windows clunky. Sorry, is my Apple bias showing? Fine, the new Blackboard looked more Windows Vista than 98.

Apart from the cosmetic changes, the new Blackboard also has lots of new features, and a completely revamped user interface after you got inside your courses.

I popped by the office of Jeremy Graham, overlord of Blackboard at U of T, to speak with him about the new changes as well as about Blackboard in general. Look! He even has a board with all the updates he’s making to Blackboard!

Fun fact: Did you know he’s also the guy who changes the picture on the upper left corner? You know how it was autumn leaves last semester and it’s dandelions now? I love watching that change every season.

I told Jeremy that lots of students probably didn’t notice the change because we’re normally focused on going in, getting what we need, and getting out. Jeremy wasn’t surprised, “the point of Blackboard is to be as simple as possible, and if you’re able to quickly and intuitively get what you need then we’re doing our job.”

One handy new feature that Jeremy mentioned was the notifications module. Now, if you want to see whether or not your prof posted your grades when she said she would, or whether or not your slides were posted, all you have to do is check notifications to see if any changes have been made to your course, instead of going into the course and going to Tools > My Grades.

Of course, what I really wanted to know was whether or not we’re going to get a mobile version of Blackboard so I can check it on my shiny iPad. Good news, everybody with Apple gadgets/Android/Blackberry/Palm! Bb Mobile is in the testing stages. Yesssssss.

Now, I know not everybody is a fan of Blackboard, and I told Jeremy as much. Why did U of T use Blackboard to begin with?

“Before we implemented Blackboard, students had a fragmented view of their courses, assuming that their courses even had an online presence,” Jeremy said, “the University made an institutionalized decision to standardize student’s online experience.”

“We explored several different vendors, but Blackboard was the most user-friendly of the bunch.”

That’s true – the fragmented view bit anyways, I haven’t tried other class management programs so I can’t make any valid comparisons – I remember when I was in first year, my economics class was on CCNET, my math class had its own website, my string theory seminar class had a blog, and then one of my other class didn’t have an online presence at all. It was much nicer when all my classes were in one place the next year.

So why do some profs still refuse to use it?

“Well, we provide all the support we can, but we can’t force anybody to do anything,” said Jeremy, “some profs are wary of their intellectual property being accessed online, and we can’t impinge on their academic freedom.

“Contrary to the stereotypes though, most profs I’ve come across do give a damn about their students,” said Jeremy. “The only reason why some profs are willing to learn to customize a completely new platform is for the ease of their students. They’d happily stick to whatever they were using before otherwise.”

That’s also true. I’ve had two profs who flat-out refused to use Blackboard at the beginning of the semester but acquiesced after the class asked repeatedly.

Finally, I asked Jeremy if there was anything he wanted the students to know about Blackboard.

“Email! Make sure your email address is the utoronto one on ROSI. Blackboard will only send emails to utoronto addresses and you don’t want to be missing emails from your prof. I’ve seen emails that say things like ‘you’ve missed your last three assignments; come talk to me if you don’t want to fail this class’ and I’m cringing because the students are not getting it.”

I know some of us dislike UTORmail (another post for another day, heh), so we have Gmail forward our mails. I wondered if that’s okay?

“Yes, getting Gmail to forward is fine.It’s better to have a chance at getting your email than none at all.”

Well, there you have it. If your email address on ROSI is not a utoronto one, what are you waiting for? Go now and change it!

Cheers dear readers,

In the gym, now what?

Readers, can you believe it’s already the third week of January? It’s the time of year when I usually realize that my ambitious New Year’s resolutions have failed epically. But this year, I actually seem to be developing a routine that works.

In 2011, my problem, surprisingly, hasn’t been getting to the gym (thanks to having a work-out buddy who’s also trying to get more active). My problem is knowing what to do once I get there.

Last Monday morning, I met my friend at Hart House at 7:45 a.m. 7:45 a.m.?! I know. It was early. And ambitious. For a warm-up, we went to the upper gym and did a few laps around the track. Then came the moment of panic and embarrassment. We’d made it into the gym. But, we weren’t going to get fitter just by “being in the gym.” We actually had to do something, but what? We were so used to being led through drop-in fitness classes.

We subtly glanced around to check out what other exercisers were doing. A few were on the elliptical trainer listening to their iPods or doing some reading. Others were confidently using the weight machines we were so confused by. Then we saw a few exercisers scattered in corners around the track doing sit-ups and push-ups. We could do that. I also liked the idea of being outside the track, where I’d be more hidden from the more experienced gym-goers.

We noticed the signs for the “Hart House circuit” and figured this must have been what the sit-uppers and push-uppers were doing. A bit nervously, we decided to give it a try. The Hart House Circuit was designed in 1953 by Professor Emeritus Kirk Wipper. It consists of 8 exercises, which you do at stations outside the track. Since neither of us had done the circuit before, we didn’t really know what we were doing. So, we made up our own versions of exercises we didn’t know, like “squat thrusts,” and ones we couldn’t really do, like “dips” and “chin-ups.” But it turned out to be a great workout, and my body felt really sore the next day.

After the workout, I asked fitness staff for information about the circuit and how to do the exercises properly. They gave me a copy of this very useful “circuit training handbook” with explanations and pictures describing how to do each of the 8 stations and modifications you can do to make the exercises harder or easier. This was super helpful, and has a chart where you can track your progress.

Here’s a quick summary of the exercises in the Hart House Circuit. The number of repetitions you do for each exercise depends on what level you  choose: Intro, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum. Information for the levels is written on signs at each station.

run/walk at your own pace

1. Track laps: run/walk at your own pace

do them on your knees, toes, or against the wall

2. Push ups: do them on your knees, toes, or against the wall

Begin standing up. Bend knees, place hands on ground, kick feet backwards, tuck legs in, jump up.

3. Squat thrusts: Begin standing up. Bend knees, place hands on ground, kick feet backwards, tuck legs in, jump up.

choose to walk up/down or run up/down

4. Stair running: choose to walk up/down or run up/down

full sit-up or crunch

5. Sit-Ups: full sit-up or crunch

step up on bench

6. Bench Step: step up on bench

on bar or with feet on ground with hands on bench

7. Dips: on bar or with feet on ground with hands on bench

Use bar, Assisted Nautilus machine or Dynaband *I have a hard time with this one!

8. Chin-Ups: Use bar, Assisted Nautilus machine or Dynaband *I have a hard time with this one!

So, readers, if you are wondering what to do in the gym, I’d recommend picking up a “circuit training handbook” from the reception desk at Hart House. But learn from my mistake and pick it up on the way in, not on the way out!

Also, if you feel like you’re getting off track with your resolutions to get fitter, don’t give up! It’s never too late!!! Finding an activity you enjoy makes it a lot easier to stick to a routine. This week, I registered for a “Mind-Body Flex Pack.” This lets me go to any yoga or Pilates class at the Athletic Centre from now until April 3. Readers, have any of you gone to any yoga classes at the Athletic Centre? Any recommendations? And , if any of you do try out the Hart House Circuit, please let me know how it goes!!


!! SNOW !!

Chrisite Pits (looking south From Barton St.)

Chrisite Pits (looking south From Barton St.)

For the past two years, we Torontonians have seen little to no snow. There has scantly been enough snowfall in the past two winters to build a snowman with a stature even close to that of an average human. The height deficiency of local snowmen coupled with a striking lack of front yard snow caves has saddened me.

Yet, last Saturday morning I opened up my bedroom blinds and found the long-awaited snowfall had finally arrived. I immediately felt the urge to run to the nearest Canadian Tire and purchase a GT snowracer.

In lieu of a snowracer, I settled for the purple, plastic sled in my back yard. My destination was predetermined. I knew before I even thought about it that I would be spending the majority of the day hurling myself down a hill in Christie Pits.

Is there even an alternative? Where else in Toronto, except for Christie Pits and adjoining Bickford Park, can an adult take pleasure in such a vast square footage of tobogganable hills?

The day was perfect. Snow fell on my head all day as I breathily dragged my sled up the hills over and over again. The thrill of the run, fear mixed with a joy that only tobogganing can bring. It really is my favourite winter sport. Yes, I consider it a sport.

The repeated uphill climbs require enough energy that this activity is, in my books, one of the most taxing and demanding winter sports. Toboganners don’t rely on mechanization to get them back up the hill like other winter sports enthusiasts that shall remained unnamed. No, we use our own horsepower to drag our sleds back up the hill while at the same time avoiding oncoming sled traffic!

Tobogganing is a winter activity that nearly everyone can do. It requires no real skill and the start-up costs are little to none. A piece of cardboard can work just fine in lieu of an actual sled. You could get fancy and spend quite a bit on a sled with steering capabilities, but this is unnecessary. Part of the exhilaration of the run is having no control of your toboggan. Unlike skiing, there is no cost to actually go tobaganning. So it’s essentially a free activity. I like free stuff!

I have searched the web for a tobogganing club at U of T, but I have found a gaping hole in winter student life that needs to be filled. I imagine, for the student who has moved to Toronto from another place, it must be a challenge to locate local toboggan runs. As at present there is no organization that can guide such students to wintery fun, I am going to provide some websites and a list of great toboggan runs near campus.

Here is a link that has a great list of hills that are accessible by TTC. As previously stated, the sheer size combined with its proximity to the St. George Campus makes Christie Pits the prime destination for those U of T students who wish to engage in a good old fashioned toboggan ride.

I am not the first UpbeaTer to take on the pressing issue of tobagganing in the urban landscape. Former UpbeaTer Mary also hurled herself down a few hills in the name of winter fun. Her past post also contains some tips to make the best of a snowy day in the city.

There are some great toboggan runs in downtown Toronto and if you are the kind of person who feels confident riding the TTC with a 6 foot long wooden sled, I suggest venturing out of the immediate area and exploring what the City of Toronto’s Parks have to offer for the avid toboggan aficionado.

I am seriously considering starting the U of T Toboggan Club to fill the gap. I do think there is an actual need. Of course, this club could only operate during periods of snowfall. Perhaps the rest of the year could be spent on conditioning for the uphill climb.

Enjoy the snow while it lasts!


Get involved: The extracurricular path to becoming well-rounded

University life can consist of a constantly rotating to-do list of readings, essays, memorization, group work, et cetera – if you let it. There is an expectation that once we arrive at tertiary level education, we should succeed on a constant basis – which means that we must prioritize. But prioritizing is quite a different matter from allowing course obligations to consume one’s every waking moment. Striking that balance between academic and non-academic activities provides much-needed balance, and ensures that our mental growth is expanded beyond a strictly academic frame. The result, hopefully, is that we become more well-rounded individuals.

When I started school, I told myself that I wanted to become immersed in university life. After spending my first undergrad year getting a handle on managing my school work load, I think that I’m now ready to join a campus club.  Just in time, because on Thursday January 27th, the Sussex Clubhouse will host its annual Club Crawl. This event seeks to showcase the various student-run clubs that you can become involved in. It’s like one-stop shopping for extracurricular organizations! Come and converse with the different club representatives about what their organizations have to offer, while sipping on free snacks and hot chocolate. Having over fifty campus clubs represented ensures that, whatever your interests, there is sure to be something that you can get involved in. The Sussex Clubhouse is located at 21 Sussex Avenue, and the event takes place from 3 to 6 pm.

On another note, if you are starting a campus club, you can apply to the Sussex Clubhouse for office space. You can find the Clubhouse’s requirements here, but basically the Clubhouse allocates 2 year lease agreements annually. Your club must be one that is recognized by the University of Toronto (see here); other stipulations are that you must attend 2 Sussex Clubhouse meetings each year, and you must also submit a club activity report each June. Other than the ability to apply for office space at Sussex House, there are several benefits to having your club recognized, such as the ability to access web hosting services.

So whether you want to join an established organization, or start your own – just get involved. I for one am looking forward to finding the right extracurricular fit at the upcoming Club Crawl. I’d love to hear from folks who are already members of campus organizations – has it been challenging to maintain a healthy balance? Or are your clubs a way for you to let off some of the steam that academic expectations can create? Drop me a note, and stay tuned for a follow up post about which club I signed up for!


Student Savings and Money Matters

As the holiday season had come and gone, I couldn’t help but notice the same trend happening with my Christmas cash and the money I had saved up in my bank account. I blame a combination of exam stress and seasonal spending. Instead of making my meals, I was ordering pizza, sushi and late night takeout just so the hassle of grocery shopping, food preparation and cooking would not get in the way of precious study time. However… as exam time ended and the winter break came, I found myself getting used to those frivolous spending habits and embraced the cost of convenience. I never really noticed how much those nights out and dinners with friends could easily add up! Before I knew it, I hadn’t made a trip to the grocery store in weeks, bought new clothing in favour of doing laundry, and took advantage of several boxing week sales. (Speaking of which, it doesn’t help that stores have generously extended these offers to represent the likes of a boxing month of sales.)

Eventually, as school mode trickled in I came to realize that the vacation was over. If I was going to get used to student life once again, I would have to start spending (or more like saving) on a student budget. Thankfully, student status gets you several discounts that many people do not know about or take advantage of. I know my own personal spending problems and have made myself a plan of action by looking into a couple of offers and options that I could incorporate into my newly minted student saving status. Hopefully, if you can relate, you’ll find them just as helpful!



When I was in first year, I was fortunate enough to live in residence, which came complete with a meal plan. With the swipe of a card I was able to get a hot meal, cold drink, or snack whenever I wanted. Living off-campus this year has forced me out of this cushy lifestyle and I have learned to make all of my own meals. Before the days I had a meal plan, I was used to home cooked meals and rarely had to cook for myself. To tell you the truth, I knew nothing about cooking and had lots to learn. I know people who make instant meals à la ramen and microwavables and that is the extent of their cooking (I’ve been there…). Although I’ve upgraded from this, I still find myself making repetitive meals and I wish I could add variety. On top of that, living downtown makes it so much easier to eat out since there are food places everywhere and hot dog vendors on nearly every corner! One of my particular vices is spending way too much on lattés.

A home cooked meal is the way to go!

A home cooked meal is the way to go!

Plan of Action:

  • Hart House offers cooking classes that can teach you kitchen basics and offer you options
  • A quick search showed me a variety of recipes that cater to students that need a quick and healthy fix.
  • The AC and Hart House offer free classes as well as workout facilities and machines that every student should take advantage of as much as they can. Remember – your student fees have already paid for this!
  • Brew your own coffee. If you need to get fancy, look up recipes to your favourite drinks and try making them at home. Here’s a recipe for one of my favourites: pumpkin spice lattes!



It is an undeniable fact that we live in a world where everyone feels the need to “keep up with the Joneses” and have the latest and greatest. Being downtown, it’s especially difficult not to get caught up in trends and spend money on them. We can blame a lot of it on marketing geniuses who can sell us things we absolutely must have even though we lived fine before having it. It’s not a bad thing to indulge sometimes, keep up with appearances and be in the know.

The UTSU`s got your back with the Studentsaver card

The UTSU`s got your back with the Studentsaver card

Plan of Action:

  • Look out for free events hosted by the university. Most, if not all colleges offer free pancake breakfasts or $1 pizza events. Getting involved can not only score you free food, but you will be able to meet new people and gain experience from it.
  • The UTSU offers discounted movie tickets as well as other entertainment discounts. On Tuesdays, movies are usually half off anyway and since my Tuesday schedule is relatively free I will definitely be taking advantage! The UTSU even offers a Studentsaver card that can get you discounts to several places in Toronto (it’s like an SPC card but comes FREE with the student planners and frosh kits they give you at the beginning of the year)
  • Don’t underestimate the Toronto Public Library. It’s not only a place to study and do research. Public libraries often have a section for magazines, DVDs and other fun things that you can browse for free and even borrow after the circulation loan period becomes free.
  • Need a haircut, colour and style? Many salons can easily charge upwards of $50-$100 on their services. However, Marvel beauty salon in Yorkville offers discounted services because they are a beauty school that needs people to come in and give their students experience. Many of these students already work at high end salons and will give you these services for as low as $10. I once got a cut, colour, and style for as little as $35!


  • I fortunately get my taxes handled by my parents every year. However, U of T offers free services when it comes time for taxes and is definitely a great resource to check out.
  • There is also a FREE upcoming session at Wilson Lounge at New College on Thursday, January 27 called Financial Survival for Student Families. Students have also been sending in savings tips that are being posted on the FCO blog.
  • Cynthia previously wrote about the importance of having an emergency fund, which I am definitely thinking of starting as soon as possible! I am thinking of starting one with ING bank since the fact that they have very few branches plays in my favour; allowing me to actually save my money and think twice before transferring it over to my bank account and spending it instantly.
  • Last but not least, I know many students do not really function on a budget or know how to do so. I recently started getting into a free online tool called that allows you to connect with your bank, track your spending habits, create a budget and see your trends. It’s really great for beginners and visual learners. It even has its own iPhone app. You have to be comfortable giving your bank info, though they say they are completely secure. Take a look and see if it’s right for you. uses various graphs and pie charts to track your personal spending and offers alternate spending options and suggestions uses various graphs and pie charts to track your personal spending and offers alternate spending options and suggestions

So there you have it. These are only a few ways that you can save money and get in the habit of making informed decisions about money matters. Hopefully I will be able to put some of them into practice and even save up for a great summer getaway.

– Danielle