Allow Us to Reintroduce Ourselves…

By Shamim Ahmed and Heather Watts, Design Researchers at the Innovation Hub & Redefining Traditional

Screenshot of Shamim Ahmed and Heather Watts in a Microsoft Teams meeting, who are working virtually on Redefining Traditional, both smiling at the camera.
Shamim & Heather working virtually!

As we are jumping back into the Fall semester, we wanted to take a moment to re-introduce ourselves to you all. We are Shamim Ahmed and Heather Watts, the Design Researchers of the Redefining Traditional: Making Higher Education Family Friendly project at the Innovation Hub – University of Toronto. We look forward to bringing our voices and stories to this blog space, as well as be in community with you on our Facebook group [insert link]. If you haven’t joined already, we’d love to have you!  

A bit about us and what brings us to this work… 

Meet Heather 

I am Heather Watts and was fortunate to have had the experience of working on this team during the summer months as well. First and foremost, I am a mother to an incredibly adventurous, imaginative and courageous five-year-old. Since the start of the pandemic, we have moved from the Toronto area and have been living in our home community, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. All my experiences with higher education have been in the United States, and I am happy to be back in Canada, living close to my family for the first time in over ten years! I am a second-year PhD student in the Social Justice Education department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. My research interests include Reconciliation through the incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge in elementary school curricula. What brings me to the work of the Innovation Hub is the centering of student voices and experiences in our projects. It is refreshing to be immersed in research and social change that prioritizes students throughout the process. When it comes to reimagining higher education as inclusive and equitable spaces for student-parents, we have a lot of work ahead of us. I look forward to the day where the experiences of student-parents are valued in every department and program at the university, and not just in studies that involve child development. To me, this requires us to reframe the perception of parenting altogether. We are not people who merely “chose to have a child or multiple children, and therefore they are our responsibility”. No. We are people who have been given gifts, and have the incredible honour of guiding our children through life, in kinship with all of those around us. There must be a fundamental shift from responsibility –> honour in how we view parenting. I look forward to contributing to this blog, learning from and with you all this academic year. Nya:wen. Thank you. 

Meet Shamim 

My name is Shamim Ahmed, and I am a PhD candidate in Social and Behavioural Health Sciences at Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Before starting my PhD, I worked in the development sector for more than 8 years and travelled to many countries in Asia and Africa for work. I am honoured to learn about people’s creativity and innovation in remote villages and distant communities. I have seen women walking for hours to collect a bucket of water in the deserted areas of Ethiopia and in the hilly side of Nepal. I have seen adolescent girls missing school due to unavailability of menstrual hygiene management facilities in Kenya and Pakistan. I have seen thousands of people being affected by diarrhoeal diseases due to the lack of hand washing facilities in Bangladesh and Tanzania. In the same time, I have seen people fighting back and getting over all these challenges with firm willpower, resilience and community engagement. People made their own hand washing devices using old buckets and used taps, women made sanitary napkins using clean cottons and homemade clothes. I have seen people making oral saline using clean water, salt and local molasses to cure thousands of diarrhoeal patients. I have learnt creativity and innovation at field working with people who have suffered and finally won over their daily struggles. They always motivate me to write about stories about hope and dream, determination and enthusiasm.  

I had a very busy life back in Bangladesh, where I used to spend most of my time working and traveling for work. Starting a PhD in my mid 30s, gave me the chance to rethink about my family commitments again. I have spent the most rewarding time with my wife and daughter in the last 3 years that I have never managed to spend before. I have interacted with other student parents at the University of Toronto Family Housing to share our thoughts and feelings. We have discussed about the challenges of being a student parent and helped each other in our learning about the struggles and overcoming them as a community. I get to meet a lot of student parents everyday who do not usually write but are willingly to share their stories. I write what I learn from our daily conversations. I try to reach out to you all with our stories of everyday, in the hope that it will make us feel better in a collective way. I am looking forward to writing and learning from all of you through my blogs and other social media engagements in the coming days.   

We hope that by getting to know a bit more about us, we can also meet all of you! In these uncertain times we aim to centre student parent voices, ideas and experiences to continue to redefining traditional in higher education. Through our blog, and collaborative space in our Facebook group – we look forward to connecting with you. However that might look!


Our Facebook group welcomes student parents from all post-secondary institutions:


Student parents and supporters, share your experiences and vision for family-friendly higher-education, which may be published on our blog!

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