Team Reflections: Perspective Shifts and Community Impact Through Partnerships with Arts & Science University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process 

Team coordinators smiling and sitting together

The Innovation Hub continued its partnership with the Arts & Science University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process (UTQAP) this year by conducting design research-based student consultations for academic programs. The Arts & Science UTQAP Design Research Team reflects on the research journey recognizing the importance of finding meaning and achieving personal growth, through understanding student academic community and stories.

Written by the Innovation Hub A&S University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process Design Research Team

Since 2021, the Innovation Hub has partnered with the Faculty of Arts & Science in reviewing academic programs based on the University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process (UTQAP) criteria. The UTQAP reviews occur approximately every 7-8 years for all departments and programs in the Faculty of Arts & Science and looks at 4 areas of focus: academics, support, community, and extracurriculars.

As part of our collaboration with the Faculty of Arts & Science, design researchers on our UTQAP teams supported and facilitated the student consultation portion of the review. For the Fall-Winter 2023-24 term, we collaborated with 9 units:

  • Canadian Studies  
  • Centre for Industrial Relations & Human Resources  
  • Cognitive Science 
  • Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies 
  • Critical Studies in Equity & Solidarity 
  • Department of Spanish & Portuguese 
  • Department of Statistical Sciences 
  • Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies 
  • Women & Gender Studies Institute 

This year, we conducted interviews and a survey to gather student feedback on academic programs. Through the research process, we learned about the importance of taking an empathetic peer-to-peer approach to student-centered research which helped us become stronger researchers.

Building Knowledge and Connectedness through Interviews 

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As part of the design research process, we conducted interviews with current undergraduate and graduate students and alumni to understand their experiences in the program. Our team shared that interviewing students from different programs was a significant part of the data collection process because it was the stage that led to many of our favorite moments. We felt that taking a human-centered approach is essential because this allows for more genuine insights. We valued connecting with the students at a deeper level to understand their true feelings and needs.

Olya: Interviews aren’t just data collection methods, but moments that can be distressing, therapeutic, or satisfying for students. Bearing witness to this humanness was my favorite part of being a design researcher at the Innovation Hub.

Through our experiences, we gained new insights or more in-depth knowledge about student experiences at the university. Many interviews generated inspiring moments that often transformed into lingering thoughts, which allowed us to reflect on our own experiences.

Ellie: Listening to stories different than mine was fascinating, as I could see the university and my academic community from a different perspective. 

Muthu: From the interviews, I understood exactly how many misconceptions I had about the problems that students faced. 

We appreciated the research methods that the Innovation Hub uses to understand student experiences, as it allows for the building of both knowledge and connection.

Finding Purpose through Making an Impact on the Student Community 

Being part of the Arts & Science UTQAP was a fulfilling experience, considering that our efforts to gather and analyze student feedback will go into making meaningful changes for students on campus. After collecting student responses through interviews and surveys, we synthesized the findings and presented them to our partners from various academic programs at the University of Toronto.

A gear, a cloud, stars, and hearts above three people

Mikhail: I’m glad that I helped identify the real needs and gaps in the program. I’m glad the Innovation Hub is here to show the importance of designing with the student body to better increase their engagement and what students get out of U of T.

Knowing that we can positively impact our peers’ experience at the university motivates us to engage in the research process. Our hope through our final written reports and presentations, we can inspire departments to take actions that recognize, benefit, and improve students’ lives at U of T.

Although there were times when we felt challenged by the complexity of the data, keeping the purpose of our work in mind helped us push through the hardships. As students, we all hope to see our fellow schoolmates thrive in their respective programs. 

Transferable Skills for Future Careers 

Beyond the immediate impact on the university community, our learnings in the work are transferable to other areas of life and professional settings. Through the excitements and challenges in our projects, our experiences at the iHub are transformative stepping stones in our professional journeys. We value the skills gained at the Innovation Hub that helped us adopt a design thinking mindset that positively impact problem-solving approaches in various disciplines.

Two hands and arrows surrounding a lightbulb

Emaan: Working at the iHub as a Design Researcher has helped me develop valuable skills in conducting human-centered qualitative research. The Design Thinking process has taught me the importance of deeply understanding the values and experiences of others who are different from me. I especially enjoyed the interview stage as it allowed me to develop confidence and leadership in interviews through active listening, an important skill which I can transfer to other research roles. 

Ameerah: Being able to view the world and approach problems with a design thinking mindset is very useful in different disciplines, and I think having developed this skill and mindset through my time as part of the UTQAP team allowed me to approach problems in my studies and career with empathy and an open mind.

Ellie: I enjoyed the interviewing stage of a project, where I had the opportunity to connect with students and learn from their experiences. This broadened my perspective and sharpened my communication skills, including active listening and asking relevant questions. These skills are vital for my future career in Human Resources.

Our time at the Innovation Hub has provided us with invaluable skills and perspectives that extend far beyond our roles here. These experiences have equipped us with a design thinking mindset and a set of transferable skills that will undoubtedly serve us well in our future professional endeavors.

Team Collaboration and Personal Growth 

In the dynamic and collaborative ecosystem of the Innovation Hub, team collaboration and personal growth are not just byproducts of projects, but an integral part of the process. Our team recognizes that a collaborative approach allowed them to view problems through a diverse set of perspectives. We appreciate the chance to develop teamwork skills and personal qualities such as empathy, time management, and active listening.

Three connected circles with people inside each of them, surrounded by sparkles

Elize: I have further understood the importance of designing with students rather than only for, and its essential role in human-centered design thinking. By actively involving students throughout the designing process, we can ensure that the insights we’ve identified genuinely touch on the needs of students because these individuals were involved in the process. This collaborative approach fosters empowerment, ownership, and trust. 

Yannie: This is the first time that I have been put into a position to manage and oversee such a big team. I have learned to collaborate and communicate with people who have diverse working styles and personalities, which I can see being beneficial for my future career development.  

Jefferson: The skills trained in the Innovation Hub have primed me for my career in quantitative analytics, fostering adeptness in teamwork, attention to detail, and time management. This preparation instills confidence in collaborative projects over independent work. Furthermore, these soft and hard skills offer valuable insights into navigating my career path effectively.   

As we continue to grow and learn in the Innovation Hub, we’re constantly reminded of the benefits of collaborative work and personal development. These experiences have not only enriched our current roles, but have also prepared us for successful future endeavors.

Meaningful Impact on Students  

Our journey at the Innovation Hub has been filled with growth, collaboration, and the development of invaluable skills. The experiences we’ve shared and the insights we’ve gained enriched our understanding of student needs and enabled us to contribute to the betterment of the university community. As we continue to navigate this journey, we remain excited about the potential for further growth, meaningful impact, and the continued pursuit of improving student experiences at the University of Toronto.


Lidiia smiling

Lidiia Tulenkova, Research Lead and Program Coordinator, Honours Bachelor of Arts, Sociocultural Anthropology and Material Culture

Yannie smiling.

Yannie Mork, Team Coordinator, Honours Bachelor of Science, Psychology, Ethics, Society & Law 

Eliz smiling in a selfie outdoors on water.

Eliz Shimshek, Team Coordinator, Doctor of Philosophy, Cognitive Neuroscience (Psychology) 

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Ameerah Atif, Design Researcher, Honours Bachelor of Science, Psychology with a minor in Statistics 

Elize Khan, Design Researcher, Master of Information, User Experience Design  

Ellie smiling outdoors.

Ellie Ho Huang, Design Researcher, Honours Bachelor of Arts, Industrial Relations & Human Resources, Sociology 

Emaan smiling in a selfie.

Emaan Tariq, Design Researcher, Honours Bachelor of Arts, Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology

MIkhail smiling.

Mikail Lobo, Design Researcher, Master of Science, Translational Research 

Mathu Ram Kumar standing in front of a wall and beams.

Muthu Ram Kumar Avichi, Design Researcher, Master of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering 

Olya smiling and sitting on grass.

Olya Jaworsky, Design Researcher, Master of Information, User Experience Design  

Jefferson Ni, Quantitative Data Analyst, Master of Information, Data Science and Information Systems & Design 

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