September 8, 2023 | Alumni
Award-winning alum Cindy Sinclair celebrates 50 years at U of T
By Coby Zucker
Cindy Sinclair is celebrating 50 years at the University of Toronto.
Over 50 years and three degrees, U of T has had a tremendous impact on the life of Cindy Sinclair (BA 2005 WDW, MEd 2009, PhD 2017) — and that’s not even counting the engineering degrees earned by her husband and her three sons in the Faculty of Arts & Science.
Between her first job at the University as a clerk typist at Rotman School of Management in 1973 and her current role as adjunct lecturer at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine — and during stints as student advisor, program coordinator and executive assistant — Sinclair earned three degrees from U of T, including a doctorate in education. She, her husband John and three sons — Andrew, William and David — are all proud U of T alumni.
“My Arts & Science program gave me the opportunity to explore a broader spectrum of courses in history, arts, culture and workplace relations. It gave me a sound foundation for higher education,” says Sinclair, who earned her bachelor of arts in 2005 as a member of Woodsworth College. “If not for my Arts & Science background, I would not have had the confidence needed to pursue higher education.”
Sinclair recently received a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award for the positive impact that she has made on her community since arriving in Canada, particularly her steadfast support of international medical graduates. It’s an amazing piece of recognition for Sinclair, and something she never expected to be honoured with when she first came to Canada.
Sinclair’s first experience with U of T came just after she arrived in Canada as an international student from Guyana in 1972. Unprepared for Canadian winters and with no money for winter clothing, Sinclair went to U of T’s International Student Centre looking for a secondhand coat. There was nothing available except for a long, oversized pink coat, which she left wearing. “It kept me warm and cozy, and I was grateful for the help,” Sinclair says.
Since coming to Canada and U of T, Sinclair has developed multiple perspectives on education and student-life that have shaped her efforts in recent years.
“I saw the challenges immigrant doctors were facing in pursuing their career in Canada. I saw the struggles and fears of students as colleagues while I was studying,” Sinclair says. “I tried to coach and guide them as much as I could, but as an administrative person, there was only so much I could do.”
After Sinclair earned her master’s and doctorate, in 2009 and 2017, at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, she decided to use her newfound expertise to help other immigrants, specifically immigrant doctors and students. Sinclair set out to support these doctors by using her education and her company, Sinclair Consulting Services.
“When I graduated, I thought of pursuing a teaching career. But I started my academic studies with a mission to help immigrant doctors and students. Teaching wouldn’t help me do what I really wanted to do. I wanted to give back to the University and the community,” Sinclair says.
Sinclair’s long relationship with education began in her early years in Canada. With no place to live, she was hired on the spot as a live-in nanny for Jim and Alison Prentice, two noted Canadian scholars. Jim was an esteemed physicist and Alison a historian of Canadian women’s history. Both were closely affiliated with U of T throughout their lives. The Prentices inspired Sinclair and encouraged her to eventually pursue academic studies.
“I was living with this smart family and working at the most prestigious university. I was a young immigrant from a small village who came to this country for freedom and opportunities, but the reach for academic studies was daunting for many reasons,” Sinclair says. “I just felt I didn't really belong here because everyone seemed so smart and educated and bright. I thought I could never do it.”
“My mom doesn't surround herself with people that tell her she can't,” Sinclair’s son Andrew says. “She surrounds herself with people like Jim and Alison Prentice, who tell her she can do anything.”
Being around the famed Canadian scholars also inspired a love of learning in Sinclair’s sons. That, and spending their formative years on U of T’s St. George campus.
“In a sense, U of T was like our playground as my mother and brothers and I played in the field while my father studied in the library on Saturdays,” Andrew says. “In the back of my mind, I knew I was always going to go to U of T. I mean, when I was a kid, I had a U of T jacket that I wore every day to school, so I think it was inevitable.”
Andrew, who earned his bachelor of science in 2007 as a member of Innis College, is an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University Business School and a visiting assistant professor of finance at California Institute of Technology. He’s an expert on Chinese finance, a subject he encountered while earning his doctoral degree at Yale University.
Andrew returned to U of T in May 2023 to deliver a seminar on Chinese finance at the Rotman School for Management 50 years after his mother started working at Rotman as a typist. “It was an honour to be delivering a talk at the school,” Andrew says. “Education has always been a strong part of our family.”
While working full-time in postgraduate medical education, Sinclair began to take note of the challenges immigrant doctors faced — some of which she had encountered as an immigrant herself. She became determined to pursue university education as a mature student with three children. Her studies at the University over the next 12 years would overlap with all three of her sons.
Andrew was initially reluctant to study at U of T at the same time as his mother.
“I wanted us to exist in separate worlds,” he says. “But I think, especially when she started her PhD, and then when I started my PhD, I had matured a bit. I felt like we were kindred spirits. That we were in this together.”
Sinclair’s second son, William, earned his master’s of education at OISE and is a teacher in Oshawa. Her youngest son, David, earned his doctorate at Cornell University and is a staff data scientist at Cruise in California after five years as a senior data scientist at Google.
These days Sinclair is fully occupied using all the tools at her disposal to support other immigrants and students at U of T.
“I want to spend more of my time talking, guiding, mentoring and supporting students and newcomer immigrants,” Sinclair says. “I see myself as being graced with this wonderful opportunity of connecting with this university — my second home."