September 17, 2020 | Alumni
'It's my life's work to help students access education': alumna Cindy Gouveia shares her path from farmhand to foundation president
By Natalie Neumann Butler
Cindy Gouveia (PhD 2018) did not always know she would enter a career in college fundraising.
Before coming to OISE at the University of Toronto to pursue her PhD, Gouveia worked in the spa industry. Before that, she helped on a farm in Ontario while growing up above a storefront on Queen Street, Toronto.
Fast forward to today: Gouveia has made it her life's work to help students defy barriers like she did to pursue their education. A fundraiser for a college in the city, Gouveia credits OISE as the confidence-builder she needed to reach her goals.
Meet Cindy Gouveia, President, George Brown College Foundation, and learn about her professional journey.
Where does your professional story begin and where are you now?
I had my very first job working on a farm at 12 years old. It taught me the value of hard work. I also worked at Hilton Suites where I built a hotel spa from the ground up. I loved the spa industry and I am very interested in wellness and holistic health.
My most rewarding job to date has been working at the George Brown College Foundation. As I moved up through that organization, I gained great satisfaction ensuring students have the financial resources to attend school.
College fundraising and the spa industry don’t exactly go hand in hand. What triggered your move away from wellness and holistic health?
I transitioned from spa to higher ed because I wanted to be more purposeful about helping others. I actually worked for the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts for 6 years prior to getting into fundraising. I think I am a little bit of a hybrid between the academic student side, and the fundraising side – I am learning that it’s not easy to find both in one!
“I understand what’s it’s like to not have access to education. I've made it my life’s work to support students as I can relate to their experiences”
As an immigrant, visible minority, female who didn’t finish high school due to personal circumstances, I understand what’s it’s like to not have access to education. I've made it my life’s work to support students as I can relate to their experiences.
You came to OISE to expand your career possibilities. Who helped you along the way?
I was inspired by Katharine Janzen (BScN 1974, MEd 1986, EdD 1990), who supervised my PhD thesis – I wouldn’t have completed my PhD without her. Her unparalleled tenacity challenged me to better my perspectives on the world.
Another professor that inspired me is Marvin Zucker, my first OISE teacher. He instilled in me the confidence I needed to complete the PhD program. That confidence is something I've carried with me ever since.
My OISE degree has really given me the credibility that comes with holding a higher education degree from a well-recognized institution. This credibility opens doors that help me as I solicit support for our students and establishes me as part of the strong network of University of Toronto grads.
What is most rewarding about your work in postsecondary education? Any fundraising projects you'd like to share?
The most rewarding thing about my work is that I get to help students when they need it most. I also get to meet very interesting people. Fundraising for higher education is very competitive, particularly as it relates to colleges. You have to anticipate the needs of students, your college and potential benefactors in order to secure the same donations every other college is seeking.
“The most rewarding thing about my work is that I get to help students when they need it most”
I am currently re-working my organization’s signature annual fundraiser, the Food Court Social, from an in-person food fair to an online culinary showcase to meet the needs of the new, pandemic-induced paradigm. Now in its seventh year, the Food Court Social raises funds for George Brown College’s Augmented Education Program. This tuition-free program, created jointly with CAMH, provides persons with mental health and addiction histories training and support to find and maintain jobs – and more self-sufficiency. The program is truly remarkable as it helps find and secure employment for participants.
You’re helping make a difference in students' lives. What advice would you give to OISE graduates inspired to take this path?
I would advise anyone intending to enter the field of fundraising to be tenacious, be confident and train yourself to always put yourself in other people’s shoes.
With OISE I can...
Meet my full potential!