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November 30, 2023 | Alumni | Volunteer & Awards

The value of volunteering: a conversation with alum Nikoletta Papadopoulos

By Perry King

A diverse group of alumni volunteers smiling together.

Nikoletta Papadopoulos with OISE Dean Erica Walker, members of the OISEAA and Professor Ann Lopez in 2023. 

One of the most preeminent ways to add value at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) is through volunteering – at OISE, at U of T and in the community. But, some find getting started can be a tough task.

On this year's Orientation Day at OISE, Sim Kapoor, the director of OISE’s Office of Advancement, Communications and External Relations sat down with Nikoletta Papadopoulos (MEd 2013), the president of the OISE Alumni Association, to talk about her academic and personal journey. Papadopoulos shares her thoughts about the holistic benefits of taking part.

Which OISE programs did you complete? What were your goals?

Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here to join everyone today. So, I completed a Master of Education in 2013, it would have been in the Department of Social Justice Education. In terms of my goals, one of my first goals in thinking about pursuing graduate education was how can I become a better education professional and support the community. This is a question I continue to ask myself working within higher education.

The second goal, I would say, was career exploration. Prior to starting my graduate studies, I was working as an education co-ordinator in a community organization in the non-profit sector. I absolutely loved the work I did, and the positive impacts I saw to the community, but I wasn't sure if, long term, that was the sector that I wanted  to continue working in.

As I pursued my Master of Education, I saw the incredible supports that were provided to me from the professors to education administrators. So once I graduated, I did apply to several different institutions as we do for that process. And thankfully, I was able to have a first contract position at Sheridan College, I was there for about three and a half years in progressive roles, which led to my role at the University of Toronto, which I was at for two years. And to my current role as Manager of Graduate Student Recruitment at Toronto Metropolitan University at Ted Rogers School of Management, and I've been working in post-secondary for a little over 10 years now, since graduating.

How did your studies prepare you for any specific work or a project?

That's a great question. There are a lot of transferable skills that come from completing your graduate education, I was able to improve my communication skills, and I found I gained more confidence in being able to articulate and summarize ideas. In my current role, I'm constantly communicating different ideas to audiences. So being able to edit what you're writing and fine tune that message has been really helpful.

Definitely the research skills, I developed have applied to a lot of different sectors, whether I'm conducting market analysis or interpreting data, or, reviewing an education policy, I found a lot of those analytical skills that I developed as a graduate student have helped me within my career journey. I’ve had so many amazing professors that I learned from at OISE, and I’ve had the opportunity to be introduced to so many different frameworks and perspectives, in particular, related to equity, diversity and inclusion, which I continue to explore within my work and find ways to apply it to my current role.

I continue to learn on the job – even after you finish your graduate degree, you're going to continue to learn and develop yourself. I'm very grateful for the foundational knowledge that OISE provided me with.

Why was volunteering so important to your learning development? How have your experiences with the OISE Alumni Association and U of T College of Electors shaped you?

Nikoletta Papadopoulos smiling.
Nikoletta Papadopoulos received a U of T Arbor Award in 2019.

Well, volunteering has always been a part of my life. From middle school, I was volunteering for different things, with different community-oriented opportunities. So, when I was a student at OISE, I got involved in the Student Association, and I also volunteered in my department’s academic conference. It's really a rewarding experience, being able to connect with fellow students and make connections with both faculty and staff through that.

I've been volunteering, through the alumni association going on eight years and it's been a wonderful learning experience. You know, I've developed a lot of different organization and leadership skills from my work – organizing events and running meetings.

But the thing that I absolutely love the most about, volunteer experiences is the people. I get to connect with such amazing education professionals who work across various sectors who are so passionate and dedicated to their work, hearing about their diverse industries, their careers and their journeys. It's really inspirational, and it's allowed me to build a network and community of education professionals.  

With the College of Electors, I had a lot of great opportunities to learn more about university governance, and make those connections with U of T alumni from across different sectors. It's really a rewarding experience, being able to build those connections, find a community and I’m so excited for all of you to be able to start your OISE journey and find that sense of community for yourselves.

How can you get involved in volunteering at OISE?

You're always welcome to attend any alumni events that we're running, if there's any new speakers, webinars, that type of thing. We also have a student advisory committee – which is the student voice of the alumni association – that you can participate in events and get involved.

Here, we have a wonderful OISE mentorship program that connects students with alumni in a similar either industry or sector. I believe the application is open for this upcoming academic year, so you can apply to the mentorship program.

And with student volunteers, they qualify for the OISEAA Doctoral Fellowship Award – which is financial support to students who are eligible. And there's opportunity to be nominated for U of T Student Leadership Award.

Best of luck to all of you in your academic journey!

Originally published on Ontario Institute for Studies in Education