Students and the City

Elaine Smith

U of T Scarborough is set among trees and dedicated green space. But there’s no doubt it’s an urban campus with urban students.
This is especially true of Co-op students, who become part of Toronto’s large urban workforce as part of their education

Abbas N. Ali

Planning and Politics

Abbas N. Ali believes his earlier Co-op term as an organizer for Olivia Chow’s mayoral campaign gave him the boost in experience he needed to land his current Co-op job—a coveted role with the City of Toronto’s planning division.

Every summer the division hires 20 students to canvass businesses citywide to update employment information. Ali had applied each year for the past few years before succeeding.

“Working on the Chow campaign built up my resumé and skills,” he says. “I was part of the organizing fellowship program. And then I was hired as an organizer in charge of three wards with my own volunteers to manage.”

In his current Co-op position, Ali goes to businesses to collect information. “I’m representing the city,” he says. “Communications,
accountability and responsibility are key, and I have to be able to deal with different situations while keeping my composure.” He believes his work on the Chow campaign “showed I could do that.”

This fall, Ali begins his fourth year as a Co-op student at UTSC, majoring in city studies and human geography. His current Co-op experience has solidified his  determination to become an urban planner, a job that unites his love of all things urban and his political perspective.

“With this job, I’m learning so much about Toronto and visiting places I never would trek to otherwise. It has been an eye-opener. I’ve discovered that our city is made up of many different cities [neighbourhoods] with unique environments, people and businesses. I’ve grown in my appreciation for the city where I live.”

Katrina Furlanetto sitting in a boat

A Flood of Experience

Katrina Furlanetto is spending the summer on a lake. But it’s all in the service of urban water management—a subject she’s excited to learn about. She has a Co-op position with the water resources department in her hometown of Richmond Hill.

“I hadn’t really explored the municipal sector before, but it has piqued my interest,” says Furlanetto, a UTSC master’s candidate in environmental science. “It’s more focused on the human side of things than my previous work. I can understand how the human influence affects water quality in an urban setting.”

“I am looking mostly at storm water management and at Lake Wilcox, a lake in town,” she says. “I’m collecting data based on sediment and water quality, seeing if various storm ponds are doing the job they are expected to in handling floods and erosion, and learning how to plan for management into the future.

Furlanetto’s Co-op research report looks at the management strategy for Lake Wilcox, updating it using new data. In addition to earning her a grade, it will benefit her employer and the citizens of Richmond Hill by allowing the department to use the most current data in resource planning.

The Co-op placement has convinced Furlanetto to focus her career on water management, whether that means ecology, urban management, or a mix of the two.

“This placement has made me realize the amount of effort and time required for policies to be created and implemented before making a difference,” she says. “When you see the process, you understand why.”

Devin Benczik
Miradi Afiouni

A Walk in the Park

UTSC Co-op students Devin Benczik and Miradi Afiouni each found a great place to escape the density of the city without leaving town: Rouge National Urban Park.

The park, which stretches from Scarborough to Markham to Pickering, has provided Co-op terms for Benczik, an English and history major, and Afi a city studies and public policy major. The pair spent a term in 2014 working for the park’s external affairs and visitor informa- tion division, and Benczik has returned this year for a term as a heritage interpreter.

Last summer Benczik and Afiouni surveyed visitors about their experiences in the park and how they could be improved. They also helped organize and staff events, such as bird walks for children and a YMCA games day for youth.

“I developed my communications and interpersonal skills working there,” Afi says. “I also saw how getting public input is very important, and learned how the process was done and how the information was used.”
This summer Benczik is back in uniform, educating people about the

Rouge and other parks in Ontario and about wildlife in the city. He sets up an information booth regularly in various locations in the Markham area. He creates the programs himself, working from an outline and using Parks Canada documents and interviews with experienced staff.

“Everything I do is geared toward an urban audience,” Benczik says. “I show the locals that there are lots of opportunities to hike and experience wildlife right here in the city. A lot of people don’t know that the park is here,” he adds. “I’m letting people know about their 47-square-kilometre backyard.”

Esther Kang

An Eye for Infrastructure

Esther Kang, a Co-op student in management and international business, spent the summer preparing for a semester abroad in Germany. At the same time, she gained a completely different experience as a Co-op student with Toronto Hydro.

Kang, who is entering her third year at UTSC, had a Co-op term in customer communications with the utility. She made sure residents were alerted before hydro crews arrive to repair aging infrastructure near their properties. She helped explain what’s happening and worked with project supervisors to allay any customer concerns.

Kang thought her position would be a desk job. Instead, she found herself calling on customers in various Toronto neighbourhoods. “I didn’t know any parts of Toronto,” says the Sault Ste. Marie native, “but I’ve learned the geography pretty well.”

She says dealing with customers can be challenging. But, she adds, “I have refined my diplomatic and negotiation skills, and that will be really useful going forward. This position has taught me how to behave in a professional workplace.”

The experience has had a major effect on her career plans. “Because I interact with customers, I’ve realized that I want to do something that includes build- ing relationships with people,” she says. “I don’t want to be isolated at a desk.”