Discuss: Communities lift institutions

Franco Vaccarino reflects on seven years as UTSC's Principal

Principal Vaccarino speaks to Mary Anne Chambers (BA, 2003) during his last week in office: “It’s really about a common sense of purpose.”

UTSC has undergone tremendous changes since 2007, when Franco Vaccarino became Principal. Mary Anne Chambers, UTSC alum and former Ontario cabinet minister, sat down to speak with the outgoing Principal, who will take a new post in August as President of the University of Guelph. They talked about UTSC’s students, its faculty and staff, and its connections to communities in Scarborough and around the world.

Mary Anne Chambers: Seven years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at your installation as Principal at UTSC. It was like a welcome home for you.

Franco Vaccarino: Wow, that takes us back to 1984, the year I began here [as an assistant professor]. The campus is larger now. It’s even more of an anchor in the community. At the same time there remains the sense of community that the campus had in 1984. That was attractive for me then, and it really hasn’t changed today. Communities lift institutions and that has been a big part of the UTSC story. And I like to think that the campus also lifts the community.

MAC: UTSC has grown and become a more diverse community. A global community.

FV: From a scholarship point of view, so much of the work we are doing links to events, activities and knowledge emerging in different parts of the world. But I think it also speaks to this particular region, the eastern GTA, which is an area where many new immigrants settle, and we get some of the top students from those communities. And that rich cultural fabric expresses itself on campus.

If we look at the growth today, close to 20 per cent of our students are international students. That very much affects the culture and the experience on campus. And of course many of our students’ families are relative newcomers
to Canada, which contributes to that richness.

Our faculty contribute to this diversity of perspective, too. We’ve attracted top scholars from around the world.

MAC: I’d like to talk a little bit more about community and the relationship that has evolved into experiential learning, as well as benefits to the community.

FV: Community is really about a common sense of purpose. Our students, for example, are a particularly strong community.

When I arrived at UTSC, I found that our students’ vision and forward-looking nature formed them as a community, a community that was really committed to the future of this place.

Experiential learning has been, and still is, a defining feature of our identity. We have our outstanding co-op education program, among many other experiential initiatives— including our IMANI program, which is another huge point of pride for our campus.

MAC: What’s special about that program is that it’s an academic mentoring program.

FV: It really brings the excitement of academia to young people that haven’t been exposed to that world.

It’s our students who make it happen. They’re communicating a sense of community that makes UTSC a comfortable place, an inviting place.

MAC: UTSC students feel that they have a responsibility for crafting their environment here.

FV: We can create smart plans. But it’s the people that bring them to life.

MAC: What will you look back on as some of your fondest memories
of UTSC?

FV: Oh, there are so many. Of course, there’s the referendum for the Pan Am Games. That was a moment of enormous pride in our students. These visionary students understood the importance of the facility for their legacy—and they used that word.

I remember one of the student leaders being approached by reporters asking, “How could you vote yes on a referendum that requires you to pay for something you won’t even be using?” And the answer was, “Well, because 10 years from now, I imagine myself applying to a job and the first question they’re going to ask me is, ‘What school did you go to?’ I’m going to say, ‘UTSC.’ And the response will be, ‘Wow, that’s the campus where the Pan Am Games happened, and the UTSC students were such a big part of that.’”

MAC: That’s vision.

FV: And we’ve recruited outstanding faculty. To me, that demonstrates the magnet that UTSC has become, not just locally but globally.

MAC: One of the things I’ve observed here is your effort to recognize alumni success and bring that to the community to say, “This is really cool stuff.”

FV: Absolutely. Alumni have increasingly gravitated back to UTSC. We’ve created opportunities to connect with alumni, where they can see their presence on campus, like The Hub. When our alumni are engaged, it’s a demonstration of the value they place on our campus and the value they place on the things that we are doing in their academic home.

MAC: Well, you’re strengthening relationships.

FV: It’s about the longer-term. These relationships are the foundation for what the future brings.