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Arts & Science News

Congratulations Victoria College graduates!

Students posing with the statue

A larger-than-life sculpture of the legendary U of T professor Northrop Frye in front of the building that bears his name at Victoria College. L-R: Zoe Sebastien, Andres Felipe Fajardo and Joan Miguel Romero. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Victoria College wasn’t always an oasis of green grass, stately buildings and historic halls on the east side of the University of Toronto campus. It began its life in 1836 in Cobourg, Ontario as Upper Canada Academy, a university founded by the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

It wasn’t until 1890 that Victoria University — renamed to honour Queen Victoria in 1841 — federated with the University of Toronto and moved from Cobourg to U of T’s downtown campus.

Today, Vic students enjoy an academic environment where they benefit from a small-school experience within the larger network of opportunities offered by the University of Toronto.

Vic fosters this small-school experience by ensuring that all first-year students enroll in a small class. Students can take a Vic 100 seminar, another first-year seminar course, or be part of the renowned Vic One Program.

The College System

Every Arts & Science student is a member of one of the seven colleges on the St. George campus.

Vic also sponsors a number of interdisciplinary programs: Creative Expression and Society; Education and Society; Literature and Critical Theory; Material Culture; Renaissance Studies; Science and Society; and Semiotics and Communication Studies.

A&S News caught up with three Victoria College graduates ready to make their mark in the world of medicine and the academy.

Andres Felipe Fajardo

Andres Felipe Fajardo in a graduation gown

Andres Felipe Fajardo. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Handling the demands of medical school this fall should be no problem for Andres Felipe Fajardo — he’s already accustomed to a busy schedule that requires him to manage his time well.

Fajardo, who has earned an honours bachelor of science degree with a neuroscience specialist and a minor in Latin American studies, is a residence don at Vic, where he is responsible for social and educational activities, ensuring residence policies are being followed and crisis intervention — in short, he’s a role model promoting the overall well-being of his fellow students.

He is also one of the organizers of the Cultural Exchange Support Initiative (CESI) for new Syrian immigrants and the founder of Vic Ventures, a group that explores various Toronto neighbourhoods by bicycle.

If that isn’t enough, Fajardo spent his summers doing scientific research and has recently completed a fourth-year thesis about stem cells and glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer.

The CESI program was started by a graduate student from Near & Middle Eastern Studies, but Fajardo quickly added Vic’s stamp to the project, securing the Cat’s Eye Pub, located in the basement of the Goldring Student Centre, for weekly gatherings of U of T students and Syrian newcomers between 18 and 30.

The gatherings include language exchange between Arabic and English speakers as well as social activities, such as pool or video games. The project draws up to 90 people to each session, and Fajardo actively promoted it at his residence.

“One of the most powerful things about CESI is the community you find,” said Fajardo, who also secured funding from Vic to help support the program. “Everyone cares about each other.”

Community building is important to Fajardo, as his other endeavours illustrate. Working as a don in a residence with apartment-style living, he created drop-in events to encourage student bonding.

“I loved it,” he said. “It’s nice to see people come together as a community.”

Fajardo’s Vic Ventures bicycle initiative has a similar focus on community-building.

“I realized that I hadn’t explored Toronto at all,” Fajardo said. “I was living in a bubble at Vic, and I wanted to see things I didn’t see daily. I took people to Centre Island, to a Toronto Football Club game and to cool neighbourhoods.”

Of course, it wasn’t all play for this future physician. He spent three summers working in research labs, including a summer job at Children’s Hospital in Boston delving into T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“It was a really great experience,” he said. “I was working in one of the most advanced labs in the field and I had the opportunity to work with CRISPR-Cas9, a gene editing tool — interesting technology.”

With his combination of people skills and scientific know-how, Fajardo’s path to success in medicine looks clear.

Joan Miguel Romero

Joan Miguel Romero in a graduation gown

Joan Miguel Romero. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Joan Miguel Romero first decided to pursue a career in medicine and cancer research in 2010 when he lost his father to pancreatic cancer. His undergraduate studies solidified his interest, and now the Dean’s list student is graduating with an honours bachelor of science degree, specializing in pathobiology and majoring in immunology.

Romero was attracted to Vic for a number of reasons: the liberal arts atmosphere, its Vic One program and its clubs — especially Vic for a Cure — a cancer awareness and fundraising group.

“I started a cancer charity in high school, so Vic for a Cure appealed to me,” Romero said.

He participated in Vic for a Cure for his four years at the college, moving onto the executive and eventually serving as co-president. He is especially proud of their fundraising for the Canadian Cancer Society through events that included an annual benefit concert and an annual dodgeball tournament, initiated with another executive of the fundraising initiative.

Romero entered U of T as the recipient of a prestigious Schulich Leadership Scholarship. The awards were created by Canadian business leader and philanthropist Seymour Schulich in 2012 to encourage promising high school graduates to embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Each year the $100 million program funds 50 undergraduate scholarships across top Canadian universities.

In his fourth year, Romero served as U of T’s Schulich leader captain, where he was responsible for communicating with the other Schulich scholars at U of T. He and captains from two other universities are also establishing a nationwide mentoring program that matches first-and second-year Schulich scholars with upper-year scholars.

Romero is no stranger to maintaining connections. As an alumnus of the Stowe-Gullen stream of Vic One — a program that explores the ethical, social and political consequences of scientific advancement — he keeps in touch with his first-year classmates, even those in different programs of study.

“Vic One does a good job of creating a close-knit community,” Romero said. “We remain friends and take part in activities together.”

Research also figured prominently in Romero’s undergraduate life. He spent all four university summers working in cancer research labs. For three of those summers, he studied new biomarkers for prostate cancer at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, a U of T teaching hospital. His research at Sunnybrook became the focus of his undergraduate thesis project. This summer, he is working at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), focusing on pancreatic cancer.

Romero plans to continue his work at OICR by pursuing a master of science degree in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at U of T this fall, followed by medical school.

“My ultimate goal is to become a clinician-scientist, which would allow me to translate research findings into novel treatments for cancer patients,” he said.

Romero’s passion, dedication and determination will no doubt serve his future patients well.

Zoe Sebastien

Zoe Sebastien in a graduation gown

Zoe Sebastien. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Zoe Sebastien may be graduating and leaving Vic, but she has made her mark there.

“Vic has been amazing and it’s hard to believe it’s over,” said Sebastien, who is a recipient of the Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded for exceptional academic achievement. Established in 1873, the medal is one of the most prestigious awards that can be received by a student in a Canadian educational institution.

“Vic was the best choice for me,” she added. “In a very big campus, it was home.

“There is such a warm community here and the faculty and staff care about every one of their students and work tirelessly to help us succeed.”

Sebastien — one of the four U of T Alumni Association Scholars, one of the university’s most distinguished undergraduate academic awards — graduates with a specialist in philosophy and a minor in the history and philosophy of science and technology.

In September, Sebastien will be living at Massey College as a Junior Fellow and will begin a master’s in philosophy at U of T with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Her SSHRC grant was based on a paper — which analyzed the language of a legal case report dealing with the subject of transgender rights— that she wrote for the Socrates Project in the Department of Philosophy, a competitive program which combines independent research with tutorial leadership.

While working on the Socrates Project, Sebastien was part of a group of students in a Vic capstone course taught by Vic President William Robins. Robins encouraged his students to take their research and apply for a SSHRC grant.

“I am very grateful that President Robins advised me to apply for the grant,” said Sebastien. “It was a series of fortunate events.”

Sebastien presented her paper at two conferences and had the chance to present another paper at this year’s Canadian Philosophical Association Congress.

In addition to balancing teaching and studying, Sebastien held two campus jobs this past year: a work-study position as a research assistant for sociology professor Lorne Tepperman and a project management role for Vic Principal Angela Esterhammer.

Sebastien also served for three years on the editorial staff of Almagest, the journal of the history and philosophy of science, including one year as editor-in-chief. She spearheaded a junior editor program at the journal, giving first- and second-year students the opportunity to shadow their more experienced counterparts before moving into senior roles.

Despite her myriad campus commitments, Sebastien also remained involved with DECA, a business development and leadership program that runs a business case competition in high schools across North America. She first joined DECA in grade 9 and now serves as the vice-president of operations for its Ontario high school divisions.

This summer, Sebastien received a University of Toronto Excellence Award which gives her the chance to conduct research for Esterhammer, assisting her with an anthology of Scottish entrepreneur John Galt’s works.

“You’d be surprised what Galt wrote about: short stories, poems, novels, economics, and politics,” said Sebastien. “I’m learning a lot of things I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”

Sebastien wouldn’t have traded away her hectic schedule.

“U of T is a big place but by getting involved I had the chance to learn from incredible mentors and make life-long friends,” she said.

Victoria College

Founded in 1836 in Cobourg, Ontario by royal charter from King William IV.

Victoria federated with the University of Toronto in 1890.

Notable alumni include: literary critic and scholar Northrop Frye; Nobel laureate and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson; Nobel laureate and co-inventor of the laser Arthur Schawlow; celebrated author Margaret Atwood; and acclaimed Hollywood director Norman Jewison.

Did you know? Victoria was named for Queen Victoria.

Congratulations to the 571  students graduating today!