#UofTGrad17: Perseverance and passion led these St. Michael’s College grads to convocation day
Students are drawn to St. Michael’s College — affectionately known as St. Mike’s — for many reasons. It offers a close-knit community which maintains its Catholic identity while welcoming people of all backgrounds.
The College System
The college is rich in tradition and presents an environment that values and nurtures the intellectual, moral and spiritual development of all of its members. With a dedication to social justice, St. Michael’s College is committed to preparing students for the challenges that await them after graduation.
It hosts an array of academic programs including SMC One: The Gilson Seminar in Faith and Ideas for first-year students, as well as interdisciplinary programs in Book and Media Studies, Celtic Studies, Christianity and Culture, and Mediaeval Studies.
Not long after immigrating to Canada with her family in 2012, Cynthia Nwabuokei, a trained engineering technologist from Nigeria, was accepted as an undergraduate student by St. Michael’s College.
Today, the 33-year-old is graduating with a bachelor of science in environmental science and environmental health, and looking forward to a career that focuses on water, wastewater treatment and environmental sustainability.
“It was tough,” she said. “Juggling school and motherhood was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but perseverance pays off.”
With no real support system in Toronto, Nwabuokei turned to U of T’s array of student services — including the Family Care Office where she learned about local childcare options, and was connected with other student parents. “It was also a welcoming place to stop by during the school day for tea,” she said.
St. Mike’s also provided her with a bursary and was her “go to” for any academic and personal challenges she had. “They always had answers to my concerns,” she said. “The registrar, Damon Chevrier, never failed to encourage me. He often said to me: ‘Cynthia, you are a success and you should be proud of yourself for being able to combine full-time studies, working and raising three kids.’”
“I always felt welcome as a part of the St. Mike’s family due to the support system it offered me,” she said. “There were times I felt so unready for my exams, so unsure of finishing my studies, but looking back, I smile because within these challenging moments I had the opportunity to learn and grow some more. I persevered, kept my eyes on the prize and it made me stronger.”
Between schoolwork and motherhood, Nwabuokei’s schedule was full but she made time to join the U of T student chapter of the Water Environment Association of Ontario, taking part in its seminars and field trips. She also participated in the First-in-the-Family Peer Mentorship program for students who are the first in their families to go to university, as well as several Life Management Series workshops offered by the Family Care office. An active participant with the Woodsworth College student-parent group, Nwabuokei was also involved with U of T’s Women in Science & Engineering, participating in competitions against universities across Canada.
Nwabuokei is passionate about water generally, and wastewater treatment, in particular: “I am fascinated by the idea that you can use water and then re-use it in different ways, which includes capturing energy from it while minimizing waste. Being able to re-use water is a key element for managing our water resources,” she said.
She has a temporary job with Peel Region Waste Water section focusing on environmental pollution control and is actively seeking full-time employment.
Her three boys, ages nine, six and four, have their Mom’s convocation marked on the calendar and will be at the ceremony, cheering for her. She’s a strong role model for them. “My oldest son is all about green talk now and I am so proud that they are part of my journey,” Nwabuokei said.
Fellow St. Michael’s graduate Michael Borsk caught the history bug during high school and has been infected ever since.
“I had a wonderful high school teacher who pushed me toward history and St. Michael’s College,” said the Toronto native. “My four undergraduate years have flown by, and after I complete my master’s degree in history, we’ll see what comes next. I’d love to be doing history in some way, shape or form; it’s just a matter of where.”
Recently, Borsk assisted his professors in obtaining image permissions for the Canada by Treaty: Negotiating Histories exhibit traveling around U of T’s three campuses this year. Its focus is the legal agreements with Indigenous peoples that allowed non-Indigenous people to live on, and own land in what is now Canada, illustrating how Canada has been shaped by negotiation.
“I wanted to be a part of this project because it offered a unique opportunity to produce academic work that is aimed at a larger, non-academic audience,” Borsk said. “I felt this was important: treaty making is the foundation of the country; it is literally what allows for newcomers from all centuries to call Canada ‘home’.”
Borsk is busy exploring the forces and people who shaped a particular spot on Canada’s map: Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay. For the past three summers, he has worked as an interpreter there, talking with park visitors about everything from loons and dragonflies to Wendat archeological sites to the local lumber industry. He and two colleagues are in the process of writing a book about the park’s history in preparation for the park’s upcoming 40th anniversary in 2019.
“I call it my sixth course,” he said with a laugh. “It has been a nice complement to my history courses. It is an opportunity to explore so many aspects of Canadian history. It’s a labour of love and such a wonderful experience.”
Borsk’s first experience with self-directed research came through a senior course about the Canadian canon with Professor Cecilia Morgan.
“I’ve discovered how much I enjoy research, reading through stacks of books, delving into archives, sharing those histories with others,” Borsk said.
St. Michael’s College
Notable alumni include: The Right Honourable Paul Martin, former prime minister of Canada who played football, basketball and water polo for St. Mike’s in the intracollege league; Tony Comper, former President and Chief Executive Officer of BMO Financial Group; Victor Dodig, President and Chief Executive Officer of the CIBC group of companies; and Lori Dupuis, Olympic gold medallist in ice hockey.
740 students are graduating from St. Mike’s today