Words of wisdom help students and alumni launch careers at Next Steps Conference

January 19, 2021 by Michael McKinnon – A&S News

Study what you love and career opportunities will follow — sometimes in unexpected ways.

Hone your soft skills, such as communication and empathetic listening.

And don’t expect things to turn out the way you planned.

These are just some of the words of wisdom Arts & Science students and recent grads can expect at this year’s online Next Steps Conference, January 25 to 27. The event features a range of speakers, career exploration panels, personal and professional development seminars and networking opportunities — all aimed at helping you explore opportunities.

“Events like this help students prepare for a full life after U of T,” says Jaclyn Qua Hiansen, who will be part of the Social Services panel on January 26. Qua Hiansen is senior coordinator of inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

“It can be scary to graduate, especially not knowing how to navigate this pandemic job market. Being able to listen to alumni and ask questions gives students a chance to get a clearer idea of the options available to them.”

Jaclyn Qua Hiansen holds a 65-million-year-old dinosaur fossil at the ROM.

Qua Hiansen oversees the ROM Community Access Network, a program helping more than 100 diverse community partners across Ontario break down financial, social and cultural barriers. But like many presenting at Next Steps, she says her career path wasn’t mapped out when as she was completing her bachelor of arts in English as a member of Woodsworth College in 2009.

Qua Hiansen looks forward to sharing lessons she’s learned over the last decade, such as the importance of being ready when opportunity knocks and the benefits of drawing from all your experiences.

“For people who are coming from a different country like I did and feeling like they’re a few steps behind those who grew up here, I’ve found both my degrees have really helped me in my career, and my experience in the Philippines has been very valuable,” says Qua Hiansen, who’d earned a bachelor of management economics from Ateneo de Manila University before coming to Canada.

Gary Pieters.
Gary Pieters will be presenting as part of the Education and Training panel on January 25.

As part of the Education and Training panel on January 25, Gary Pieters will discuss skills students may not have learned in the classroom.

“Soft skills are so important to build up — to be able to have a conversation, be an attentive listener and be able to demonstrate empathy,” says Pieters, who has 25 years of experience in education as a teacher, vice-principal and principal. He was recently re-appointed to the Ontario Ministry of Education Minister's Advisory Council on Special Education.

In the summer of 2020, amid the uncertainties of COVID 19 and on the heels of the killing of George Floyd, Pieters practiced some of those skills in a series of equity, antiracism and anti-oppression webinars he led for the Ontario Principals' Council.

Pieters has earned multiple degrees from U of T, including his bachelor of arts in African studies and political science as a member of New College, his bachelor of education and his master of education from U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

At Next Steps, he will also highlight career options in education for those graduating with Arts & Science degrees, and the importance of keeping up with new technologies.

“Today’s employees need to be able to pivot quickly,” he says. “I’ll be helping young people understand the importance of being flexible and adaptive.”

headshot of Jennifer Chan
Jennifer Chan is presenting as part of the Publc Policy panel on January 27.

For those unsure where their degree will take them, attending Next Steps is a great start, says Jennifer Chan, who’ll be on the Public Policy panel on January 27.

“You’re doing the right thing as a first step by participating in conferences like this and engaging with opportunities the University provides about career development,” she says. “They’ll help you figure out how to plug your interests and passions into the working world and how to know about opportunities out there that will really help you to pick the path that's right for you.”

Chan works as a municipal policy specialist in Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, leading policy files related to COVID-19 response and recovery, and the legalization of recreational cannabis. That was not her plan when she was earning her bachelor of arts in anthropology, semiotics and sociology as a member of Victoria College and a master of arts in socio-cultural anthropology, both from U of T.

“I got so tired of hearing the question when I was a student: ‘What are you going to do with your master’s?’” she says. “I want people who are in the same situation — studying things they just find really interesting but don't know where it might lead — to know there are things they can do with their degrees.”

Art & Science students and new grads, don’t forget to register for the Next Steps Conference!