A Proven Formula: Curiosity + Involvement = Student Success

Darren Clift, IMI Communications & Media Intern
Photo credit: Darren Clift

Claire Westgate

Claire Westgate is the Placement and Employer Relations Officer for the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program. She received a Bachelor of Science, Psychology from McGill University in 2005, and a Master of Education from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2013. Claire began working for the University of Toronto in 2006, and served as the Coordinator of Events & Employer Services for the Career Centre at UTM from 2009 to 2012. She held the position of Manager, Partner Relations in the Career Centre from 2012 to 2014, when she became a part of the IMI team. Claire has a tremendous amount of experience in managing relationships between students, employers and partner organizations. Her efforts have helped students succeed in both the classroom and the workplace, and develop promising future career prospects for graduates.

The MScSM program is a unique academic opportunity for students looking to pursue graduate school. The program combines business theory with a knowledge of sustainable practices, an acumen that many industries want in their current employees. Claire elaborates on this in greater detail below:

What is one of the most important insights you have received from students over the 9.5 years you’ve worked for the University of Toronto?

“Wow! 9.5 years… that’s mind-boggling! It feels like its been a blink! Its not so much an insight, but its special when a student voices the impact of engaging with faculty and the UTM community. Students that volunteer, get involved with clubs and tap into the non-academic parts of student life seem to walk away with an amazing experience that they weren’t expecting. When a student comes in to thank me and identifies their personal growth at UTM… that transformation they experience is why I work at IMI.”

Have you witnessed a change in the priorities of students during your career? What do students place more importance on now than they did when you first started at UTM?

“I see the shift in students’ motivation: its less about making money and more about finding something meaningful. People are interested in jobs and employers that resonate with their morals and values, and who they really are. This means that today’s students have to learn more about themselves than they once did… they have to find their place. Students also look for more ways to enrich their lives here, like finding a work-study job, joining a club or committee, or engaging with their colleagues and friends. They’re aware of world issues and what’s broken, and so they align their career goals with their values.”

Do you have advice for undergraduate students in management or commerce programs looking to gain employable experience? What resources are available that you believe more students should take advantage of?

“My advice, for all students, is to be curious and inquisitive. A genuine curiosity and interest in the world around them will take students farther than anything else. They worry too much on their grades, and don’t use the resources around them. Like office hours…the professors here are some of the best in the world! Sit, chat and have a coffee with them! The career centre at UTM and the Institute of Management’s PDLC set up amazing professional programming. Take advantage of these opportunities to connect with industry professionals, and pick their brains. Students might want to work at a certain company, but until they talk with someone there, how can they know what it’s really like? These programs and experiences will help students transition successfully into the workforce.”

In what sectors or industries do you anticipate sustainability management students will be in the most demand? Why should undergraduate degree students consider a career in the field?

“There will be career opportunities in every field. Its not just about the environment… its doing right by the environment with current resources, and equally focusing on the economy and the community. Businesses in many sectors want to be sustainable while turning a profit, but still offer exciting employment and engage with the community. People are more interested than ever in where their clothes and food come from, economic pseudo collapses… they’re aware that sustainability touches all of these areas. For graduate and undergraduate students that want to go into business, but focus on sustainable practices, it can be done. Hopefully sustainability education will become a part of every department, whether its in HR or marketing, because its what is going to protect our world for the next generation.”

For students uninformed about MscSM, could you please provide a brief overview of the program and what it offers students?

“The MScSM program is a unique professional Master’s program that focuses on the integration of science/technical concepts and business/management strategy through the lens of sustainability.  The program’s philosophy is that there is no such thing as “environmental sustainability”, “social sustainability” or “economic sustainability” – because one is not possible without the other two. 

The program offers students the chance to dig very deeply into topics in sustainability.  There are core courses designed specifically around sustainability, and they can take electives from all over the University, including at Rotman.  Students also complete an internship or co-op term, they complete a 4-month Capstone project with an outside company, and they also do a full research paper on a topic of their choosing.  There is an extensive amount of professional development and networking built directly into the program as well.

The final unique component to the program is the students themselves.  They come from all over the world, and from every possible discipline you could imagine.  The diversity, and therefore innovation and creativity, in the classroom is infectious.  The common thread that binds these diverse students, as well as faculty and staff, is the observation that we must change the way we innovate, the way we do business, and the way we live, in order to create a truly sustainable society.”

In what ways do you see the program growing in the next few years? Where will it go and what do you believe will change about it?

“We have our first class set to graduate this coming spring.  What that means is that we anticipate that our grads will begin to be able to make strides in various industries and sectors, and become leaders in the field.  From a program perspective, this means that we anticipate greater numbers of applicants as the program grows, and that we will continue to aim for a diverse and creative group of graduate students.  Our goal is to continue to admit students who are curious, inquisitive and intrinsically driven to make real change.

I believe that our industry partnerships will continue to grow and strengthen; the program has been well received in industry thus far, and I see that continuing on an upward trajectory.  I think we also hope that as our program matures, we will be able to contribute to, and host, inter-University case competitions, and contribute to a growing global family of sustainability-minded professionals.”

If you could go anywhere in the world without any restrictions, where would you go and why?

“I’ve always had a fascination in Mount Everest and the South Pole. My dad would always talk about expeditions to Antarctica, and I’ve read a lot of books on Everest… maybe its because these places are so far removed from here, so remote, that I want to visit them. If I could handle the treks, I would totally do them.”

Thank you Claire for your time and insights on sustainability and student success. Your contributions have made a meaningful impact on the UofT community, and enriched the lives of many young and inquisitive people.