Living in residence helped UTM grad find her future career path

Dana Britton
Wednesday, May 10, 2017 - 4:42pm
Blake Eligh

Dana Britton found her future career path while living in residence at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The UTM graduand had planned to become an occupational therapist, but her experience developing and delivering student programs in residence set her on a brand new path. Britton, who convocates in June 2017 with a double major in psychology and sociology, is now mulling a masters degree in education or a career in student programming in higher education.

Originally from Port Perry, Ontario, Britton lived in residence for four years in Oscar Peterson Hall and McLuhan Court, and working as a residence don in her third and fourth years. It was here that she spotted an opportunity to help stressed-out students. “I kept hearing from students who were so focused on getting good grades that they were staying up all night to study, or not taking enough breaks,” she says. With assistance from the residence counsellor and UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre, Britton and fellow don Catherine Wong initiated a mental wellness program for students living in residence. “We ran open mic nights, hosted therapy dogs and craft sessions, as well as lunch-and-learn series on self care,” she says. They also ran the Student Housing & Residence Life social media channels on Bell Let’s Talk Day. Building on Britton and Wong’s legacy, the role has recently evolved into an official work-study position.

Britton also worked with the Centre for Student Engagement as a programming assistant and as a test and exam invigilator with the AccessAbilty Centre. She also worked on a multi-group project with UTM’s Career Centre and the Health and Counselling Centre to compile resources in Peel Region to help Syrian families coming to the end of their first year in Canada. It was an eye-opening project, says Britton. “It helped me see the different barriers that people face, and [learn] to help people to ensure access to work, equality and accessibility.”

Academic life also kept Britton busy. During her time at UTM, she worked on two projects through the Research Opportunity Program. In one placement, with Professor Philip Oreopoulos of the Department of Economics, Britton provided online academic support to student enrolled in economics courses. The project, which is still in progress, investigates how online assistance may contribute to academic results.

In a second placement, with Assistant Professor Jayne Baker of the Department of Sociology, Britton conducted a literature review, interviews and focus group to assess how active learning can be used to help students develop research skills. Britton and her co-researcher will present their findings at an upcoming conference of the Canadian Sociological Association.

Britton took time to follow her own self-care advice, taking moksha yoga classes, indulging her love of indie music and coffee shops, and walking the nature trails on campus and nearby Sawmill Trail. “My favourite spot on campus is the bridge over [Wilson] pond, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing.”

She says her experiences have taught her a lot about creating and delivering programming, but gave her a sense of community, too. “I wouldn’t have been happy if I had focused only on school work,” she says. “Getting involved helped me to feel more at home.”

Britton’s advice to new students: “Take every chance to get involved—go to your community meetings, join a club, don’t be afraid to knock on someone’s door and ask to hang out,” she says. “I thought university would be all about academics, but my work in the community was what really shaped me.”