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2014 year in review: transforming the student experience at U of T

(photo by Johnny Guatto)

The University of Toronto is tops in Canada and among the highest-ranked universities of the world for research and teaching.

Fuelling that rankings performance are globally renowned researchers – who still make time to teach undergrad students – and faculty who lead the world in re-thinking the most effective ways to teach and learn. 

But don’t forget the students themselves.

With 48 per cent of U of T’s 83,000 students receiving needs-based financial aid and one in six students the first in his or her family to attend university, U of T is one of the world’s most accessible schools – committed to teaching the best and brightest students regardless of their financial status. There’s even a written guarantee of access, believed to be one of the strongest in the world: No student admitted to U of T will be prevented from enrolling or from completing their studies, for reasons relating to financial need.

The result? More student success stories than we can share.

Here are just a few of the education stories from 2014 that celebrated teaching and learning at U of T.

Cool classes, innovative instructors
Undergrad Stacy Costa was studying semiotics and anthropology when a course on puzzles from Professor Marcel Danesi changed everything. Read about Costa's work creating puzzles for the Toronto Star, designing an online scavenger hunt for Research Matters, and more.

They're alumnae now, but Qian (Linda) Liu and Kaiyin (Cathy) Zhu were students in their fourth year of engineering when they devised an award-winning tool for tracheal intubation – the placement of a flexible plastic tube into somebody’s windpipe (the trachea) to ensure that a patient can continue to breathe. Read about the low-cost innovation that began as a final assignment for a course where students tackled real-world biomedical engineering problems.

U of T's computer science department regularly ranks in the world's top ten and this year the opportunities for students got even bigger with access to IBM's famous Watson in a fourth-year computer science course. Read all about the course that inspired Jimoh Ovbiagele and other students to create a virtual legal researcher.

Also in computer science, instructors Jennifer Campbell and Paul Gries continued to hone the inverted classroom, a teaching method that flips traditional notions of classwork and homework so that students learn some of the course material through videos and readings at home. Then they tackle what would previously have been assigned as homework in class with the help of their professor. (Read about the inverted classroom.)

An archaeology site on the island of Crete served as a classroom for students interested in getting their hands dirty. (Read about the Research Excursions Program.) And, here at home, Faculty of Music students had the chance to learn from jazz great David Liebman. (Read about Liebman's class.)

Linguistics students in a class taught by Alana Johns worked with the M’Chigeeng First Nation to share Ojibwe (Anishinaabemowin) stories and help preserve an important First Nations language (read about the web site they created).

And Zack Taylor turned the recent municipal elections into a living laboratory for students in his University of Toronto Scarborough class. (Read the full story.)

But when do they sleep?
Throughout the year, the spotlight kept finding U of T’s high-achieving students (and recent grads). Undergrad Jessie MacAlpine wowed the audience at TedXUofT. (Read about MacAlpine and her mustard oil malaria treatment.) Two U of T students, Caroline Leps and Mustafa Abdalla, were named Rhodes Scholars (read the Rhodes story), while four U of T students were named Pierre Eliott Trudeau Foundation Scholars (read the Trudeau Scholar story) – just to name a few.

Tim Harrison showed the value of U of T's academic bridging program when he graduated with his PhD this spring and accepted a job as a tenure-track assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago – a position he chose over three postdoctoral fellowship offers. (Read about Harrison and the bridging program.) And Green Path graduate Serena Song headed to University of Rochester’s Simon Business School to get her PhD in accounting. (Read about the Green Path program.)

Recent grads also won recognition, from UTSC's Derrick Fung, named to Forbes Top 30 under 30 in music, to Faculty of Music graduate and MAGIC! guitarist Mark Pellizzer, who saw his single Rude hit #1 on Billboard.  

And this is how it all comes together
With its top-notch students and faculty, the University of Toronto continues to dominate in global rankings. Its library system is one of the top three in North America (read about the library) and its grads are ranked among the most employable in the world (read about the employability survey.)