U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

Fall Convocation: Meet Kathleen Olmstead

Mature student and staff member Kathleen Olmstead with instructor Adam Hammond (photo by Caz Zyvatkauskas)

When Kathleen Olmstead returned to the classroom almost 20 years after beginning her degree, she realized being a mature student had its benefits.

“It’s sometimes fun to be older than others in the class,” says Olmstead. “I mean, I could actually talk about the Reagan years from having experienced them.”

Olmstead, communications co-ordinator for U of T’s Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI), decided to take a Scientific Revolutions class for fun when she returned to the university as an employee.

“I really enjoyed it and thought maybe I can finish that degree I started in 1988. And I did! I may never have taken this opportunity if I hadn’t been working here.”

When she took a break from her studies in the middle of her third year, Olmstead knew that although she loved learning, she wasn’t ready for the rigid academic schedule demanded by her English and History degree requirements. Falling in love with Toronto and everything that that city had to offer, she wanted time explore on her own terms and at her own speed.

Olmstead focused on her writing, becoming an author and poet. Over the years, she has published more than a dozen titles for young adults, fiction and non-fiction, including books about the untold history of television. She joined ARP Books, a publishing collective. Olmstead also wrote, directed and produced several films.

When she choose to attend classes again in 2008, Olmstead found she was ready to learn in a way she hadn’t been before.

“When I first started university, I didn’t have the confidence to ask for help. I let myself get lost,” she says. “It made all the difference when I was willing to admit when I didn’t know something and needed to know more.”

Although it was difficult to juggle classes, work and freelance writing, Olmstead persevered and found herself invigorated by the classes and the enthusiasm of her classmates. Some of her favorites, such as digital texts, examining perspectives of narratives such as video games, didn’t even exist back in the 1980s.

“This time around, I knew I had a perspective to offer and was willing to speak more,” Olmstead says. “The more I put into it, the more I got out of it.”

Carol Rolheiser, director of the CTSI, says that Olmstead’s perseverance and commitment to learning, the support provided by family, friends and colleagues, and the opportunities provided by U of T contributed to the successful completion of her degree as a full-time employee.

"Kathleen's journey and her success is both a personal and professional triumph,” says Rolheiser. “What a wonderful achievement of a long-term goal!”

Although Olmstead isn’t ruling out further studies, for now she’ll be concentrating on making art. “Nothing’s permanent, though,” she says. “The best thing about making a decision is you can always make another one.”

Olmstead received her Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from University College Nov. 12.