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'Give your curiosity free rein': U of T grad Michael Bol offers words of wisdom to incoming students

Michael Bol, a member of Victoria College, says his interests led him to co-found the South Sudan Development Club and be involved in a number of other organizations and associations (photo courtesy of Michael Bol)

Michael Bol speaks from experience when he offers a piece of advice to incoming University of Toronto students: Get involved.

The Victoria College member — who graduated with an honours bachelor of arts degree this week — co-founded the South Sudan Development Club, aimed at creating a safe space for South Sudanese students and working with marginalized South Sudanese communities to create lasting social change.

He also chaired New College’s Swahili Cultural Showcase, an event celebrating the diversity and rich culture of the Swahili language, and served as an executive member of the East African Student Association and was also an active member of both the Black and African Student Associations.

Bol joined U of T as a World University Service of Canada (WUSC) student. The non-profit development organization, which focuses on education, employment and empowerment for youth around the world, provides post-secondary education opportunities for refugee students on Canadian campuses through its student refugee program. He also served as a WUSC refugee student representative at Victoria College.

Arts & Science News writer Alexa Zulak spoke to Bol about his academic interests – he majored in geographic information systems and minored in human geography and African studies – and what, if anything, he’d do differently if he could go back to first year.

What did you study and why?

I was drawn to geographic information systems (GIS) and human geography during my first year. A few of my friends spoke about the role of GIS and remote sensing and it really appealed to me. However, it wasn’t until after my second year that I began to develop a highly specific interest in GIS, spatial analysis and remote sensing.

What’s inspiring about GIS is that it’s a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present a variety of spatial and geographical data. GIS is used in a variety of industries to help in planning and monitoring.

What advice would you give your first-year self?

One of the first things I noticed about being a U of T student is that everything moves quickly – professors, instructors, TAs, students and time. I used to find this frustrating, trying desperately to rush through my assignments at a breakneck speed and throwing myself into activities without really thinking.

If I could go back, I would allocate my time more effectively, with a more flexible mindset. I would also try to engage more with colleagues, attend more campus and career talks and make good use of school facilities.

What have been some of your most memorable experiences at U of T?

My experiences have been amazing. I have learned and experienced so many new things in such a short period of time – it has gone by so fast and I’m still discovering all the opportunities that U of T offers.

The freedom to choose my major, my friends and what I do with my time have been memorable. Also, exploring different clubs, associations and becoming involved with things that I’m interested in was amazing.

What would you say to someone considering U of T and Victoria College?

Slow down. Things are going to be thrown at you and it can get overwhelming. Breathe, ground yourself and look at doing the things you really want to do – don’t do things for the sake of it.

Group up. The work is likely going to be hard. Find a group of people to study with. With each person participating a bit, you will get things done.

Be intentional with your time and energy. Track what you do, review the results and adjust accordingly. Be open to unfamiliar surroundings, take advantage of the resources and opportunities at Victoria College and find ways to engage.

Above all, explore, give your curiosity free rein and don’t let your program confine you.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you're planning for the future?

A few of my future goals include leading an entrepreneurial team in some capacity, starting my own company and getting involved in learning as much as I can until I eventually take on a leadership role. I prefer to work with others and I believe that I could thrive as a leader if given the chance.

June 11, 2020

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