Courtesy of Johnny Guatto​.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler has appointed Shauna Brail and John Brodhead as new urban advisors, in hopes of strengthening the relationship between the university and the city of Toronto.

As a major centre of research and innovation, U of T plays an important role in shaping Toronto’s cultural and political landscape.

“The University of Toronto has been committed to graduating well-educated citizens who work and live in the GTA, stimulating the economy through innovation and community involvement. The institution has also had a hand in city-building by affecting Toronto’s physical landscape and by contributing the efforts of its talented faculty and students towards tackling local social and economic issues,” said Gertler on U of T’s relationship to Toronto.

Brail and Brodhead

Brail is a senior lecturer in the urban studies department and has been involved in creating experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students, such as internship courses that match students with local organizations. She has also had experience working both within the government and the private sector, and hopes to use this experience to partner more civic organizations with the university and its students.

“[We] anticipate there being additional opportunities for students to participate in community engaged learning opportunities, through internships, placements, and collaborative university-community research initiatives,” said Brail, adding that students will have opportunities to engage with, and learn from, government agencies, non-profits and other civic organizations, which will give them access to contacts and work experience.

John Brodhead is a fellow at the Mowat Center for Public Policy and the current executive director of Evergreen CityWorks, a non-profit organization that focuses on solving urban environmental issues and promoting further understanding of urban processes. According to Brodhead, his focus areas are transport and housing.

John Brodhead.  Accelerate Collaborating for Sustainability Conference 2014 (Toronto, ON) by The Natural Step Canada is licensed under CC BY 2.0​ ​​​

John Brodhead.
Accelerate Collaborating for Sustainability Conference 2014 (Toronto, ON) by The Natural Step Canada is licensed under CC BY 2.0​ ​​​

“My hope is that by working with Dr. Brail and others in the university, we can engage students even more directly in the city building issues that they care about,” said Brodhead. “The U of T student body is a huge resource for this city and this region, and we need to ensure we are maximizing every opportunity we can to work with them on these critical issues.”

The student role 

When asked to comment on president Gertler’s new initiative, Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts and Science Student Union, said that Gertler’s latest initiative to increase the partnership between U of T and Toronto is a positive one.

“Being better integrated with the city should definitely be a priority of this university,” said Shihipar, who emphasized that part of U of T’s integration with the city should be an opportunity to become more active citizens by empowering marginalized communities in Toronto.

“Addressing transit, the high cost of housing, food security and other social justice issues in the city will have a positive impact on students and the issues they face,” said Shihipar. “We live in and around this city as well and there is considerable overlap between what is a student issue and what is a city issue.”

Gertler hopes that his initiative will attract even more of the world’s top professionals, students, and academics to the U of T community.

“This initiative definitely serves an enlightened self-interest because the more that the university can do to improve the quality of life in the city, the easier it will be to recruit great students and faculty. We have a lot of analytical power that can be used to help people and local organizations,” he said.

According to Gertler, though learning, research, and relevant work experience opportunities will be directed at undergraduate students for the time being, he hopes to extend the opportunities to graduate students, especially those in departments with urban interests, including the Munk School of Global Affairs, and the School of Public Policy.

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