Alvinder Pal Singh, better known as Alvin, was a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and a teaching assistant (TA) at UTM. He died on September 13 from cancer. He was 30 years old.
Singh was diagnosed with cancer over the summer and was “left without an income for the foreseeable future,” according to a GoFundMe page set up by Cindy Short, the lab coordinator at the Department of Biology at UTM, to help support Singh while he underwent treatment.
The fundraiser raised $33,700 from 719 people since it was posted on August 30. Following Singh’s death, Short posted an update on September 14, noting that the funds would be given to his surviving family.
In July, Singh was scheduled to attend a science education conference.
“He was late getting there because he was getting his cancer diagnosis at Sunnybrook Hospital that morning, and he still came to the conference,” Fiona Rawle, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, said to The Varsity. “He said that he didn’t want to let anything dictate what was important to him.”
Singh’s teaching career started in the summer of 2011. He was a TA for 15 courses in the Department of Biology, six in the Department of Mathematical & Computational Sciences, and one in the Department of Psychology.
He taught a total of 93 sessions, which included tutorials and labs, from 2011–2019, and was also a guest lecturer in three courses at the Department of Biology.
Singh was a TA in Rawle’s courses for several years and worked as one of her research assistants.
“He wanted to be in charge of what was important to him,” said Rawle. “And he put so much of himself into… what was important to him.”
Singh was awarded the June Scott Teaching Excellence Award for Teaching Assistants for 2013–2014. The award recognizes TAs for demonstrating enthusiasm for a subject, engaging with students, and encouraging them to learn the course material.
“He wanted to make students feel at ease and he wanted to support them,” said Rawle. “He’s well known for long colour-coded emails and detailed instructions to students that are quite helpful, and also in midterms and exams, he would be the one to do all the announcements.”
The comments on Singh’s fundraiser also attest to Singh’s penchant for teaching.
“Alvin was a warm and supportive TA, and he made me feel like I could succeed. He will be missed so much,” wrote Heba Faroohki, a former student of Singh.
Faroohki’s comment is just one of 113 from people who have left comments on the fundraiser’s page.
“The fact that there have been hundreds of grieving students on campus really shows how many people [Singh] touched,” said Rawle. “You could see that in everything he did, in terms of teaching students — he wouldn’t just teach them the content of the course.”
“He was really concerned about how they were learning and what their experience was like, and how he can make it better for them.”
Christoph Richter, a professor in the Department of Biology who worked with Singh, echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Varsity. Richter teaches introductory biology courses, including BIO153: Diversity of Organisms.
That happened to be the first course that Singh taught in the summer of 2011. It would also be the last course he would teach, in the spring of 2019.
“He was really concerned and worried and cared a lot about the students that he interacted with,” said Richter. “He would do office hours until late at night; he would just be totally committed to the… students.”
Singh’s love for education began at a young age.
Short recalled a speech at the memorial service given by Singh’s brother. “At his memorial service, [he]… talked about how Alvin, even at a young age, would teach [Alvin’s brother] and so he put together… different lessons,” said Short to The Varsity. “[Singh] would develop his own courses, and he would put together syllabi for his make-believe courses and he would make tests for his brother to do.”
According to Rawle, Singh was also known for carrying around a notebook with him with a quote that read: “Wherever you are, be all there. Be present.”
Rawle knew that Singh liked the quote because she observed that when Singh finished one notebook, he would cut out the quote and move it to the next one.
“That, to me, is what Alvin was,” she said. “Alvin was present… he would always focus on you and give you his full attention.”
“Alvin really made [students] feel valued, and made them feel important. [He] made them feel like they could succeed.”