Fourth-year Asian Institute student Kai-Lin Cara Lew has been named one of this year’s Gordon Cressy Leadership Award winners! Congratulations Cara!

The Cressy Awards recognize outstanding leaders amongst graduating students at the University of Toronto who have made meaningful contributions to their communities on campus, or to the University as a whole. These students demonstrate dedication and leadership, and are committed to higher education and community service, as was Gordon Cressy was in his time as the University’s vice-president of development and university relations.

Cara shines in every department and organization that she has participated in during her undergraduate years at UofT, and exemplifies dedicated leadership, starting with her tenure as a Frosh Week Leader for Trinity College. Double majoring in Contemporary Asian Studies and Economics, she not only initiated and led a successful proposal for an international course module enabling ten students and one faculty member at the Asian Institute to travel to Burma to conduct research  this past February,but she was also an organizer of an independent research team at OISE that for three years analyzed English language aptitude of primary-age students in Ontario schools whose first language was not English. This project stemmed from a RA position at OISE in second year in which she tested students’ literacy skills in Regent Park to help create after school community-based intervention programs.  This inspired me to co-lead a research project on bilingual children’s vocabulary and reading comprehension skills,the result of which were reported at an international conference in Montreal this year. Cara further demonstrates her dedication dedication to community engagement through her work as a board advisor to the Youth Advisory Council for Plan Canada, and as a Peer Mentor in the Department of Economics.

These are only a brief highlighting of the many ways Cara has been an active and engaged member of the community here at  the University of Toronto. We asked Cara a few questions about her time at UofT, and this is what she had to say:

AI: If you could sum up your undergraduate experience in a few words, what would they be?

Cara Lew: Two words come to mind immediately: community and resilience. My undergraduate experience would not have been complete without the communities that I feel privileged to be a part of, including the Asian Institute, the Economics department, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and Trinity College. These communities, being so diverse, have been integral in allowing me to follow my different passions simultaneously, and even get in touch with my Asian roots. The word resilience is also very important to me because I’ve encountered some serious hardships along the way, particularly in this past year, and having the ability to persevere and continue moving forward has proven to be extremely valuable at school and in life in general.

AI: What are your plans after graduation?

CL: This summer, I hope to continue my Mandarin studies in Taipei, Taiwan and visit some of my family there. In September, I will start working at TD Securities in their Global Operations Leadership Associate program, which is a 2-year rotational position. I’m excited to learn more about international financial markets and the Canadian banking system, but I also have plans to pursue graduate studies. Currently, I’m leaning towards a program in economics for development or public policy.

 AI: If you could give one piece of advice to incoming U of T students, what would it be?

I think for U of T students, the most important piece of advice is to take charge of your own university experience. Whether it be by joining a club, forming a study group, talking to your professors after class, exploring research or professional opportunities being offered, I strongly encourage all students to get involved and become a part of a community. In a school of close to 50,000 students, it’s easy to feel like you’re just a number, but this can remedied by keeping your head up and making the most of your own education on your own terms.

 AI: Last year, you interviewed an AI student who received the Cressy Award; do you think being in an environment that challenges you to push yourself and surpass your expectations for success helps you become a leader, and do you think the Asian Institute is somewhere that allows you, and supports you to success in ways that are important to you, and does seeing other students in your program achieve success encourage you to push yourself to your own goals?

CL: Absolutely! I have met some truly exceptional people at UofT that I’ve grown to both respect and admire. Being in an environment where I’m surrounded by such people not only pushed me to excel in my academic and social involvements, but also inspired me to become a better person and leader. I feel so grateful to have received so much support over the years, especially from the faculty and staff at AI. It was with their help that a group of us were able to embark on a once in a lifetime research trip to Burma through the ICM program over reading week. On top of that, I’m always amazed by how much AI offers students outside of the classroom! From hosting guest speakers and networking events, to supporting student-led initiatives like INDePth and WORK+ASIA conferences, to giving students the opportunity to pursue research initiatives or studies abroad. I believe that joining the AI community was one of the best decisions I made during my time at UofT.