Fellows lunches offer students one-on-one time with Munk School experts, mentors
For many students, one of the most rewarding parts of the Munk School experience is the opportunity to interact with the school’s fellows. The chance to learn from a wide array of distinguished practitioners, academics, researchers and experts often opens up new areas of interest and new career paths for those in the School’s professional programs.
Although COVID-19 has prevented students from gathering in person with the school’s fellows this year, the school’s leadership found a different way for students to connect with them. Associate director of global engagement Peter Loewen arranged a series of virtual lunch meetings throughout March and April between Munk School fellows and students in the Master of Global Affairs (MGA) and Master of Public Policy (MPP) programs.
During their time at the school, fellows take part in a wide variety of activities, from giving guest lectures and providing guidance on capstone projects to taking part in student leadership initiatives. Some, like Paul Cadario, Thomas Kierans, and Connie Carter have played a key role in mentoring students, taking part in conferences and events, and by supporting students through scholarships.
“Our fellows are such a special group of people. They’re incredibly committed to our students and to building connections with them, to talking and working with them,” says Loewen. “Those relationships have been more difficult to maintain as a result of the pandemic, and so we set out to use these lunches to restore them.”
Prior to each lunch meeting, students indicated which fellows they were interested in learning from, based on their academic and career interests. They were then set up with fellows like Michael Valpy, Globe and Mail journalist and acclaimed author; John Stackhouse, senior vice-president in the CEO’s office at RBC and former editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail; and Sachin Aggarwal, CEO of Think Research. The virtual lunches allowed students to learn about the fellows’ careers, to ask questions about their areas of expertise, and to network with each other as well.
“For obvious reasons, connecting meaningfully with others has been rather difficult this past year,” says Renae Appadurai, a first-year MGA student. “These lunches have been a terrific opportunity to establish personal connections with amazing individuals and learn from their wealth of industry experience.”
Fellows often act as informal advisors, working with students to provide career advice, and even supervise or partner on academic ventures. For second-year MGA student Beatrice Libchaber, getting to know the School’s network of fellows led to a research project with Deanna Horton, a senior Munk School fellow. Under Horton’s guidance, Libchaber researched the relationships and economic ties between Canada and different Asian countries. “It has been great to grow these ties professionally and break out of the academic sphere in which I had been evolving so far,” said Libchaber.
“One of the most valuable things that happens when students speak with fellows is that they can start building a map and thinking about ‘How do I get from where I am to where you are?’” Loewen says. “We have so many fellows who have been down incredibly interesting career paths.”
Appadurai agrees. “Our conversations opened my eyes to a lot of possible career fields and opportunities that I wasn’t previously aware of,” she says. “I’ve particularly appreciated hearing about the fellows’ career journeys — it’s been encouraging to learn about how they overcame setbacks and have been able to have a positive impact on the world in their chosen fields.”
The lunches have also led students and fellows to connect beyond the events. “It creates this great relationship where after the lunches, you have fellows reaching out to follow up with students about topics or personal or academic projects that they discussed, and students can reach out to the fellows about continuing conversations, or career advice, or help with an internship,” Loewen says. “It’s been wonderful to help students make these connections because building and maintaining the strength of the relationships between our students and our fellows is such an important part of the Munk School.”