Welcome to Staff Spotlight, where we give the members of #RyersonSA the opportunity to discuss everything from their own approach to the industry to their favourite literature. Swing by to get to know your colleagues a little bit better.

Position: Manager Student Affairs Storytelling
Department: Special Projects

What’s the first thing you do when you come into the office?

I like to stop and say hello to anyone who is around. Generally that’s not too many people though, because I’m at the office starting at 8 am. It’s a bit lonely, but I get a lot done before there are many people about.

In your view what makes Ryerson unique?

I’ve worked at 4 institutions of postsecondary education and I’ve been at Ryerson the longest, including my own alma mater. I think that sums up how I feel about our school. We’re so different from other places because of how Ryerson evolved, our physical location, and most importantly, the people who choose to be here. Most of us came here because we saw a culture of “we”—rather than a culture of “me”—and stayed because we were welcomed to help form that culture once we got here. The students at Ryerson are special, and different from other places that I’ve worked. They’re diverse, talented, and curious and of course, entrepreneurial and are always astounding me. I love coming to work because I never know exactly what will come next, and it makes my work exciting.

What is something that you wish more people knew about about your position?

The beauty of my current role is that many people aren’t entirely sure what it is that I do. I’m looking forward to building a foundation and exploring the possibilities of using assessment to support storytelling. Typically we talk about two purposes for assessment: accountability and improvement, but the reality is that we can do both of those things and more if we start to think about it from a perspective of meaning-making. Assessment is really the mindset of finding out the truth so that we can find meaning and share it with others. What, how, and when we choose to share those understandings will define who we become. So basically, my job is to help us figure out the real meaning within our work and then how best to translate it for our community.

What made you to decide to work in Student Affairs?  If you hadn’t chosen SA, what would you be doing right now?

I would be a highschool biology and chemistry teacher. I was all ready to head to New Zealand to go to teacher’s college in Christchurch, and as I was about to post my first payment in the mail I received my acceptance to grad school in Higher Education & Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University. Honestly, I still had some back and forth about whether to go into teaching because really…Bowling Green or New Zealand? But my long-term goals and passion for higher education won out and I made my home in the American mid-west for 2 years.

Where is your favourite place to be outside of work?

I do love to travel, but lately, my favourite place to be outside of work is at home with my family.

What’s your favourite book?

Such a tough question. I love historical fiction and high fantasy. Harry Potter is a go to. I’m a big fan of anything by Guy Gavriel Kay and Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy is masterfully written. I also read a lot of non-fiction, and right now my reads are all focused on…duh duh duh! Assessment.

What’s your top App?

If I go by usage, then it has to be the baby monitor app on my phone. We used IP cams as baby monitors so I can make sure the kids are sleeping, or have a few minutes warning that they’re stirring. If you mean my favourite app, right now it’s Pepperplate which is this great recipe and menu planning software that I use to keep my family fed. I can upload recipes into it just by pasting links, add dishes to a weekly planner and generate shopping lists. Since I started using it, we eat so much better at the D’Souza house.

Name the individual(s) who have made the greatest impact in your career?

Well that’s such an interesting question, isn’t it. It depends on how you look at impact. Sometimes small insignificant actions on the part of a person make huge differences to others. At the beginning of my Student Affairs journey, I’d say that my mentor and friend Zdravko Gunjevic helped me to identify Student Affairs as a possible career. In my summer working for him, we attended the Ontario Orientation Planning Specialists (that’s right, OOPS) Conference in Waterloo and I heard Chris McGrath do a keynote on millennial students in which he talked about going to graduate school in the US. That was the moment I knew I had found a path forward that felt like a great fit. Since then, there have been many impactful people. Glen Weppler was a very important mentor for me, who I still find myself quoting in my daily management work. After long believing that I was not cut out to manage, he taught me to believe in my skills again. Jen Gonzales has been and continues to be a teacher, confidante, and all-round amazing female role model for me. My identity as a professional woman has developed with a lot of help from her acting as a sounding board, and at times by challenging my thought process.

What’s something about you that people are always surprised to learn?

Young Doctors in Love lead singer—Lesley!
Young Doctors in Love lead singer—Lesley! Photo credit: John Papamarko,

A lot of people are surprised when they find out that I have a long history of singing performance. I minored in vocal performance during university and performed in musical theatre and opera. I was the lead singer in a band for about 5 years. We were called “Young Doctors in Love” and we played festivals like NXNE & Canadian Music Week, and released two albums while I performed with them. They’re still out there writing, playing, and touring, but I’ve since hung up my guitar; late night Toronto rehearsals didn’t really mesh with toddler and infant bedtimes. It was an amazing part of my life that I still miss sometimes. I’m on the hunt for musical outlets, so if you ever want to jam, or start a Student Affairs choir, look me up!

What’s your favourite spot on campus?

I love Lake Devo when it’s full of water in the summer. It makes me reflective which is so valuable in our hectic and sometimes reactive line of work.

Sounds and sights of morning at #Ryerson. #reflections #peaceful

A video posted by Lesley DSouza (@lesleydsz) on

What’s your self-care like?

Right now, it’s lacking a bit. As a commuter, most of my “me” time is spent on a train with dozens of strangers packed in beside me. I’ve learned to use that time for myself to prepare for the day or to decompress before I get home, but I’m looking forward to getting back into music and working out once my kids are a bit older and more self-sufficient.

What is something you are doing to increase the impact of Student Affairs at Ryerson?

I’m tackling strategic assessment. Already I’m finding that people are collecting hordes of data that is collecting dust. I’m excited to help us be strategic about collecting information that we know we need, and will definitely use. I think that a lot of the anxiety about assessment comes in large part from a misunderstanding of how much work it should be. If we put more thought into what we actually need to help make our story powerful, we’ll find that it means less time spent on data collection. It lets us get to the important parts of our work, doing it and telling people the truth about it.

When I started working in Student Affairs I wish I had known:

I wish I’d known that there is a natural progression that starts to move you away from daily interactions with students. It was scary and painful to see it start to happen as I moved into positions of leadership and management. I had tied my love of Student Affairs tightly to the students I was working with and it meant that I had moments of doubt about my fit in this field as I realized I would eventually have less and less contact with the people I wanted to serve. What I didn’t realize is that the mentoring relationships I loved would continue, although students would be partially replaced by newer professionals. And I know that I can maintain  contact with students if I am committed to making time for it. There are outcomes that I can’t achieve in my job if I allow myself to become completely removed from the student experience. It’s been a long learning curve, and I would have saved myself a lot of anxiety at the beginning of my career if I’d known I could still get these transformational interactions even as I moved up in the organization.

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