For 11 graduates of a university pathway program, crossing the stage with certificates in hand marked the next important step on a journey towards a university degree.
Each had just completed the Transitional Year Program at U of T Scarborough (TYP@UTSC), an academic bridging program designed to empower students who have faced barriers to education and do not have the prerequisites for university admission.
“Participating in TYP was a fairy tale come true for me,” says Anya Nicola Henry, who was among the first cohort of TYP@UTSC graduates this past summer.
“I had almost given up on any thoughts of post-secondary education. The support I received from UTSC kept reminding me that I'm where I belong.”
TYP@UTSC allows students to take university-level courses in writing, math, English literature and the social sciences. Students also receive tailored mentorship and support from the Academic Advising & Career Centre, AccessAbility Services, the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and the Health & Wellness Centre. There is no charge to TYP@UTSC students for tuition, student fees or books.
The program's structure and spaces are intentionally rooted in Africentric principles, ensuring students feel confident that their lived experiences are valued. Built upon the longstanding legacy of the Transitional Year Program at the St. George campus, a program created nearly 50 years ago out of the activism of Black community members, TYP@UTSC is committed to honouring the wisdom of African-Indigenous leaders. The program specifically aims to engage Black communities, Indigenous communities and people of colour.
TYP@UTSC follows a cohort model, meaning students progress through the nine-month program together. The program helps build confidence in students to achieve their academic goals through peer and staff support. There is also additional programming support including assignment and exam preparation.
Upon completing the program, graduates can then enroll as an undergraduate student at U of T Scarborough with credits toward their degree in hand.
It took a leap of faith for Henry to apply to TYP@UTSC after first learning about it online.
She was working security at an event on the St. George campus and thought it would be cool to go from working at the university to studying there as an undergrad. That same night she put in her application and within a few weeks received an offer letter.
“Participating in TYP validated my motto in life: one day at a time," she says. "Just by keeping that motto in mind, it's really a blessing to find out that I can successfully apply it to my educational goals."
Henry, who relocated her family to Scarborough to be closer to campus, adds that her experience in the program helped refine her sense of curiosity and optimism.
“It makes me feel like I've unlocked a new superpower in regard to how much I love knowledge, research and education. If it wasn't for a program like this, it wouldn't be possible for me to come to that realization.”
Henry is now pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at U of T Scarborough (major in sociology). She’s also setting her sights on a doctoral degree, after being encouraged by the loved ones in her life. "Dr. Anya has a nice little ring to it. Myself and some very important people in my life love the sound of it too." she says.
Tara Greaves recalls the time serendipity met fate in a chance encounter with Denise Lopes, access programs coordinator at U of T Scarborough, at a community barbeque. The two struck up a conversation and Lopes encouraged Greaves to apply to TYP@UTSC.
“I was already on my steps up, but TYP made me go up a couple more levels,” says Greaves.
Education was always a priority for Greaves but with life changes, moving countries and starting a family, circumstances led her to take time off from her studies as she prioritized her new role as a mother.
For more than a decade her career focused on helping families in children’s aid services, but she constantly faced challenges when employers would overlook her application due to her academic route.
When the opportunity to participate in TYP@UTSC came up, Greaves didn’t hesitate to rekindle her lifelong dream of going back to school. “When I joined the program, people were like, ‘Oh, you're gonna have your nose in the air.’ And I'm like, ‘Well, my head was never down.’”
She says her decision to go back to school is helping lay a foundation for her son, who participates in the Imani Mentorship Program as a high school student and wants to be a scientist when he grows up. He was by her side when she graduated. “It made me feel so proud,” she says.
Greaves is currently studying sociology and city studies at U of T Scarborough to further her love of serving the community through an advocacy-based lens. “TYP confirmed I can be who I want to be as long as I put my mind to it.”
Programming with intention
One of students’ biggest advocates is Professor Kathy Liddle, TYP@UTSC director and special advisor on access. She says TYP@UTSC is more than just a collection of courses; it’s a supportive community of learners.
“We value community in all of its forms, both within and outside of the university,” says Liddle. “Building a program rooted in honouring students' cultural histories and identities is a key priority as we co-create more tailored, community-focused experiences for students."
TYP@UTSC faculty and staff are community-centered and trauma-informed. Each recognize the complex lived experiences that students bring into the classroom and how those experiences influence their ability to navigate post-secondary education.
“We begin with removing barriers wherever possible and offer support at every step along each student’s learning pathway,” says Professor William Gough, vice-principal academic and dean at U of T Scarborough.
“We continue by holding ourselves accountable, recognizing that each students’ success also requires a conducive environment in which they can see themselves in the curriculum, with an increased number of Black and Indigenous faculty and senior administrators, to ensure inclusive excellence."
Lopes says it’s incredibly rewarding to help those with a dream of attending university and earning a degree to reach their goals.
“To see them begin this journey with a mix of excitement and trepidation, and then see them develop their skills and confidence has been a gift for me. I really believe we are changing lives, not only of the students, but also their families.”