Valerie Tam
Recent UTSC undergrad Valerie Tan, who graduated with high distinction, is now enrolled in law school (photo by Joel Clifton)
Thursday, November 7 - 2019
Elaine Smith

Although the U of T Scarborough Fall Convocation took place on Nov. 6, Valerie Tan (HBA, 2019) didn’t have the opportunity to cross the stage at Convocation Hall to receive her diploma. Instead, she was buried deep in her law studies at the University of Windsor.

Tan, a Calgary native who now calls Ontario home, will graduate in absentia with high distinction and a double major in city studies (co-op) and public policy and a minor in public law. She has a strong interest in both urban planning and communications and views law school as an important step in eventually branding herself as an urban communicator.

“I knew that I wanted to move on to law school eventually,” Tan says. “It’s part of my vision for the next steps.”

Tan tailored her undergraduate experiences to advance her career interests and broaden her understanding and skills: a co-op work term, a work-study position, a summer course abroad and student club activities.

She spent eight months in a co-op position with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, serving as a client service representative in the environmental approvals branch. She worked with stakeholders and provided information on Ministry regulations on projects that would have environmental impacts, both small- and large-scale.

“You had to understand the approval process, so it required a lot of work to learn the legislation and regulations and know who could provide the answers to complicated questions,” Tan said. “It could be a challenge communicating with people with complex demands, but I learned good communications and customer service skills, as well as problem-solving.

“I wanted to work for a government agency because I can envision wanting a role with municipal government someday. It was exciting seeing public policy in play.”

As a co-op student herself, Tan enjoyed her work-study opportunity in UTSC’s Co-op Program Office, since she could understand the perspectives of both the students and the staff. She worked on a number of communications- and branding-related projects, including creating information packages for prospective employers, conducting and reporting to management about a communications survey of co-op students and writing stories for the office’s website.

“I am glad I had the opportunity to go through the co-op process as a student and was then happy to help other co-op students based on my experience,” Tan said.

Her study abroad experience took place in Berlin where she took a political science course about immigration, refugees and migration.

“I highly recommend that all undergraduates get an experience abroad,” Tan said. “It really opens your perspective, and helped me understand my own story more as a child of immigrant parents.”

She also recommends being affiliated with a campus club or two. Tan served as the vice-president of communications for the Geography and City Studies Student Association where she ran networking events and helped organize the club’s annual case competition. This experience should serve her well in her new role as first-year representative for the UWindsor Planning and Municipal Law Association, while all of her branding and communications experiences have led Tan to a junior editor’s position with the UWindsor Review of Legal and Social Issues.

“UTSC prepared me for law school in terms of an academic foundation,” Tan said, “and my undergraduate years helped me discover my passions and limits in terms of what I can handle and take on.

“UTSC was a really good home for me. When I’d written my last exam, I felt very nostalgic about leaving. It was a valuable time of self-growth and development.”