Trinity One

Margaret MacMillan Trinity One leadership team

(left to right) Prof. Joy Fitzgibbon, Susan He and Prof. Michael Kessler with Bear (foster dog)

Spotlight on members of the Trinity Community:  Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program

Posted December 2, 2020

When COVID-19 lockdown hit in March 2020, Trinity’s Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program leadership team had three top priorities: working with the current students and faculty to help them successfully complete the 2019-2020 academic year; preparing for the new cohort of students – helping first-year students transition to university and join the program in the fall; and making sure that everyone continues to be well supported during these challenging times.

We sat down (virtually) with the Trinity One leadership team to find out how the pandemic has shifted the program, to learn more about their students, to discover what’s in store for the rest of the year, and to get some words of wisdom to support students as they navigate the added stresses of online learning during COVID-19.

  • Joy Fitzgibbon, Associate Director of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program, and Trinity One Instructor
  • Susan He, Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program Coordinator
  • Michael Kessler, Raymond Pryke Chair, Director of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program, and Trinity One Instructor

These are their collective responses, followed by their personal experiences amid the pandemic.

Trinity College (TC): When you heard that the campus was going into lockdown due to COVID-19 in March, what was your initial reaction?

Trinity One (TO): Like many offices and programs, we began working on our online plans the same day we were told we could no longer run in-person events. Our number one priority was to maintain the integrity of our courses for the Trinity One students who had just three weeks left in their full year seminars. So many of these were building towards final projects and presentations and so we had to quickly adapt these for the online learning environment. Trinity One faculty worked very hard to ensure students received all the support they needed, and, as expected, it was the students whose hard work shone most brightly. We have been so impressed by their versatility and resilience through this process. The saddest part for us was to not be able to say goodbye to them in person.

TC: Tell us about your current Trinity One students, and how are they doing?

TO: We are privileged to have a diverse group of students in Trinity One. In the midst of the once in a century pandemic that we are living through, students are joining our online classes from around the world and demonstrating great fortitude and creativity as we all navigate these days together. We have students from 11 countries participating in one of our six streams. This truly international cohort of students bring diversity and vibrancy to our virtual seminar discussions. Students who are in different time zones are demonstrating flexibility and determination – attending classes that are held in the middle of the night their time and yet engaging with enthusiasm. One of the best stories this year, so far, is an international student who was having a conversation with her professor after class while making brownies in her kitchen because – well who does not like brownies? – but also because it would help her keep going through the next class. Her positivity and determination were infectious – in the best sense!

For first-year students who are making this transition to university, it is a challenging space in which to operate. The amount of screen time, the genuine anxiety around this pandemic and the workloads and requirements in university are a lot to handle. Our students are doing an exceptional job as they make this transition, despite the inevitable stress and challenges. Their commitment to learn, engage with enthusiasm and to navigate this new terrain to the best of their abilities is impressive.

TC: How has your program adapted to help students stay connected and supported, especially outside the virtual classroom, so they are getting the quintessential Trinity One experience?

TO: Even before moving online in March, the program existed as a vibrant online community utilizing the University’s platform Quercus. We have been using this platform to engage with our newly admitted group of students since June, giving them ample time to learn more about the expectations of the Trinity One program and university life in general. A team of program assistants – who are alumni, mentors and upper year students of the program – worked tirelessly during this transition phase.

We wanted to do everything we can to prepare our students. While in past years, we would hold a public speaking workshop a few weeks into term, this year we took advantage of the time between course enrollment and first week of class to practise seminar-style discussions over video conferencing and online discussion boards. Our students are keen so they were happy to start even before classes officially began!

Current students also receive one-on-one advising, attend virtual socials, and participate in study groups hosted by our amazing team of mentors. Our Instagram (@TrinityOneProgram) is quite active in showcasing interactions between students. Students have taken over the page to show a day in the life of a university student, recipes worth sharing, and hosting socially distanced activities.

TC: What has been the most challenging aspects of running the Trinity One Program amid a pandemic?

TO: There are three core challenges: First, is the significantly heavier workload brought about by the pandemic – adapting to new modalities and increasing needs. Second, is the fatigue caused by online platforms. Third, is the need to effectively manage the psychological stress of the pandemic – with ourselves, our colleagues and our students. Learning to navigate this diversity compassionately is essential. Above all we are responsible for keeping each other safe in this community – at Trinity, U of T and the City of Toronto. And we need to do so, finding ways to prevent alienation and loneliness while responding in effective and calming ways to fear.

TC: What has been the most rewarding aspect?

TO: There are indeed positive developments to this pandemic. This pandemic is helping us focus on what is essential in the classroom and to our students. Analytically, we must find new ways of communicating complex intellectual ideas in this online space. Online learning allows us to enter into each other’s private spaces and that informality has a way of breaking down barriers that might normally be present in a formal classroom setting. These challenges illuminate the need for kindness and grace in class discussions, encouraging us to be gentle with each other when something does not go right technologically or chuckling at delightful interruptions – like a dog barking or brothers and sisters asking an older sibling a question. There are also strengths to technology that we had not previously embraced and that we will need moving forward, even when we are free to meet in person again.

TC: Have there been any learnings that you will continue post-pandemic?

TO: The unknown forced us to be creative and open to change. The faculty have been extremely open to trying new things and paying attention to their students as the term progresses. This is an attitude that the Trinity One leadership team recognize we must continue to do going forward even when the university reopens for in-person teaching. We will come out of it with a broader outlook, better tools for teaching and learning, and overall more resiliency as a program.

TC: What’s in store for the program for the rest of the 2020-21 academic year?

TO: In keeping with past years, the program ends the fall term with some kind of holiday celebration. While it won’t be Christmas crackers or Secret Santa this year, we will be hosting de-stressor activities and providing some holiday care packages to students for self-care and wellness as students head into exam season. In term two, the program has typically helped students work towards building careers and academic skills for research and job searches – this year is no different, students will still aim to turn their Trinity One coursework into a research presentation for an undergraduate conference taking place at the College in March 2021.

Trinity One is also a culturally diverse program, with students bring their experiences from all parts of the globe – that is what makes many of the discussions in class so enriching. This year we are doing more to embrace this diversity outside of the classroom as well. We want students to share through food and arts how they celebrate significant holidays in different parts of the world. We realized this around the time of Canadian Thanksgiving, that not everyone eats turkey for Thanksgiving, or that it’s celebrated in the fall. We hope continue to promote diversity and cultural awareness throughout the year.

TC: Any advice for students as they head into the end of the term and final exams?

TO: Yes! Pace yourself. Academic life is a marathon, not a sprint. Try to break your work down into manageable chunks and don’t over commit yourself with additional responsibilities. Focus on what matters. In the midst, be abundantly kind with yourself. Do not feel guilty if you do not do everything perfectly. Prioritize your own sustained well-being. Take time to eat well, rest, exercise and do things (safely) that you enjoy and that are life giving for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the academic and personal supports that we offer here at Trinity. We are here to walk with you on this journey and we care about you and want to see you succeed. Sometimes, all you will need is some additional support to get through what might feel like an insurmountable problem but is not – whether managing a challenging schedule or dealing with anxiety and stress. Finally, keep all of this in perspective as much as possible. We will get through this pandemic. As Professor David Fisman [U of T infectious diseases epidemiologist] reminds us, pandemics have a beginning, a middle and an end. Despite the challenges in this moment, there is much to be hopeful for.


Rapid Fire Questions:

TC: Since the start of the pandemic, what has been…

Professor Joy Fitzgibbon

TC: Since the start of the pandemic, what has been…

…the one thing that you look forward to every day/week?
JF: Talking with my students and hearing their insights.

…the one thing that you dread to do every day?
JF: Email! It is an avalanche. Does anyone actually keep up?

…your most surprising moment?
JF: That we can make strong interpersonal connections in an online space and that seminars can feel engaged and vibrant on Zoom.

… your biggest challenge?
JF: Pacing myself and saying no when needed to the plethora of requests coming my way when it is truly impossible to meet them all without compromising my health and well-being.

… the thing you miss, or miss doing, the most?
JF: Travel

… the best way for you to stay connected with others?
JF: I am more connected in this time than I ever have been before. I am not meeting with anyone in person. So, I meet via Zoom so I can see people’s faces and communicate in a more human way. Texting with my close friends. Oh, and there is also the old fashioned phone. I do not feel deprived.

… your most memorable technology fail or success?
JF: My first attempt at using Zoom’s whiteboard. It is less than intuitive. My students were very understanding and we got through it!

…the one thing you enjoy the most about working remotely?
JF: Working remotely is far more efficient and I accomplish more in a day. I save time travelling and I love working in my home. It is my refuge. I do not take this privilege for granted.

…the one thing you enjoy the least about working remotely?
JF: The risk of work and home life boundaries not being respected.

… your new-found hobby or activity?
JF: I don’t have time for a hobby right now! I am now ordering online like never before. Grocery shopping online is brilliant. I am actually saving money too.

… the one thing you purchased that you would have never have bought before?
JF: A professional mic for my online recordings.

…your (new) favourite food or item to eat/cook/bake?
JF: I don’t have a new one. I simply love making pies. Making pies makes me happy. Martha Stewart’s food processor pastry recipe is brilliant. I also love Mexican, Spanish, Thai and Indian food but I have much to learn on that front. My Mom gave me an authentic Mexican cookbook and so that has given me confidence. Spanish, Thai and Indian approaches to cooking are a work in progress for me but it is fun!

…your favourite way to spend time at home?
JF: With my Dad. Watching Netflix or great movies – either political thrillers, detective shows or light rom coms. Going for walks together and cooking together.

… the last show/series you binge-watched?
JF: Re-runs of an old detective show The Closer. Kyra Sedgewick rocks.

… the show/series/movie/book you recommend to others?
JF: Any book written by the Harvard anthropologist and medical doctor, Dr. Paul Farmer including Pathologies of Power. Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor his new book Fevers Feuds and Diamonds. Ebola and the Ravages of History, as well as the documentary film that is now on Netflix, Bending the Arc, which discusses the powerful impact of the NGO Partners in Health that he and his colleagues – including former World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim – founded. John Lewis, Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, Dr. Henri Nouwen, both Life of the Beloved and Wounded Healer, Gustavo Guitierrez, A Theology of Liberation. Chunghah Rhee, Damn Delicious and any cookbook by Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson. TV Series – in addition to the The Closer, other older shows like The West Wing (in order to restore a more hopeful and rightly ordered vision for what political life can be) and M*A*S*H (the long running TV series starring Alan Alda which reveals the cost of war in multiple dimensions.)  Movies: The Post, Charlie Wilson’s War, Amazing Grace and 42. Also, Cirque du Soleil streamed from YouTube – they are posting amazing clips and full-length versions of their shows throughout the pandemic.

…the thing you can now do without?
JF: Suits (not the show but the clothing).

… the thing you can now not live without?
JF: My computer

… the thing that brings you the most joy?
JF: My faith

… the first thing you will do when physical-distancing restriction are lifted and/or when the pandemic is over?
JF: Travel to Paris, Scotland, Ireland, UK, Greece, Thailand, Vietnam, Canada – the Maritimes, the West, Quebec and Nunavut.

… the best lesson or thing you learned that you will continue post-pandemic?
JF: Life is precious. Live it with intention, compassion and honour.

Susan He

TC: Since the start of the pandemic, what has been…

… the one thing that you look forward to every day/week?
SH: Going out to get groceries!

… your biggest challenge?
SH: Maintain a work-life balance when your home becomes your office and residence.

… your most memorable technology fail or success?
SH: Technology fail: manually adding 100+ guests in Zoom breakout rooms for orientation. Luckily, the faculty had my back and helped fill the silence in the meeting room while I was assigning guests to breakout rooms, not once, not twice, at least three times!

… your new-found hobby or activity?
SH: Cooking and baking from scratch.

… the one thing you purchased that you would have never have bought before?
SH: Indoor plants.

… the thing you can now not live without?
SH: Microsoft Teams – it has made scheduling team meetings and chatting in real time a breeze.

Professor Michael Kessler

TC: Since the start of the pandemic, what has been…

… the one thing that you look forward to every day/week?
MK: My bike ride in to work. I have chosen to come in one day a week to teach in an empty classroom so that I can continue to write on a blackboard and get chalk all over my clothes. These things are, to me, inseparable from teaching.

… the one thing that you dread to do every day/week?
MK: Laundry. Somehow I am using more clothes during the pandemic. This doesn’t make any sense.

… the thing you miss, or miss doing, the most?
MK: Hugging my mother on a regular basis.

… your (new) favourite food or item to eat/cook/bake?
MK: Pickled shishito peppers.

… your favourite way to spend time at home?
MK: Reorganizing my record collection.

… the show/series/movie/book you recommend to others?
MK: Two suggestions for these turbulent times: 1) The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood. 2) The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Both are dystopian page turners.

… the thing you can now do without?
MK: Zoom

… the thing you can now not live without?
MK: Noise cancelling headphones.


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About The Margaret Macmillan Trinity One Program:

The Trinity One Program was established in 2005 to offer discussion-based seminar courses to first-year students in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T. The interdisciplinary program provides students the opportunity to explore major issues and ideas pertaining to human life and world affairs, while in a small-group environment conducive to deep discussion, interaction and mentorship with faculty through classroom learning and co-curricular programs. The small community also allows students to get to know their peers and study with Trinity’s exceptional faculty. The Trinity One program has six streams: Anne Steacy Biomedical Health; Anne Steacy Medicine & Global Health; Butterfield Environment & Sustainability; Ethics, Society & Law; International Relations; and Policy, Philosophy & Economics.

Interested in the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program for September 2021?

Join us for an information session with student mentors and program staff: Saturday November 28 at 7 pm EST or Saturday, December 5, 2020 at 10 am EST via Zoom.

Questions? Contact:

Susan He
Program Coordinator, Margaret MacMillan Trinity One
trinityone@trinity.utoronto.ca