Today we had a chat with Ana Skinner, Manager, Funding Programs.
What’s your role at ONCAT?
I’m the Manager of Funding Programs at ONCAT. Grantmaking is a major part of how ONCAT supports credit system transformation in Ontario, and I get to work with my colleagues to design funding strategies that support transfer system improvements, in-demand pathway development, student mobility data and research projects, and transfer system learning collaboratives.
What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?
I worked for over a decade at the Laidlaw Foundation, designing and managing funding programs that support grassroots, youth-led strategies for making education systems, social services, justice systems, healthcare, and communities more accessible and inclusive for young people. A key portfolio I managed focused on Community-Based Education Strategies, which supported access to education and transitions to postsecondary for young people who were pushed out of the education system. These projects focused on supporting young people to attain credits and progress in their education through community-based strategies that embedded wraparound supports for students, more inclusive and relevant curricula, experiential education, and advocating for student success and policy changes.
This role definitely informed my understanding of postsecondary transfer, as many of the groups I worked with experienced streaming in high school—which directly impacts their options for postsecondary—or they had disruptions in their education because of interactions with the justice system, precarious housing, and other barriers. Many of these students experience non-linear and disrupted paths to postsecondary, which makes transfer pathways so important.
How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?
Funding helps bring ideas to life, supporting much-needed interventions and concrete actions. Our work helps incentivize system change and ensures resources are available for our partners to focus on transfer students. Our funding strategies are responsive to the changes students and institutions know are needed (based on their work on the ground), and we are proactive in pushing for student-centred approaches when they might not otherwise be a priority.
Broadly speaking, our mission resonates with me because transfer can help create greater equity for students and make it easier for students to pursue postsecondary careers that meet their needs—and that they are passionate about. And, on a personal level, I was a transfer student, and can remember handing over my sealed transcript to the admissions department, hoping for the best. I was lucky and had a really smooth experience, but it still required a degree of self-advocacy that puts the pressure on the student to navigate processes we have few insights into and where there are clear power imbalances.
Transfer students make up a relatively small amount of the Ontario postsecondary student population—approximately 6-9%. Why do you think postsecondary institutions should still focus on improving transfer student experiences?
Why wouldn’t an institution focus on improving its students’ experiences—whether transfer or direct entry? Transfer student experiences are an important way to assess how student-focused institutional processes are. Doing transfer well requires institutions to work together and see themselves as part of a provincial system that serves students. It requires strong internal collaboration across departments, a willingness to listen to students about their needs, and then a commitment to change, where needed, in order to ensure students transition well. Looking at the experiences of transfer students provides insights on changes and improvements that can have widespread benefits for other students and internal processes.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?
I was genuinely surprised to learn that not all undergraduate degrees offered by publicly assisted postsecondary institutions in Ontario are recognized as eligible prerequisites for graduate studies, professional degrees, and so forth. I think of students out there working hard to complete their credentials, only to find out they won’t be considered eligible to even apply to certain graduate or professional degrees because of the type of institution they attended, and how discouraging that must be.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Haha, at the moment work doesn’t seem nearly as challenging as parenting in a pandemic.
Grantmaking involves collaboration and working with others towards common goals. We might identify topics and priority areas, but it’s our project partners who bring them to life. It always feels like a bit of a drumroll when you launch a stream and wait to see whether applications come in. That can be a challenge because the volume of proposals impacts all sorts of internal processes. Communicating clearly what a funding stream is trying to achieve can be a challenge, too, because sometimes we use jargon without realizing it or prioritize topics/deliverables that don’t get picked up by our partners. It is not a static process, and we are refining, clarifying, and improving processes with each cycle.
If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?
If I could give my student-self some advice, it would be: it is okay for things to take a bit more time. Taking a little longer to finish your degree because you’re working part-time to pay for school is worth it. It’s okay to work school into your life: picking courses because it gives you a day off to create your own projects, get involved in your community, and to be part of building the world that you want to be a part of is worth it. And transferring schools after your first year, packing up and moving so you can study while building a life with your loved one is worth it.
Just for fun …
What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?
Is putting peanut butter on toast with sliced apples a recipe? It is definitely my go-to.
What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?
I’d pack up the kids and go visit grandma and grandpa in Stratford, to do all sorts of everyday things like grab a coffee, eat ice cream in town, visit the farmers market and have a sleepover.
Cats or dogs?
Dogs. If we could somehow swing a name change to ONDOG, I’d be game. Maybe the Ontario Department of Great(transfer-related)ness? One of my superpowers is coming up with acronyms ...
Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?
Well, that question puts the pressure on. Truthfully, I don’t watch much, and when I do, it's finding a sweet spot between something I want to see that the kids will also like. So, for anyone looking for things that appeal to 5-7 year olds and their caregivers, The Mandalorian has been a total blast. We are also watching our way through the Marvel Avengers movies in order (something like 23 movies in total), which is way more fun than I thought it would be. And for a change of pace, My Neighbor Totoro is our go-to for family movie night.
In terms of books, Homegoing, A Tale for the Time Being, and The Nightingale are a few books I’ve read recently that I couldn’t put down. I love all things witches, vampires, magical realism, and slightly dystopian, and ploughed through The Bone Witch trilogy in a week.