Today we had a chat with Dr. Roger Pizarro Milian, Senior Researcher.
What’s your role at ONCAT?
I am currently the Senior Researcher at ONCAT. That makes me responsible for the development and execution of the organization’s research plan. Broadly, this includes the production of knowledge, both in-house and via funded projects, of research that examines the predictors and outcomes of student mobility.
What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?
Prior to ONCAT, I was a Senior Research Associate at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM). There, I worked with an ambitious team that secured federal funds for the Future Skills Centre (FSC), International Innovation and Inclusion Network (IIIN), and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH). Before that, I was a post-doctoral researcher at Nipissing University, where I studied north/south and rural/urban disparities in educational attainment.
None of my previous work focused specifically on transfer. This is a very niche area within education research. However, I had broad pre-existing academic interests in the predictors/consequences of educational attainment and student pathways.
How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?
At ONCAT, what our work boils down to is trying to facilitate student transitions. We want to make it easier for students to have prior learning recognized and reduce the likelihood that they will suffer credit loss when they transfer. I see my work—in large part—as consisting of:
- Identifying the predictors of transfer, so that we can build more effective student supports that facilitate transfer;
- Mapping transfer flows, so that we can more strategically articulate pathways between programs and institutions in our sector;
- Documenting transfer student outcomes, so that we can—again—implement supports to ensure transfer students are not disadvantaged by their more complex pathways.
This work really resonates with me given that I am both a first generation PSE student and an immigrant. I recognize that my trajectory is statistically unlikely for someone with my traits. Many of the people I grew up with, including my closest friends, had very different outcomes. This is partly because they were unable to navigate the education system effectively. I hope that my work at ONCAT is able to move the needle for those lucky enough to make it into Ontario PSE, and who just need that extra bit of support to transfer credits and complete their credential. We all deserve a system that doesn’t throw unnecessary barriers our way.
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?
Transfers are a small percentage of the PSE student body, but the latter group is vast. So, a percentage point still represents thousands of students. We can’t neglect that group, especially when it includes many who come from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. In addition, I would say that, for every transfer student in the system, there are many more outside of it that are discouraged from enrolling because of the complexity of transferring credits, or the perception (or reality) that they will receive limited credit for prior coursework.
I think that, beyond doing the “right thing,” institutions would be silly to neglect the size of this prospective student market, especially as competition for students intensifies.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?
I’m really fortunate to work with very talented, and far more experienced, colleagues. I think the most interesting, but also frustrating, thing that I have learned is how slowly complex systems like PSE change. Even when you are pushing for positive change—when you are certainly on the right side of history—there’s often a significant amount of compromise and negotiation that goes on. Watching my colleagues handle this process, keeping a positive outlook, and the long-term goal in mind, has been really inspiring.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The absence of data. Most people think that ONCAT, as a creation of the provincial government, has privileged access to Ministry data. But we really don’t get access to anything beyond what the average researcher can get their hands on. This makes my job difficult, as I constantly have to think about creative workarounds, such as custom data-linkages or drawing on Statistics Canada data, to answer basic questions about transfer in Ontario. While challenging, this is also my favourite part of the job thus far, as it requires not only technical expertise, but also, collaboration with some of the most intelligent data people in our sector.
If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?
Keep paddling! Focus on the things that are under your control. The harder you work, the luckier you will get.
Just for fun …
What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?
Ice cream. Any kind. Anywhere. I will try it all.
What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?
I’d like to travel to Europe in a post-pandemic world. I’ve scratched some countries off of my bucket list over the last few years, but still want to explore France and Germany.
Cats or dogs?
Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?
Do Stata manuals count?