Today we had a chat with Natalie Isber, Project Manager.
What’s your role at ONCAT?
I am a Project Manager at ONCAT. My main responsibilities are to coordinate and oversee internal system and process improvements. My work crosses over with all our different ONCAT teams, so I’m grateful for the view into each of the various roles. I am part of the Operations team, but in the quarters ahead, ONCAT will be focused on a number of IT system improvements, so I have also been working closely with the Technology and Transfer team. Upcoming ONCAT initiatives are exciting and focused on enhancing our tools to support ease of collaboration and overall efficiency.
What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?
I started my career at RBC and I worked there for 10 years in a variety of roles and responsibilities—starting as a customer service representative and moving on to project management and credit risk analysis. The roles were challenging and interesting, but after 10 years—and after completing my MBA—I decided I wanted to shift my focus from the private sector to non-profit work.
After RBC, I found a role at Matthew House, a non-profit where I had previously volunteered. Matthew House is focused on supporting refugee claimants arriving in Toronto. Through this experience, I worked with and managed a number of placement students and truly enjoyed supporting them as they navigated their next steps in education and work. Although not directly related to transfer, our conversations were often related to their educational and vocational options ahead and how to decide what path was the right one for them.
How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?
ONCAT’s work excites me because my own education options were limited for a number of internal and external reasons. Our work and the work of our members allows students to make decisions as they learn and grow. Life is complicated and messy—I think transfer options provide pathways for students to embrace the messy and benefit from the flexibility of learning and deciding as they go.
The work that I do indirectly improves transfer and I am proud to know that internal enhancements at ONCAT will drive change through our team members, our partners, and through the thoughtful and innovative initiatives ahead. The more efficiently we can work internally as a team, and the more seamlessly we connect with our members and stakeholders, the better we can achieve our mission to support transfer across Ontario.
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?
6% to 9% may seem like a small figure, but the number of students that make up that percentage is huge. I think transfer students are easily lost in the shuffle and could much more easily end up choosing not to graduate than students who join in year one and finish in year four. Because transfer student paths are not always clear or simple, this group of students calls for additional supports.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?
ONTransfer.ca as a tool blew my mind! Even putting in my courses from so many years ago was a surprising exercise. Who knew I could have transferred into a Ryerson Public Health undergraduate program? I definitely did not!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Right now, the most challenging part is being away from the office and not interacting with work colleagues face to face. It is not unique but it is the heavy truth.
If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?
Dear Natalie: just because you decided you wanted to be an accountant when you were 16 does not mean you have to be an accountant. This is the time to explore—take that photography class, book an appointment with a school counselor, use ALL the school resources available, take a year off, and take a breath. You have time.
Just for fun …
What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?
Pasta and red sauce—I’ve made a lot of lentil Bolognese recently but my feel-good food is any sauce on pasta topped with all the cheese.
What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?
My honeymoon was booked for Ghana in June 2020 but that obviously did not happen, so that trip is in the plans post-pandemic. Otherwise, I have not missed the line-ups, long waits, and uncomfortable seats related to flying so I am not rushing to get back in the air any time soon.
Cats or dogs?
I have to admit: neither. I am happy to hang out with your pets but I am also happy to head back to my pet-free home.
Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?
I just started Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and I am having a hard time putting it down. I recommend all of Brené Brown’s books but would get started with her podcasts. Her newest Dare to Lead is a powerful and constant reminder that leadership starts with being who you are. Tina Fey’s Bossypants brought me lots of joy.