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Meet the “ON-Cats”: Carolyn Poplak

August 17, 2021

Meet the ON-Cats is a recurring interview series profiling ONCAT’s A-team of transfer experts and aficionados. Grab a beverage, pull up a chair, and get to know the team that’s helping to reduce barriers for students looking to transfer between colleges, universities, and Indigenous Institutes across Ontario.

Today we had a chat with 
Carolyn Poplak, Manager, Sector Engagement

What’s your role at ONCAT?

I am ONCAT’s Manager, Sector Engagement.

What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?

Before ONCAT, I spent almost 20 years working in the social services and community health sector. My work was very similar to what I do at ONCAT, which included working with organizations at the provincial and federal levels to build relationships and develop interconnected projects. I also spent several years as a volunteer advisor and then an instructor in Centennial College’s community development program.

How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?

Transfer is by its nature a collaborative effort. To build pathways and articulation agreements, we need to support and champion partnerships and relationships across and between institutions.

ONCAT’s mission resonates with me because I do believe once students enter a postsecondary institution they are part of a system. If the system as a whole works better—and processes and services are streamlined—that serves the student.

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?

Several barriers that students face in transfer are echoed in other aspects of the system. This may include prior learning recognition, change in income or family dynamics, or mental health challenges. In any area where we can improve systems and processes, this only serves students in the long run.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?

Coming from the health sector—which is very focused on data and outcomes—I was eager to understand more about the PSE realm and the knowledge around how data is (or is not) used for decision-making.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Transfer is by its nature process work. Building relationships and implementing projects can take a long time, especially if there are many players at the table. Sometimes I wish change could happen yesterday.

If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?

Keep up the good work, kid.

Just for fun…

What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?

I’m always in the mood for good tacos.

What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?

Oh, India. How I miss you.

Cats or dogs?

Both. And pigs. And birds. And rabbits. Isn’t the world divisive enough?

Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?

About 17 years ago I was reading Dostoyevksy’s The Idiot. While reading it, I found a little stray kitten and she became by companion for 17 years. I named her after the titular character, Prince Myshkin. She died this year, so I downloaded the audio book and have been listening to it. A really brilliant piece of literature that still has relevance today. And reminds me of my sweet cat.

Stay tuned for more interviews as blog posts or in our upcoming newsletters. To learn more about our team and how we’re working to remove barriers to postsecondary transfer in Ontario, visit

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