Photography by Jackie Shapiro
Sous Chef, Food Services
Chef Tiffany Chin has been working with Food Services at the St. George campus of U of T for almost seven years. She started out at Chestnut, then moved to New College, went to the MSB food court for a while and is now back at Chestnut.
“I really like moving around on campus, it’s about growth as a Chef and there is always something new to learn at each place. There’s a difference, for example, between the retail settings on campus and what we do here at Chestnut. Here, there’s a much bigger volume because of St. George Catering and events. At New College, you have to have the skills for large scale residential meal preparation,” she explains.
One thing that Chef Tiffany truly values at U of T is its diversity.
“We have students and colleagues here from so many different backgrounds and places. It’s so interesting to learn about everyone and interact with them. With students in particular, we kind of see them growing up in real time. It’s especially important to be there for them when they are so far from home,” she says.
A typical shift at Chestnut means being on the go all the time. Weekend shifts start early, at 6:30 AM. Other shifts could include working in the evening and at night with the App Kitchen, a service provided to students via the U of T mobile ordering app that enables them to order and pick up food from between 5-11 PM.
“The “pickup and go” element of the app is something that we are really proud of developing and it’s been really great for students. Our students live at Chestnut, but they take their classes on main campus. They can be there all day, so it’s very important for them to be able to order and get something to eat when they get back with their Meal Plan if it’s after hours,” she explains.
Having transitioned from the fast-paced and intensely competitive atmosphere of Toronto’s restaurant world to the University of Toronto, Chef Tiffany says she appreciates the feeling of equality between colleagues, male and female among the culinary staff.
“I really value the ability to grow as a chef, and as a woman, and that nobody is pinned between male and female,” she says.
“As colleagues, we all talk to one another. We are also friendly with the students, and they know us on a first-name basis. It’s great because they feel comfortable giving feedback and ideas to us. For example, recently, a student who had attended boarding school in the past said that he loved when they got to have “breakfast for dinner” in their dining hall. We liked the idea, too, so we tried it,” she says.
Chef Tiffany says that Chestnut is a great place to work. But the main thing for her and her colleagues is making Chestnut as friendly and homey a place as possible for students.
“We want our students to feel as comfortable as possible here. We are here with them every day, much like family and it really doesn’t take much to be kind,” she adds.
Director, University Family Housing
Gloria Cuneo is the Director of University Family Housing for Spaces & Experiences at the St. George Campus. Her career at U of T spans several decades and she says it has been heartening as a woman to see the evolution of the University’s integration of women in particular and the diversity of its employees in general.
“U of T embraces the diversity of all gender types whether it’s gender-based or otherwise, and that makes working at the University a very open and accepting environment,” she says.
When Gloria first started working at the University, there were few women in leadership roles. That has certainly changed over the years, and she says it is heartening to see the many ways in which women have made their mark at U of T and continue to contribute so greatly to the institution.
“The barriers that I experienced when I joined are not ones that younger employees face today. Younger generations are able to stand on the shoulders of others that came before them. We have dispelled many of the older notions of leadership and now embrace the idea that gender doesn’t play a role in whether someone can take on leadership roles. This is an institution that wants people to succeed and be examples to others,” she says.
Gloria notes that although the situation for women on campus and in the work force in general has improved tremendously, there are still barriers to break down, and there is still work that needs to be done as a society, for women and also for other individuals.
“We need to continue to do the work so that we can provide an open and inclusive environment for everyone to achieve their goals and their career aspirations. As a world-class institution, we strive to be a good example to everyone, in terms of post-secondary education, within our city and to the entire country,” she adds.
Commercial Leasing Analyst, Real Estate Partnerships
Priscilla Guimaraes-Aviado started working at U of T in September 2019. Her first day of work was also the first day of school.
“I remember walking around campus those first few days with all the students; it was really exciting,” she recalls.
Unfortunately, the liveliness of campus life was to be short-lived. Within a few months, the Covid-19 pandemic had hit, and everything on campus and, indeed, throughout the world reverted to remote and Zoom models of life. And now, as life has returned to normal for the most part, Priscilla says that she is enjoying the opportunity of getting to know the campus itself better and meeting other colleagues and University staff in person.
The road to the Real Estate department at U of T St. George was a long one. Pricilla moved to Canada at age 19, completely by herself from Brazil.
“I always say though that I didn’t choose Canada; Canada chose me,” she says.
“What happened was that I went to college for travel and tourism studies and then did an internship at a local travel agency. While working there, I heard about a contest run by Air Canada to win a free ticket to visit Canada. It was a promotional contest, so I entered and won,” she adds.
Priscilla decided to take her trip in November or December because she had never seen snow before. She wanted to see a Canadian winter. She got her ticket and booked it for the end of November. Luckily, she was able to stay with a Brazilian friend who had previously immigrated to Canada with his father.
“I was born in December, and the first snowfall of the season that year came on my birthday. So, I took that as a sign that I was meant to stay here, and after consulting with my family, I began the process of staying on through the live-in caregiver program,” she says.
After working as a nanny and learning to speak English on the job, Priscilla got a job as an Executive Assistant with an insurance company within their real estate department. From there, she moved to another insurance company and worked in the VP of Marketing’s office. A combination of these skills led to her current position of Leasing Analyst for the Real Estate division within Spaces & Experiences.
“I have had such amazing mentors here at U of T; my bosses have all been so great. My first boss, Josh Mitchell, was just fantastic and a true mentor. And now, I’m really lucky to work with Scott Mabury and Anne MacDonald. I love working on the client-facing side of our department now. Previously, I was more on the administrative side,” she says.
“There has definitely been a learning curve, but we have this amazing product called U of T. It’s something that everyone wants, which makes our jobs so much easier,” she adds.
Priscilla says that her experience with U of T in general, and Spaces & Experiences in particular, has been so positive and encouraging.
“My experience with the University has been very positive. This is a wonderful place to work and grow, with so much going on. It’s just a great place to be,” she says, smiling.
Catering Manager, Food Services
Telisha Mensah has been with the University since 2016 and last year, became the Catering Manager for Food Services here within Spaces & Experiences. As the first person of contact for catering clients, customer service is her priority. Providing the highest level of service possible is something she is passionate about along with building lasting connections and relationships with everyone she works with.
“I really enjoy making things easier for people who are planning an important event and taking the stress out of it for them. We have a really amazing team here at Food Services. I work with the kitchen team on the food, the delivery team on the logistics and with the other members of the catering team and we all work collaboratively to make events special and deliver the highest level of service,” she says.
Telisha says one of the best things about her job is getting to meet different people throughout the campus and also getting to see the campus itself.
“The campus is so beautiful, and all the buildings are different. There are so many hidden gems, and beautiful architecture. I love going into the old buildings to deliver, it’s so interesting to see things on campus that are part of history,” she adds.
U of T, she says, is a really open-minded place to work, and one that welcomes and supports women into leadership roles. In fact, it was largely due to the unrelenting encouragement of her supervisor, Rob Grieve-Director of Catering and Event Services, that she decided to apply for her current managerial role. Spaces & Experiences prides itself on being a workplace within the University that encourages women to take their careers to the next level.
Telisha says she feels really lucky to work at such a special place, with such a great team, and that her days filled with laughter and enjoyment.
Cashier, Food Services
Gloria Rasing has worked at Chestnut for almost thirty years. She started off when the building was a hotel and stayed in her position as a cashier when the University acquired the building and turned it into the residence that it is today. Rasing is more than just a cashier in the dining hall. She is truly a kind of den mother to all the residents, and frequently gets invited to their weddings, sees former students when they come back to Toronto to visit, introducing her to their families, spouses, and their own children.
Gloria, who isn’t on social media much herself, says that her own kids are constantly showing her photos that she has been tagged in, of former students who have come back to Chestnut just say hi and get a hug.
“I have always loved talking to people and working with students especially,” she says. “I get a real sense of satisfaction from making people feel good and providing good customer service. The students appreciate that someone is here for them when they are far away from home. Even simple things like saying good morning, asking them how they are, and how their day is going-these things mean a lot,” she adds.
When people ask what she does for work, Gloria always tells people how lucky she feels to this kind of a job.
“Even if I have a small role, I feel so blessed to be able to make a big impact in someone’s life. Just recently, a young woman who was in residence here told me at the end of the school year how I affected her life. We would have conversations and she revealed to me that she thought she was really ugly.
I told her how beautiful she was, and at the end of the year she told me that I really changed her life, and she looked at herself differently after that, like the beautiful young woman she is,” she says.
Gloria says that her family has always been her example in this regard.
“My family taught me that you don’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer to command respect or to be respected. What makes me happy is when I can make someone happy. For example, when the students were all stuck in their rooms getting boxed meals during the Covid period, I wrote little notes on their boxes to cheer them up-just little things to make them feel better and less alone,” she says.
Gloria says her family emphasized caring about others and respecting others and taught her that the best and most important thing in life is to have a good heart. She says that she has had such a good life, and that’s why it’s even more important to her to help people who are less fortunate than she has been. This is something she has also passed on to her children by example. On her birthday and on Christmas, she feeds less fortunate children and helps the elderly and helps people in her homeland.
“A young woman from the Philippines whose education I helped fund has become a teacher and is now helping others by teaching in her community.”
“I’ve taught my children to be humble and respectful, and they know that I don’t want to leave this world without doing something to help people,” she says, smiling.
Room Attendant, Chestnut Residence
Rossana Santos is a single mother of two young children and came to Canada in 2006 on the live-in caregiver program. She works in the housekeeping department at Chestnut and has been with the University of Toronto for seven years.
“When I first came to Canada, I worked with an amazing family. They travelled quite a bit and I didn’t have kids at that time. I was able to travel with them and saw a lot of the world. Eventually, I got married and had my kids. I was fortunate to be able to stay at home with them when they were very young,” she says.
“When they got a little older, I began to look for work and I had a great lead as a medical office administrator. I actually studied nursing in the Philippines and am a registered nurse, but it was extremely difficult to get re-certified here in Canada, so I took a program here in medical office administration,” she adds.
“Unfortunately, around that time, I separated from my husband, and the job opportunity also fell through. I really needed a job, and then a friend who worked here at Chestnut told me about a position that was open here. It was entry level, and I thought to myself ‘this is an amazing opportunity’. So, I applied and got the job, and here I am seven years later,” she says.
Rossana is responsible for cleaning twenty-four student residence rooms every day, and the common spaces at Chestnut. But she has a natural affinity with the students in residence and loves to talk to them and get to know them through her work.
“Being an immigrant myself, I know what it feels like to be away from home. Even if the students are from Canada, but from other cities, it still is really different for them when it’s their first time being away from their parents,” she explains.
“I like for them to know that there is someone here for them, that they have a safe and clean place to come back to after school and that someone is here to take care of them. These students are still pretty young, especially in first year. That’s actually one of the reasons that first-year students have to be in double rooms-it makes sure that they are not really ever alone and helps them avoid feelings of isolation. It gives them a nice feeling of transition, and a way to feel ‘at home’ here,” she says.
Rossana says that she used to live in a dormitory when she was in nursing school so she can also relate to the students on that level.
“I really love working here, it’s the atmosphere, and working with these young people is amazing. There’s always good energy here,” she says.