When the worldwide pandemic forced most school systems to switch to online learning, Florida resident Susanne Diatzikis realized it afforded a unique opportunity to return to studies at the University of Toronto. Susanne realized upgrading the degree she completed in 1988 would provide additional opportunities in the U.S. Online course options were limited when Diatzikis had initially contacted the Office of the Registrar and Academic Advising several years prior.
This June, Diatzikis and three other Vic students were recognized as completing or upgrading a degree that they started before 2000. While the Faculty of Arts and Science no longer offers 15-course bachelor’s degrees, those registered before changes were first implemented can still complete three-year (15-course) degrees with the option to upgrade to 20-course degrees.
Victoria University’s registrar, Yvette Ali, noted growing numbers of re-registering students this past year. “One of the unexpected consequences of COVID-19 was the huge increase in the number of returning students from outside of the city or country,” she says. “Most decided to take advantage of the online courses available allowing them to complete their undergraduate degree from any location. It has been heartening to see these students re-engage with us at Victoria College. It was our pleasure to welcome them back to continue their academic journey.”
Diatzikis enjoyed the online format in the past academic year. “I admit technology is not my strong suit, but with my family’s support and the patience and understanding from course instructors and professors, the experience of online learning was a success,” she says. “I felt very connected to my professors and was extremely impressed with the quality of the lectures. The very few times a professor accidentally became muted, or a feed was interrupted, in no way hampered the high level of teaching that was offered during this past academic year.”
Diatzikis’ greatest challenge returning to full-time studies after three decades was staying on top of weekly readings and assignments. “As a full-time student I think it is important to be careful about how many other work or volunteer obligations you might have. I found I had to allow ample time to work through some of the readings and assignments. Staying organized and learning how to say ‘no’ is how I would characterize my approach to this past academic year. One of the online Vic sessions talked about how to prepare for online learning and suggested students take physical activity breaks and consider downloading readings in case of internet disruptions. These were useful tips. Although I was fortunate not to lose internet this past year, I found having readings in my files saved time from having to go back into Canvas or search a particular site to source it again.”
Diatzikis noted other differences when comparing her recent fine art history studies with her U of T experience three decades prior. “The significant changes include the variety of courses now offered, online research and the ease of writing essays using software. While I was not able to make use of curbside pickup for sources, I enjoyed the challenge of searching online sources. Course instructors and professors were able to provide students with tips and sites.”
Students who have been away from their studies for an extended period sometimes need to sharpen their learning and writing skills. In addition to support offered at the course level, other resources are available. Appointments customized to assignment research requirements are available with librarians. Vic Writing Centre instructors help students develop their capacity to plan, organize, write and revise papers. Learning strategists support learners at all stages of development, from those working to improve their grades to high performers figuring out next steps.
For mature students who are considering re-entering university, Diatzikis shared the following insight and encouragement. “Do it! I definitely feel that I was rusty, but think I kept up with my younger peers and applied myself more so than I had when I was a student many years ago. I discovered that I love research, whereas I did not feel as passionate about this as a younger student.”
Diatzikis’ commitment is evident in the excellent results she achieved this past challenging year and the successful completion of her degree upgrade. Congratulations, Susanne Diatzikis!