2020 U of T Student Leadership Award Recipient: Timothy Spadzinski

The University of Toronto Student Leadership Award recognizes graduating students for their exemplary contributions and significant impact at U of T and on the university experience of their peers. This year, two MScOT students (Class of 2020) received this prestigious award: Timothy Spadzinski and Karishma Patel. Tim and Karishma shared their perspectives on leadership as occupational therapy students.

What motivates you to take on leadership roles?

Back in June, we were asked to reflect on what leadership meant to us and how it has framed our perspectives throughout the OT program. The following is what I wrote, and it seems fitting to share once again:

From books we gain knowledge. From experience we gain understanding. And through knowledge and understanding we find wisdom. To be wise, you have to know when and how to use the knowledge you have, and that comes from understanding. Acting when you should and not when you want to, helping others grow instead of telling them what to do, and putting others first are all signs of a wise leader. Now, having said this, it might sound like I am saying I have attained and perfected this skill, but that is certainly not the case. I have had opportunity to gain knowledge from books, and experienced many different leadership opportunities, but I believe to be a leader is to forever be in a state of learning and growing. This is the mentality I have tried to maintain throughout my time as an OT student – a student of life. I believe having this mentality has helped me develop as a professional and contributed to my growth as a leader.
So to answer the question, what motivates me to take on leadership roles is the opportunity for personal growth and the ability to learn and develop with those around me.

Tell me about the leadership role(s) you are most proud of, and why.

Last year was the first year that the OT program expanded to University of  Toronto Mississauga (UTM), and I was lucky enough to have been a part of this beginning. Within a few months, I will also be a part of the first graduating cohort from the UTM campus. But getting here certainly came with a number of hurdles to overcome. The biggest being the limited voice we seemed to have in terms of what resources were available to the UTM students and the opportunities we had to develop as OTs. Having said this, the leadership role I am most proud of was in advocating for our own UTM MScOT student council. This year was the first of our UTM student council, and I was very proud to have played a hand in its development and proud to have been voted in as its first co-president. Having been in this role, I was able to provide current and future UTM OT students with an opportunity to have their voices heard on a greater platform and advocate for growth and development in their community – something I hope continues well into the future.

What advice or support can you give to students who would like to be active leaders but are unsure how to get started?

My advice to any student is quite simple and does not need to be complicated – take a chance! The leadership roles I have been blessed with came by speaking with those in my immediate community to see what needs there were and taking a chance on developing a solution. Yes, it might not stick right away, but if you don’t throw the dart, you’ll never hit the target. Only when you take the chance, see what the outcome might be, and make adjustments accordingly can you begin to develop these opportunities for yourself and others.

Do you have any role models who supported and encouraged your leadership capabilities, and if so, what did they do to support you?

When it comes to leadership, it’s important to have a support group that is encouraging and motivating, but who also tells you the truth even though you may not want to hear it sometimes. This role for me was fulfilled by my parents. They have always been such amazing role models and have encouraged me to be a leader through living by example, and making sure to balance the responsibilities and stressors that come with academia with positive life experiences within the communities I find myself in. By simply listening and guiding me through stressful times, I have learned the value of just being there for someone.

How did it feel to be nominated for this award, and to be a recipient?

To be honest, I was only made aware that this award existed when I was nominated by one of my professors, and I was somewhat hesitant to even send in the application once being nominated. I found it quite difficult and awkward to write about some of the things I have done as a leader because these accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of my classmates and the others in my program. That being said, I was honoured to be nominated and extremely blessed to have been selected as a recipient. To be recognized for my contributions to the growth of the OT program and the UTM cohort is such an honour that I will cherish forever. But again, I could not have done this without my support system around me.

Sandra Sokoloff
August 5, 2020