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It’s Never Too Late to Make Grand Plans

Exploring placement opportunities in social innovation

Meet Nordia Richards, a fourth-year student in the School of Social Work. This Fall, Nordia joined OSI to participate in our first piloted remote research opportunity for social work students. Like many of her classmates, Nordia was unsure of what a virtual placement would be like nor what learning outcomes would come from it. 

We sat down with Nordia in our ‘virtual office’ to talk about her experience in completing an online placement, as well as working in research for the first time. We also discussed Nordia’s personal journey in academia, looking at some of her present and future goals as she prepares for graduation.

What does social innovation mean to you?

For me, social innovation is bringing about new ways to inform social change within our society and the world that we live in. I believe social innovation is a vehicle that will allow me to break down systematic and systemic barriers that exist. 

“I want to be a voice for real change that impacts the systems that often create barriers for me and people who look like me. I want to be the voice and the change that is needed.”

What sparked your interest in social innovation and social justice work?

Social justice is of great interest to me as a Black woman who has experienced many forms of oppression within our society. As a future social worker, I am fired up to see systems of oppression and barriers removed. I want to be a voice for real change that impacts the systems that often create barriers for me and people who look like me. I want to be the voice and the change that is needed.

How did you first learn about the Office of Social Innovation (OSI)?

I was told about OSI through my social work placement coordinator. 

What led you to apply to work with OSI for your social work placement?

I decided to investigate OSI to see if it was the right fit for me to do my placement. I was intrigued after I went to OSI’s website and learned more about their overall vision. I saw buzzwords that sparked my interest, like social justice, equity, respect and reconciliation. When I saw these words, social innovation started to make sense to me. I also noticed that OSI did research, which interested me because I wanted to get some hands-on experience in research through this placement. I felt like if I were doing research in practice, it would make more sense to me. And honestly, it has, and I'm glad I took that leap!

Can you tell us about some of the projects you worked on with OSI this semester? 

This semester I worked on two projects. One was mapping student debt and its impact on post-secondary students who are depending on OSAP to complete their studies, as well as the factors that make current and future students eligible for OSAP. I researched what hinders a student from getting OSAP based on parental income and gathering parental information. I also created a systems map, which I had never done before, and I learned so much from it! The research opened up a lot of information on the OSAP process and how oppressive the whole system is. The other project I worked on was "Shifting the Spotlight" - which was a case study on the learning outcomes of students that were involved in social innovation in higher education.

Were there any new learnings or critical insights that stood out for you in these projects?

There were many for me! I learned how to write a literature review, and I gained new skills in research, such as coding and categorizing themes.

“I came into this placement not knowing where I would end up, and now there will be a published article with Nordia Richards on it! I'm so happy that I was a part of this. It was worth it in the end!”

Do you feel more ready now to take on research projects?

I'm more open to research after being in this placement. It's still scary and tedious, and I don't know if research will be my end goal, but I definitely wouldn't be opposed to working in a position that requires research. I came into this placement not knowing where I would end up, and now there will be a published article with Nordia Richards on it! I'm so happy that I was a part of this. It was worth it in the end!

What advice would you give to other social work students who want to get more involved with social innovation and social justice work?

I would say to be open to new ideas and never shy away from challenges - it's through those challenges that we stand to learn the most! Be willing to step back and enjoy the process as you map your own learning journey. Things have a way of taking their own turn, and sometimes you can end up in places you never thought you would be. It is all a process!

Lastly, what are you looking forward to in the new year? Are there any new projects you’ll be working on or events you’re looking forward to?

What I'm looking forward to is completing my final semester with a bang! Other than that, I don't have any grand plans. We’ll see what the future holds, but my single goal right now is just to finish my semester! 

"For me, it is a testimony to encourage anyone that it is never too late. Some people say you're peaking at 20, but I'm peaking at almost 40. This is my peaking time, and it is awesome!”

Finishing your last semester sounds like a grand plan to me!

It is, and I’m so proud of myself. I've made it! 

And my journey is a testimony in itself. My life did not go the direction that society says it's supposed to. Growing up, you hear you're supposed to finish high school and then you're supposed to go to university and right after that, you're supposed to get married and have kids. I did things the opposite way. I had my first child at 21, and then I started working, and my main goal was to provide for my child and myself. Then I got married, and before I got married, I bought a house and then I had to work harder! School wasn't something I could think of because I had a mortgage and children to care for.

Going to work every day, I was so frustrated, and I felt so defeated. People would say to me, “What do you have to be sad and down about? You have all of the things that we are all working for.” But I wasn't fulfilled, and I hated my job. Then one day, I decided I needed to do more. I started with college, and I was successful and graduated with honours. And then I got into Ryerson, and now I am almost there!

For me, it is a testimony to encourage anyone that it is never too late. Some people say you're peaking at 20, but I'm peaking at almost 40. This is my peaking time, and it is awesome!