Partner Stories: Meet Megan from the University of Toronto

At Cookhouse Labs, we work closely with young talent from around the world to introduce a fresh perspective to real industry challenges. One of our favorite (and longest!) partnerships is with the University of Toronto — here’s an insight into our collaborations with Megan Whitehead-Douglas, Assistant Manager, Employer Relations & Career Development. 

Megan, thank you for joining us today! Before we dive into the story behind our collaboration, let’s start with a quick introduction of yourself and your role at UoT. 

I’ve worked at the University of Toronto for more than 14 years, and I’ve been in the Department of Statistical Sciences for almost three years. In my role as Assistant Manager, Employer Relations and Career Development, I get to support students as they navigate the world of work and career development and help them with their next steps once they decide what they would like to do. 

Thank you for that intro! So, part of this career development work is our partnership, where your students can work closely with insurance professionals within our community, which is always a pleasure for us. Could you speak more about how the collaboration began? 

I first met Ibeth and Sven at the downtown Toronto Lab space, somewhere in the Fall of 2019. They had reached out to me at the department to see how we could collaborate and invited me to visit the space so they could give me some background on the Lab. I was lucky to also be invited to their holiday party, and I still have the apron they gave me as a holiday gift! They began to save room for undergraduate students at their innovation events to aid the students in their career development. I really appreciated that gesture, especially because I was new in my role and trying to find ways to engage students. Our partnership has just grown from there, and the students now participate in many of the other activities you offer, such as the Summer Bootcamp. 

Oh wow, what a great story! Since then, how has this partnership evolved and improved? 

At the beginning of any collaboration, you’re trying to understand what the other party is about and build trust. Now we have a better sense of just all the amazing things that Cookhouse is doing to make insurance relevant and inclusive, which is onboard with how we want our students to work in the world. Your team has a good grasp of the industry and what employers want.  

The improvement is that it feels like we’ve known each other for a long time, because it’s so easy to work with each other. The partnership has evolved in the sense that we now have a better understanding of what each group can do, and we know how to use our skills to support students even better. 

After these activities and events, what type of feedback have you received from students? 

They’ve always enjoyed the events! Any time a student has had the opportunity to participate — nothing but positive comments. What they’re most surprised about is what Ibeth and the team can get out of them. Students are pleasantly surprised to learn that when they trust themselves and the Design Thinking process, they can practice clearer and more empathetic thinking. They are more creative than they expect, and they enjoy the experience, because they get to exercise their technical skills and improve upon their communication and other soft skills that employers demand.  

Yes, they get to put a hackathon on their resume, for example. The part I hear most about is how much they learn about themselves in the process, and that’s really helpful too. This is a key component of experiential learning, which is where our department and the university as a whole is headed. 

Happy to hear that you received that kind of feedback! Coming to your own perspective now; when you look back, what is your favorite memory from this collaboration? 

I always leave meetings with the Cookhouse team with a smile on my face and ideas flowing in my head, so it’s tough to pick a favorite. If I can be sneaky, I have a tie between two.  

The first meeting was fantastic. Not only were we inspired by your space, but I had also brought along a student worker who the team was so welcoming and respectful towards, which stood out to me.  

The second memory is of the recent Summer Bootcamp. Not only from a logistical sense, but also working with your team is very pleasant. I know everything will be handled professionally. I know it takes a lot of work, so thank you! Seeing the journey of the students and what they came up with while working with amazing mentors was just heartwarming, and you could tell how much it meant to them. It made me proud of them and proud of the program! 

We really enjoy working with you too! Final question: Is there anything you would like to add? 

I just want to thank the Cookhouse team. The ideas that come out of the Lab are incredible and the enthusiasm is infectious. We enjoy playing in your space. This is a collaboration that I hope we can continue for a really long time! 

Megan, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We enjoy collaborating with you and University of Toronto, and can’t wait to see the exciting solutions that come out of our upcoming Bootcamp!