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Strangers become friends through dinners hosted by alumni

FINE DINING: Alumni Naraindra Prashad, Zita Prashad and Ann Clarke hosted a dinner event for students. (Photo by Zita Prashad.)

by Aurora Herrera

When strangers get together for a meal, it’s often a blind date. But in the case of Dinner with 12 Strangers, everyone leaves as friends.

The Dinner with 12 Strangers events organized this term by the alumni at U of T Scarborough are aimed at enabling current students to meet and engage with alumni from U of T Scarborough, said Kim Tull, manager, alumni relations.

“Many of our students are from out of town, so these small dinner events are a great opportunity to create a family feeling for them,” Tull says. “They help debunk the myth that the university is large and impersonal, and they put a human face on the campus. Students realize that they are so much more than just a face in the crowd, and these activities are a way to help them feel that the university and our people are accessible when they need us.”

Three such events have taken place recently. The dinner program was launched in November 2006 at the St. George campus with a meal hosted by Michael Deck, former president of the U of T Alumni Association.

The Pickering home of husband and wife Naraindra Prashad and Zita Prashad was the venue for a dinner in February that featured Caribbean dishes, jerk chicken and tropical fruits. Three alumni members hosted. They were: Narainda Prashad, past president of the U of T Scarborough Alumni Association (UTSCAA), Zita Prashad, former financial officer of the association, and Ann Clarke, College of Electors representative. Students in attendance were: Sangin Lee, Zhuolin Li, Jinya Viva Lu, Jiance Atom Wang, and Jennifer Zhu.

“The students were a great group and by the end of the evening everyone had really gotten to know one another,” said Naraindra Prashad. “We talked about our experiences here back when it was called ‘Scarborough College’, which interested them very much. In turn, the students described their experiences. It was enlightening for us to hear their perspective. We found out, for instance, that Prof. Mike Krashinsky was our professor and his son Harry (whom we knew when he was five years old) is now their professor. Although that made us feel old, we had fun and enjoyed talking with them.”

The third event in March was co-hosted by Vinitha Gengatharan and Devin Ragwen, both U of T Scarborough alumni. Gengatharan is current president of the alumni association, and Ragwen is the current College of Electors representative. This dinner took place at Bluff’s Restaurant on campus. Over curried vegetables and teriyaki chicken, students spoke about their career path and enthusiastically sought advice from alum and faculty.

Gengatharan and Ragwen welcomed everyone. Along with the two co-hosts, the other “strangers” included Prof. Marc Fournier and students Hillary Jun, Samantha Seto, Srimanti Nayak, Jennifer Zhu, Donald Hu, Amy Young, Jerry Jien, and myself, Aurora Herrera.

“We’re here for you and you can feel free to talk about your career path and ask questions about research or grad school,” Gengatharan said at the dinner. “We will give you our best advice.”

“Just listening to you guys takes me back to my undergrad days, when I was not sure where I was headed,” said Ragwen, a Bachelor of Science graduate who is now a financial analyst. “The best advice I can give you is to be happy in whatever you do and take pride in it. Wherever this university experience takes you, take pride in what you do and enjoy it -- as long as you do it will be amazing.”

Student Hilary Jun said that making connections with members of the university community can make a big difference in students’ lives. She said she first met Prof. Raymond Grinnell at a campus event early on in her first year in 2005. She said he made a great impression on her, and she keeps in contact with him and asks for his academic advice to this day.

“There are so many different kinds of interactions that a professor has with students, but often many of the interactions are about the minutiae of the course,” said Prof. Fournier. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to stop and step away from the little details of the particular courses you are doing right now and take a broader view of where you are in your education and the questions you have. This dinner is a great venue for that.”

By the time the dessert came, students said they felt rather comfortable with our hosts and fellow guests. They were strangers no more.

For more information on the Dinner with 12 Strangers or other Alumni events please contact or call (416) 287-5631.

Aurora Herrera is a fourth-year student in the joint journalism program offered by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College and currently working as an intern in the office of marketing and communications.



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