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Changing academic path was 'greatest decision I have made' says Masooma Ali

Masooma Ali, who recently graduated with a honours bachelor of arts in City Studies and Public Policy, celebrated convocation on November 8. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Masooma Ali is a self-described city person.

“I love cities,” says Ali, who celebrated convocation on Nov. 8 after completing an honours bachelor of arts with majors in City Studies and Public Policy and a minor in Urban Governance.

“I’ve always felt at home in a densely populated area surrounded by people.”

Born in New York City, Ali arrived in Canada at age 11. By her second year at U of T Scarborough, Ali no longer wanted to pursue a major in Political Science so she enrolled in a Canadian Cities and Planning course and the experience set her on a new academic path. 

The City Studies program includes streams in City Building; City Governance and Community Development. Students learn the many ways urban planning and policy impact individual quality of life.

“Transportation policy fascinates me,” says Ali, a recipient of a Department of Human Geography Outstanding Student Award. “The more connected neighborhoods are, the more positively it affects lives.”

Ali notes a highlight of her time as undergrad included supervising research for a report on the future Light Rail Transit (LRT) route linking U of T Scarborough to Kennedy subway station and downtown Toronto.

“The LRT will change the neighborhood’s dynamic,” says Ali, adding the report analyzed ways to effectively intensify the surrounding area for future walkability and livability. 

The well-traveled Ali also enjoyed comparing Toronto’s more manageable subway system with the denser, Paris Métro, the London Underground and New York subway systems as well as the Tokyo and Yokohama subway systems.

“It’s not a class thing,” she says, noting in those cities commuters of all socio-economic classes access local transit for its convenience.

Last July, Ali travelled to Japan for a Human Geography field trip to learn about different urbanization concerns and issues. The trip exposed her to the Japanese concept of machizukuri, or community action, where neighbors empower themselves to create solutions. 

In Yokohama’s illegal, red light district, residents approached government policy makers to develop artist studios to enhance their community. On the other hand, in Tokyo residents in a low-income neighborhood of wooden homes and factories are threatened by future earthquake and fire predictions. They established an area with accessible emergency supplies.

Ali has an insatiable appetite for learning. She’s already applied for to the Master’s program in Urban Planning.  She also hopes to keep travelling throughout her life because it combines her interests in design and photography with her love of architecture and city buildings.  

If Ali has learned anything from her time at U of T Scarborough, it’s to have an open mind and be excited about the different paths available to her.

"I had a completely different plan when I arrived at U of T Scarborough but obviously that plan didn't pan out as I supposed it would,” she says.

“But instead of giving up I remained open to other possibilities and it was the greatest decision I have made. I love what I learned so much so that I consider my education to be just the beginning." 

© University of Toronto Scarborough