It’s hard not to feel at ease around him: a warm smile always on his face, Eric Correia, the Department of Philosophy’s undergraduate administrator, will do what he can to make your life less stressful. He feels it’s simply his job: “I’ve always tried to look at things from the perspective of the individual in front of me—I want to help make it possible for them to do what they came to the University to do.” For faculty, that means to teach; for students, to learn. So Correia makes every effort to lighten the administrative load for instructors, and to aid in navigating the complex system that is the University of Toronto (U of T) for students. And he does it well. So well, in fact, that he was recently recognized with a 2020-2021 Dean’s Outstanding Staff Award for Student Life.
“There’s really no exaggerating how valuable Eric is to the department,” says Chair Martin Pickavé; “he runs the undergraduate office like clockwork.” Yet Correia’s efficiency comes buttressed with patience, administrative expertise, a sense of humour, and a friendly can-do attitude that makes all the difference, especially to undergraduate students sometimes intimidated or overwhelmed by the intricacies of university life in and beyond the classroom. Nicole Shi, co-president of the Philosophy Course Union (PCU), shares that Philosophy undergrads fondly refer to Correia “as our department’s ‘go-to,’” adding that he “has had a meaningful impact in helping me in both my academic and professional journey.”
Perhaps Correia, who has been with the department since 2011, understands undergraduates so well because he used to be one of them (BA 2005) and has worked in student services since beginning his bachelor’s degree as a Woodsworth College student in 2001. Yet he also takes an intense interest in the bigger picture of program development and enjoys “hearing the grand visions of the chairs and associate chairs, undergraduate” in an effort to help make them a reality, whether they concern focusing the curriculum and program requirements, growing enrolment and increasing capacity in popular courses, creating pathways into philosophy for budding scientists, or expanding offerings into underrepresented areas in philosophy.
Whatever the reason, Correia is “utterly extraordinary,” in the words of James John, who will start his term as associate chair, undergraduate, on July 1, 2021. We feel lucky to have him as a colleague and offer our heartfelt congratulations on his Outstanding Staff Award. Read on to learn a bit more about him in his own words.
- You received the Dean’s Student Life Award during a particularly challenging year. Can you speak to us about your work and what guided your approach? Did you have a mantra to keep your cool during this period?
This past year has required a lot of flexibility. Last year, I think we had re-do the timetable each time we received an update about the changing public health landscape and its effects on undergraduate teaching. I think I used the “Serenity Now” mantra from Seinfeld a few times to get past the busiest parts of the year. But I have to acknowledge our amazing faculty who transitioned to online teaching with relative ease. And our students, who were quick to learn the new systems and accompanying lingo (synchronous, asynchronous, dual delivery etc.).
- Looking back at the year, what element of your job did you find the most challenging/stressful and which the most rewarding?
Working from home has its challenges. It’s hard to feel “in touch” with the department when none of those people are actually around you. I actually miss chatting with my colleagues and staff members, as well as all the students (both grad and undergrad). It was always nice having someone from the PCU pop into my office to talk about their next event or to just hear their suggestions about how we can help improve the undergrad experience. But one of the most rewarding things is seeing how popular philosophy has become. It’s now the largest undergraduate humanities department in the Faculty of Arts & Science. I think the word is out that philosophy is complementary to any program of study.
- Is there a silver lining to the pandemic for you, both in terms of your role and personally?
The costs of the pandemic have been high, so it’s hard to see the silver lining in much of it. But we can find positive things. From a professional standpoint, I hope we are going to see more pedagogical innovation that increases and improves access. And as much as everyone wants to be back in the classroom, I believe from my own anecdotal evidence that there is an appetite among our students to incorporate some of technological lessons we’ve learned from this past year.
From a personal standpoint, I love that I get to spend more time with my wife and kids. When working in the office, I would leave the house before they were awake, and by the time I got home, they were having down time and just wanted to decompress without having to rehash the events of the day again (having already done so with my wife who worked mostly from home pre-pandemic). Now I get to hear firsthand all the stories about what’s happening with their friends and school life. But I still miss my work colleagues and hope that we can see each other face to face very soon.
- What does winning the award mean to you?
Winning this award is very special to me. Working at the Philosophy Department is more than just a job to me. I’m proud to be part of a world-renowned department that is asking and answering the big questions. And more importantly, I was actually very emotional reading some of the comments from the nomination. It means the world to me to be that appreciated by these amazing faculty members, students, and colleagues and friends.
- What does Eric Correia do outside of work? What brings joy?
Aside from spending time with my kids, I have a few things that I really like to do. My wife and I are foodies, so I love to cook and try new recipes. I’m a bit of a geek, so I’m always keeping up to date on my favourite fictional universes (you know, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings . . . that kind of thing). And as a family activity, I’ve taken to riding my bike around the neighbourhood with my kids.SHARE