Alexandra Guerson, a lecturer in world history at the International Foundation Program, has assumed the role of coordinator for New One: Learning without Borders, New College’s unique first-year foundation program. Guerson, who received her PhD in History and Jewish Studies from the University of Toronto in 2012, has for years worked to help incoming students from a range of backgrounds make a smooth and successful transition to university life, positioning her perfectly to coordinate New One as the program steps into its sixth year.

Culrly-haired and bespectacled woman standing sideways in front of a blue wall. Half-body portrait.

Dr. Alexandra Guerson de Oliveira

Asked to list New One’s three most distinguishing characteristics, Guerson pointed to engagement (both with the wider world and with their own education), the creation of a community of learning and the commitment to critical global citizenship. All three are possible thanks to New One’s small class sizes (a max of 25 students), a close relationship between instructors and students and a course structure focused on experiential learning. The latter means instructors take lessons beyond books and the classroom with field trips, visits to organizations external to U of T and the essential integration of guest speakers into the curriculum. They also encourage hands-on experience and engaged debate. At the moment, students can pick from four classes, each one split into two semesters — which means that if they really want to, they can take one class in the fall semester, another in the winter. Or they can stick with the same one throughout the year if they prefer. On offer this year are Digital Technology in Society; Food Matters; Science and Social Justice; and Travelling Words: Language and Diversity. While NEWtonians currently make up about 40 percent of participants, any first-year U of T student can apply to the program.

Guerson says anyone can benefit from New One’s unique structure: “The small class sizes can really help with the transition to such a huge institution as the University of Toronto. It provides community, a sense of agency and leaves students feeling seen and heard. Many of our participants continue the relationship with their professors in the program throughout university, working with them as references and mentors later on.” Students with diverse interests and academic goals feel drawn to the program, including students in the sciences, who find that New One helps them add breadth to their degrees — all in a highly supportive environment.

Guerson is excited to be leading a whole new team of instructors this year and looks forward to — as a group and with the input of students past and present — taking a critical look at New One’s evolution so far to evaluate successes, opportunities for growth and necessary changes.