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Convocation 2023: Meet Irmak Erdem

Dean of Students
June 19, 2023

“Woodsworth truly became my home away from home."

Irmak Erdem in Toronto

By Emma Culpeper

When Irmak Erdem walks across the stage at Convocation Hall on June 22, she takes with her not only a hard-earned Honours Bachelor of Science degree but also a wealth of work experience that she gained as a student at Woodsworth College.

From Challenge to Opportunity

As a high school student in Ankara, Turkey, Irmak began researching her post-secondary options and immediately became drawn to U of T. She had heard great things about the city of Toronto and was excited to learn that at U of T, she would be able to combine studies in the Life Sciences with some of her favourite humanities disciplines such as art history and philosophy.

But Irmak’s first year at U of T proved to be more challenging than she had expected. It was difficult to be away from home while adapting to university-level classes and trying to make friends. “I had this idea of what my university life was supposed to look like, and when it didn’t, it destroyed me,” says Irmak. “It took me a while to get out of that mindset and overcome the obstacle that was me - since I was holding myself back,” she adds.

Viewed in another way, these obstacles soon became a source of strength for Irmak. “I do believe that everything happens for a reason,” she says, “and that my struggles during my first year allowed me to develop and grow, figure out what works for me, and apply that in the upcoming years.”

Giving Back

Irmak was able to build upon her challenging first-year experiences to help her fellow students. She became highly involved with the Woodsworth College Students’ Association: first as the registration director for Orientation 2020 and Gala 2020, then as the services and initiatives assistant in 2020-2021, and then finally as the orientation coordinator and associate director of athletic affairs in 2021-2022. “These positions allowed me to share my personal experiences with others to help guide and ease their transitions into university,” says Irmak. “I have always had a passion for leadership roles and mentorship, but through these roles, I was actually able to make a difference and create an impact on the student body,” she adds.

Irmak has also been a mentor for Woodsworth’s summer e-mentorship program three years running and is currently the summer programs coordinator working with the Office of the Dean of Students. In addition, she is an international student experience ambassador at the Centre for International Experience and is a past events manager for the U of T Women’s Student Association.

Irmak believes that working in these roles helped to shape her for the better and to become a more understanding and patient person. “Apart from the work experience and skills that I gained, I learned so much about the school and the student body as well as myself and my limits through these positions,” says Irmak. “It has been a very fulfilling experience and I am very grateful to have been given these opportunities.”

The Woodsworth Experience

Some of Irmak’s fondest undergraduate memories are from the time she spent living in residence – in fact, most of her closest friends are folks she met in residence during her first year. “Residence life was incredible,” says Irmak. “Woodsworth truly became my home away from home,” she adds.

Irmak also treasures her memories from Orientation 2022 – the first in-person orientation held at Woodsworth since 2019, due to the pandemic. “As leaders, we went all out with the painting and screaming and chanting,” says Irmak. “I made positive memories that I will cherish forever -  it was totally worth losing my voice from all the screaming!”

Irmak is grateful to have been part of a college that offers so many opportunities for student engagement, and being part of the Woodsworth community allowed her to grow both academically and socially. “I gained a lot of work experience and a lot of leadership and mentoring experience through Woodsworth,” says Irmak, “and these experiences most certainly changed me for the better.”

Academic Achievements and Beyond

Irmak Erdem in front of Moutn Nemrut

In terms of her academic achievements, Irmak is most proud of the research projects she conducted for two of her Ecology & Evolutionary Biology classes which involved working with bird specimens at the Royal Ontario Museum.

These experiences helped to shape Irmak’s thoughts about her future academic plans. After graduation, she intends to take a gap year during which time she hopes to gain lab or field work experience.

And after that? She has her eyes set on graduate school where she plans to further her studies in the areas of ecology and evolutionary biology, conservation or fisheries and wildlife. “Working at a national park or some sort of conservation NGO would also be very cool,” says Irmak. “I’m not quite sure where life will take me!”

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