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When risks pay off: Paula D'Souza

Paula D'Souza: Graduates of the last decade

Paula D’Souza recently found herself back on campus, walking through the halls of the University of Guelph-Humber. The building was the same, but everything looked different, and Paula was reminded of where she was 14 years ago when she first started thinking about UofGH.

Paula is a member of the University’s first class, and she graduated from the Business program in 2006. She was excited about attending a university that had just opened its doors, and after meeting staff members at the Ontario University Fair, Paula was optimistic about the school. Her parents were a different story.

“I remember meeting the staff from UofGH and I just felt like these were my people. I felt like I could go to this university and not feel alone because it would be small and intimate. I was sold on the size of the school and getting a degree and diploma in just four years,” Paula says.

Paula’s parents weren’t sure about her going to a school that was so new, but eventually they came to a compromise.

“UofGH was my first choice, but probably my parents’ fourth choice. When I got in, I let them know I had my heart set on going there. I just told them I needed to take this risk and it really paid off,” Paula says. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”

After starting at UofGH, Paula wasted no time before getting involved in, and helping create, a campus community. With some friends, Paula helped start the South Asian Student Club, which put on cultural events, and she got involved with the Guelph-Humber Business Association, an early iteration of a Business student society. Seeing how much Paula was enjoying her time on campus, her parents came around too. They encouraged her younger sister to apply to UofGH and she enrolled in the Business program two years later.

While Paula was dedicated to the clubs and activities she was taking part in, it was her work as a  Student Transition and Mentoring Program leader, planning Orientation Week, that she liked best.

“I was there for every planning meeting, building ideas for Frosh Week and making sure next year’s students felt welcome,” she says. “Coming up with a theme was the most exciting thing each summer. One year the theme was Superhero Academy, and we planned superhero-themed activities to introduce them to campus. We got everyone these really funky t-shirts — I still have mine!”

Paula took that enthusiasm for the student community when she started her field placement, which she decided to do in UofGH’s Student Life Department. Because the university was new, it didn’t have any alumni, so Paula set about researching and planning what other schools do to build and foster a network. Along with contributing to the school she loved, it gave her a taste of working life.

“That placement gave me a sense of the business world,” she says. “It helped me understand how organizations work, how to work by myself, as part of a group, and to be effective all along the way. That hands-on experience really complemented what I was studying.”

The field placement with Student Life also led to Paula’s first job after graduating. Building on her experience planning the student side of Frosh Week, Paula was hired to Student Life at UofGH to manage and organize Frosh Week activities. While working with student leaders who she knew as friends proved a challenge, Paula says that job was a perfect match for her skillset, experience and what she’d learned in Business.

When her contract was up, Paula decided to put her marketing knowledge to work, and began an internship at FedEx doing business development. While she enjoyed the work, after some time Paula felt ready for her next challenge and so moved on to Petro-Canada, again doing business development and marketing. It was a newly created position, which suited her just fine.

“I love not having to fill someone else’s shoes, because it means I get to set my own guidelines and boundaries,” she says. “I’m not brought in and shown a cookie cutter shape that I now need to match.”

In the years after Petro-Canada, Paula has moved to working in higher education, health care, a consulting firm and now in an executive recruiting firm, where she’s the Business Development Manager. She says that it’s not because she hasn’t been happy in each of her positions, but that she loves the variety and taking the risks.

“I like looking at my resume and seeing that each job is in a different industry,” she says. “Everyday I learn something new and I’ve been able to try my hand in a number of fields. Going to UofGH really helped with that. It was a risk that paid off and it’s a mindset that’s stayed with me ever since — I’m never afraid to try something new.”

What have you seen change in the 10 years since your graduation?

The biggest change I’ve seen has been the whole social media connectivity thing. Everyone is just a fingertip away, even if in reality they’re not. Technology has advanced and I feel like we’re forgetting old etiquette — the personal touch is disappearing, and it’s really bugging me. When I go out with friends, everyone is on their phone, so we’ve started a new rule that if anyone touches their phone, they pay the bill.

This story is part of a series about UofGH's first class.
Read about Andrew Kaszowski, 10 years later.