University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

Taylor Surman


Mature student Taylor Surman tells us how a love of cities drove her to return to school.

I really think that being a mature student has given me an edge in my studies.  I have had 10 years to learn about society on a hands-on basis, and it has allowed me to look at the bigger picture now that I am a student again.  Having traveled extensively in those years was a boon as well.  When we discuss the cities like London, and Beijing, I can put the abstract concepts of class into the concrete world that I observed on my trips.  This is an edge that has served me remarkably well so far.  I was, however, taken by surprise when, on my first day of class, first year, first semester, my professor said “I may not have all the answers.  I am teaching you what I know to be right to the best of my knowledge, but I may be wrong.  Being wrong is a powerful tool – it can lead you to search for truth.”  To realize that my professors were human and approachable was unexpected.  That they wanted to hear my opinion simply blew my mind.  No one had wanted to hear my opinion in a long time.

University has been an eye opening experience. I would not trade it for anything.  The people I have met, the things I have learned – it is priceless.  With all of this new information, I cannot wait to travel again, and to put into practice some of the things that I have learned – to be a part of the bigger picture.

I am a second year student with a double major in Urban Studies and Architecture.  I am 31 years old, having returned to school from the working world.  I have a college diploma in Broadcasting, and spent some time in the radio world (I’m taller than I sound).  From there I bounced from job to job, everything from technical support to activities planning at a seniors home.  But all of the jobs that sounded the most interesting always required more education than I had.  Two years ago (ish) I decided to return to school to get the qualifications I would need to work with cities.  I love cities.  All types, big, small, foreign, domestic, landlocked… I didn’t (and haven’t) narrowed it down too much, but since the beginning of classes, I have begun leaning towards historic preservation, public transportation or urban agriculture.

The urban fabric is so complex and biological, that no matter when and where you look, you can find something unique. I have long had a fascination with ‘old’ buildings, or buildings that have dropped out of use and off the radar.  I have had the opportunity to tour some great buildings – like the Buffalo Central Terminal, which has been vacant since the 1970’s.  It is once these buildings are empty of inhabitants and use that you can really see the detail and soul of a building.  My dream is to one day work with these historic properties, and put them back into use within society.

I have a cat, a best friend, and a new niece.  I am working at a company that offers ‘information scavenger hunts’ involving Toronto history.


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