“You’re already a step ahead,” alumni tell students in KINections Career Café

Human anatomy by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

COVID-19 may have ushered in a period of uncertainty, but the uncertainty of choosing the right career is not new. Fortunately for graduates of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, their education gives them a leg up in the job market because it prepares them for a variety of professions within the diverse field of kinesiology - even some they weren’t looking for. 

This was one of the key takeaways from the KINections Career Café, an annual event that connects KPE alumni with students for an evening of career exploration. Like most other things, this year’s event was held virtually, with alumni sharing their career paths with students online.

Anthony De Giorgio, Katja Bergin, Karim Riskallah and Peter Mastorakos all graduated with a bachelor of health and education degree certain of one thing: they each wanted to do a job in which they could help people.

De Giorgio went on to complete a bachelor of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and spent the next five years teaching internationally in Kuwait, followed by the Bahamas. 

“Not all phys. ed. teachers bring the same level of knowledge that grads from U of T Kin bring,” said De Giorgio about landing two teaching jobs internationally. “What you gain from U of T is much larger, it prepares you for the real world.”

While teaching, De Giorgio got interested in curriculum policy and design. He recounted going to a workshop for teachers and thinking, “I could do that. I never thought of myself in curriculum planning, but I realized there was a need for people who can create bridges between theory and practice.”

When he returned to Canada, he decided to go back to school for his third degree at U of T, a masters of professional kinesiology. 

“I went back to school when I was 31 years old. I’m glad I worked professionally before that, because you realize how important it is to continue lifelong learning,” he said. 

Now working as a phys. ed. and kinesiology teacher at Upper Canada College, De Giorgio is also working on developing the school’s K-12 curriculum and coaches both soccer and basketball. He is also a CrossFit coach at CrossFit YKV in Toronto.

“There is value in every course you take at university,” said De Giorgio. “You never know where you’re going to end up and you can use every experience as a stepping stone.”

After completing her kinesiology degree at U of T, Katja Bergin took an exam to become a registered kinesiologist. During this time, she worked in a clinic with people with brain and spinal cord injuries, helping their rehab and growing her interest in physiotherapy. She applied to Oxford Brookes University in England to do a masters of physiotherapy and now works as a physiotherapist at Foundation Physiotherapy & Wellness in Toronto treating sport related injuries. She also specializes in pelvic health physiotherapy and women’s health. 

“I went into U of T wanting to be a teacher, then I wanted to be a chiropractor and then physiotherapist. I changed my mind a few times,” she said. “Working between my undergraduate and graduate degrees helped me solidify my decision to go into physiotherapy.”

Bergin says she stumbled on her specialization in pelvic health while doing a placement in women’s health during her master’s studies. She remembers feeling frustrated initially, because she wanted to focus on sport injuries. 

“But I learned so much and it changed my mind to the point where I specialized in the area. It also turned out to be a gap not many people were specializing in.”

Bergin now works with women who are pregnant or just had a baby, helping to keep them active, in addition to helping out people with sport injuries.

“Make the most of the opportunities you’re given,” she said. “You’ll never regret learning something new.” 

After completing his BPHE at U of T, Peter Mastorakos went on to study occupational therapy at Queen’s University. He is a registered occupational therapist with the College of Occupational Therapists in Ontario now and has been working in community and outpatient mental health for the last six years. Currently he is working at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health helping youth and young adults experiencing their first episode of psychosis return to their school and work goals. 

Mastorakos pointed out that occupational therapists can work everywhere, in stroke rehab, hand therapy, with plastic surgeons, in the school system, with private insurance and motor vehicle accidents. One of his placements during his master’s studies was in community mental health and that really struck a cord with him. 

“The helper in me has always been there,” said Mastorakos, whose first job was working at camp counsellor at U of T with children on the autism spectrum. He continued working as a counsellor with kids on the spectrum at Variety Village and feels the inclination to go into occupational therapy was a natural progression. Taking a course in ergonomics and mental health at KPE helped solidify his decision. 

“When someone experiences a psychosis for the first time, all areas of their life are affected. I act as a bridge, helping with planning, problem solving and making recommendations for accommodations for their return to work or school after a traumatic experience.”

Following his degree in BPHE, Karim Riskallah went on to study for a chiropractor at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. Serving the downtown Toronto community for many years, he recognized the value of a collaborative care approach in managing patients’ health concerns and helped establish the Infinity Health Centre, where he currently works as a chiropractor and clinic director.

He’s worked directly with NHL players from both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies, and attended various NHL summer conditioning camps, getting the inspiration to create the advanced sports therapy program in his clinic, to help athletes from any sport and level optimize and improve their athletic performance.

“I have the fondest memories of studying at U of T,” he said. “I gained so much valuable education and experience.” 

His advice to students when choosing a career is to assess their passion and marry it to their personality.

“If you are somebody who loves teaching, but aren’t patient, don’t go into kindergarten,” he says, adding, “You can help people in many different ways. The curriculum at KPE exposes you to so many different areas of study, you’re bound to discover your passion.”

Find your passion, know what your strengths are, expect the unexpected, be in a good place to be able to judge opportunities when they present themselves and don’t be under pressure to follow in other people’s steps. These were the alumni’s parting words of wisdom, along with a reminder to students not to limit themselves. 

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can’t learn unless you’re constantly asking questions to deepen your knowledge,” said De Giorgio. 

“If you’re not sure what you want to get into, but have a bit of interest in an area, volunteer, gain some experience, it will help guide you in that or a different path,” said Bergin.

“You’re already a step ahead,” said Mastorakos. “You’re investigating, ruling things in and out.”

“Your journey is going to continue to change, but when you find something you’re passionate about, follow your gut and just go for it,” concluded Mastorakos.