Category Archives: Academics

Hey Google: Nancy Ting ’94

Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing at Google Hong Kong, globe-trotter Nancy Ting ’94 knows innovation and new technologies really can make the world a better place—and she’s focused on bringing them to market. We checked in with the impressive alumna to see what’s next in tech and ask what advice she has for those who want in.

Whether you’re checking in on Gmail, down a virtual rabbit hole, or asking your Google Home to convert ounces to grams, there are few of us whose lives haven’t been touched by the online powerhouse. More than 3.5 billion searches are conducted on Google each day—that’s 40,000 per second—and it accounts for over 92 per cent of all global internet searches. Somewhere along the way, Google even co-opted our language, switching silkily from noun to verb. “Google it,” has become a go-to phrase, regardless of which search engine you’re on.

“Climb the mountain not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”

So after a year where we spent more time on screens than ever before, we spoke with alumna Nancy Ting ’94, Google’s Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing in Hong Kong, who works for the company that, literally, has all the answers.

Nancy started with Google after moving to Hong Kong in 2010 where she now lives with her seven-year-old daughter. Though her role keeps her busy, Nancy makes sure to prioritize their time together, playing tennis and golf and, most recently, picking up skateboarding.

The alumna graduated from Ridley in 1994, alongside her brother Newton. Their parents had sent them to Ridley to broaden their perspectives; Newton lived in Merritt South and Nancy moved into Gooderham House West. Though it was her first time living away from home, Nancy quickly settled in, recalling fond memories of learning Caribbean dancing from her roommate Philice Davis ’94, her mentor, Mrs. Williams—the first female pilot in St. Catharines—and gathering with the rest of the GWest girls at the home of their House mother, Mrs. Close, she called her ‘second home.’ Nancy still keeps in touch with classmates via social media and catches up with some of them right in Hong Kong.

“I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree. I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years! So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”

After graduation, Nancy attended Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, where she studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. “I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree,” she explains. “I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years. So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”

Nancy may not have known exactly what the end goal was at the time, but accruing a strong, transferrable skillset enabled her to work toward what she did know she wanted: to make a difference and be able to travel.

“Having a background in science and maths helped me land jobs and projects in different parts of the world,” she says. For Nancy, living in new places is an exciting way to get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures, and it enables her to appreciate different points of view. She’s lived so far in Toronto, London, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, San Francisco, and Beijing.

“The challenging part is that one needs to re-establish one’s social circle,” she responds when asked how she settles into a new spot. “But I’ve found that if you follow your own interest, be it music, yoga or sports, you’ll be able to establish new circles pretty easily.”

The key, she adds, is to be willing to try something new. For example, when she was living in New York, Nancy was drawn to comedy, so she joined improv classes at Upright Citizen’s Brigade. It was an opportunity to meet people outside her work environment—and to have a good laugh while she did it.

That willingness to explore and try new things served Nancy well as she built her career, which has taken several unexpected turns along the way. Nancy’s first job was in Toronto as an eCommerce programmer at IBM, where she programmed internet applications from eCommerce websites to mobile apps to internet banking. Two years later, wanting to learn more about business, she moved to New York and worked for Deloitte Consulting as a strategy and management consultant. She also pursued an MBA at MIT, gaining skills in areas like accounting, finance and marketing and switched industries, becoming an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Next, Nancy started her own company, Mode Republic, a user-generated magazine which showcased international fashionistas’ daily outfits. The magazine offered a ‘Shop This Look’ feature so you could shop for similar items from online stores.

But it was after moving to Hong Kong that Nancy was offered a position on Google’s marketing team, and she started out doing working for the Ads business in Greater China. “Working for years in different industries and functions, only reinforced my passion to use technology to make the world a better place,” she says. “Google is a company that’s constantly innovating, and it encourages employees to explore new positions and geographies every few years.”

Two years ago, she switched to B2C marketing, and now looks after products like YouTube, Google Play, Google Classroom, Android, and more. “Marketing is a great mixture of arts and science,” she remarks. “We focus on quantitative data analysis as well as identifying true user insight—then we come up with creative campaign ideas and bring them to market.”

The pandemic certainly affected how consumers and businesses alike use technology—a steady progression toward online options was sped up out of necessity, and traditional businesses recognized an urgent need for digitization. As foot traffic was reduced, small businesses were forced to build websites, up their social media game, and figure out digital ads so they could still be found. And, what’s more, they needed to deliver their products and services via those online channels.

“Wellbeing has different definitions for people. It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”

And it wasn’t only commerce that was affected; day-to-day life still relies on digital tools, be they for work, remote learning or entertainment which, as Nancy notes, brings with it tremendous opportunities in all areas.

Those opportunities mean that roles like Nancy’s are incredibly busy, so of course we have to ask how she manages her time and keeps on top of her own wellbeing—juggling motherhood, managing marketing for a company that’s constantly churning out new products, and tackling the year’s tougher realities like remote work and school.

“Wellbeing has different definitions for people,” she replies. “It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”

For Nancy, it’s important that she keeps healthy and spends quality time with those who matter. The pandemic was an opportunity to get in shape and keep her immune system strong, and she’s worked over the past months to focus on eating well and exercising. “I turned my biological age back to 25-years-old!” she laughs.

With days filled with meetings, she also sets aside time where she turns off and just focuses on her work, and makes it clear to her colleagues that being there for her daughter—particularly in important moments—is her ‘non-negotiable.’

“It certainly helps that I love what I do for work,” Nancy says. “Even when I have some spare time, I’d be reading about the tech industry or the latest innovations. I’d recommend young Ridleians strive to land a job in a field that aligns with their passion as soon as they can. When your work is something that you enjoy, the wellbeing challenge is significantly reduced.”

“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before. Equipping yourself with strong foundational skills in math, science and coding will better prepare you for exciting new job options.”

As students look ahead to their own careers, many of them considering jobs in the tech industry, Nancy recommends they equip themselves with strong foundational skills—like math, science and coding—that will give them plenty of room to pivot when required and to move around.

“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before,” she advises. “Those foundational skills will prepare you for exciting new options. And don’t worry if you aren’t good at these things now. I failed Maths and Physics in Junior High. The turning point for me was at Ridley when I had amazing teachers who helped me understand how things work. Seeking great mentors and information will help you to master the latest knowledge—you just need to be inquisitive and invest the time and effort.”

It’s sound advice. As opportunities expand, and with them, our ability to connect with and impact others across the globe, Nancy is the perfect example of someone who has approached her career with a strategically open mind and adventurously open arms. And as we conclude our conversation, each a world away from the other, connected only by a few of clicks, she leaves off with the words she’s always lived by: “Climb the mountain, not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.

Data Driven: Jeff Bell ’88

Ridley students and employees spent the past year connecting largely via Microsoft Teams, so we just had to sit down with longtime MS expert, Jeff Bell ’88 to talk tech. Now, the alumnus shares his take on the future of work—and how Microsoft kept us clicking during a global pandemic.  

Jeff takes our call from his home office in Seattle, Washington. “Well, it wasn’t a home office until a year ago,” he explains practically, looking out at the Olympic Mountains, “it was our guest bedroom. But that’s the way the world has changed.” Like many of us, Jeff, too, has been working from home during the pandemic.

Back in 1991, the numbers minded Ridleian took on a summer internship at Microsoft. At the time, Jeff was working on an adaptation kit for companies to put MS-DOS 5.0 in their handheld devices (which he nods to as an essentially early ancestor of the iPhone). His officemates were busy working on Windows 3.1 and employees one door over were tackling applications. Jeff returned to Princeton University that fall to finish up his senior year, then moved out to Seattle as a fulltime Microsoft employee.

“There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now we’ve all been that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”

He’s worked there ever since, challenging the ‘Bay Area stereotype’ that people in tech tend to hop from company to company. Over the years, Jeff’s been able to move within the organization and dive deep into a variety of projects that speak to his skills and interests, including type and typography; digital rights management; digital payments and wallets; tools for early e-commerce; and eBooks and ePub standards. And if, like us, you love the ‘Save as PDF’ functionality in Office Suite, you can thank Jeff—he led the small team that worked with Adobe to add it as a built-in feature.

Today, Microsoft employs more than 175,000 people worldwide, and Jeff is an expert on Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The quick pace of technology means they’re always rolling out new features and waiting for customers to renew can be a real drag—for creators and consumers alike. But with people now automating everything from music to razors to poultry, a simple subscription ensures users will always get their mouse on the most current iteration. 

“Think of Netflix as an example,” Jeff explains. “If I were to buy a hard disk or a chip with all the shows on it, but it doesn’t update itself with anything, how exciting is that? People producing a new show would have to wait for viewers to upgrade their Netflix or buy a new TV.” 

“In the software world, we’ve long had this challenge—we’d build all these great new features we really like, but our customers were still using this thing from five years ago that they’d buy new only when they’d buy a new PC. We want to get the updates to everyone faster, and if we can help make that easy, we can give everyone a better experience and a better product.”

“There are a whole lot of paths to being successful. There are smart people everywhere and it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people across the board—to deliver products in tech.”

Since March 2020, discussions of secure, collaborative products and ‘work-from-home ergonomics’ have taken on new life as employees perch at kitchen counters, occupy dining room chairs and hunch over coffee tables. 

Though we may have had to keep an eye on our steps, many of us were undeniably lucky to be able to work remotely during a time when the world, in large measure, shut down. Technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet kept us connecting, celebrating, and producing. 

MS Teams saw a huge uptick in users over the pandemic, and was one of the fastest growing apps, adding a whopping 95 million users in 2020. More than 500,000 organizations worldwide now use it as their default messaging platform, including over 183,000 educational institutions.

Though he may be working from home these days, for Jeff, connecting virtually is old hat. “At some level, that’s how my old world was. I spent two years where my manager and immediate team actually sat in Dublin, Ireland,” he recalls. “And Microsoft is a decent-sized campus. When I’m working with the commerce team or the payments team and they’re a 10-to-20-minute shuttle ride or walk away, you meet with them on Teams. So much of my work was done on Teams and via email already.”   

Microsoft has been thinking about the future of hybrid work for years. One of the projects Jeff worked on, now nearly a decade ago, was meeting technology and hybrid meetings, with the team considering such things as collaborative notetaking. “We didn’t end up solving the problem at the time, but we made a little headway,” he muses, “and the world moved on. But there’s certainly an interest in watching how things played out once everyone had to go virtual.”  

And in many ways, Jeff’s been in on the experiment, as his own family learned to operate remotely this past year—which included everything from the logistics of virtual orchestra to scrambling to find a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing. Jeff lives in Seattle with his son, Andrew, who’s going into Grade 12, and daughter, Elizabeth, who will be entering Grade 10. His wife, Anna, a lawyer by training and a former JAG officer, is a romance writer. Though there was certainly some trial and error in the day-to-day, the pace slowed for everyone; a smaller stride meant more frequent video calls with Jeff’s Ottawa-based parents, his extended family in Alberta, and his sister, alumna Jensa Morris ’90, who’s now a doctor based in Connecticut. 

He’s also continued to keep active in his downtime, golfing throughout Seattle’s long season and still serious about running—he’s run 20 marathons to date, a passion which goes back to his days as a harrier at Ridley. 

Jeff came to the Lower School over Christmas in Grade 7, having started French immersion earlier that year and wanting a different kind of education. A conversation with family connection Reverend Hunt soon led the young whiz to Ridley—and, once there, Jeff never looked back. He spent the next seven years as a day student. In Lower School, he played cricket, soccer, squash, tennis, and hockey. When he transitioned to Upper School, now a student of Merritt South, he focused on playing hockey and competing both as a harrier and on the tennis courts. He was a Cadet sergeant, a House Prefect, and received both the TR Merritt Matriculation Gold Medal and the Governor General’s Medal. 

Jeff’s impressive skills in mathematics were known widely, so it was of little surprise that he sought a future career in engineering. “There are lots of domains in which you can solve problems, but I was strong in maths and sciences,” he remembers. “Engineering just felt like a place where there are always fun problems to solve and good tools for doing it.”

It was simply a question of where. Jeff was in Grade 12 and applying to Ontario programmes when his teacher, Brian Martin approached him and asked if he’d considered any American schools. He hadn’t, thinking those kinds of plans were years in the making. But it was a late decision which paid off; Jeff got in his applications just under the deadline and was accepted to the engineering programme at Princeton University. 

“It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.”

What comes across as he talks about his work, however, is that it’s clearly about more than math alone (though he certainly spends his time deep in the numbers): Jeff is essentially a storyteller, contextualizing the data and using it as a tool to gain insight into what consumers are doing (or aren’t), how the business is working (or isn’t), and what’s going to be good for both. What impact are we having? Are we touching people at scale? How can we build the right thing? 

“That fluency is almost more valuable than code,” he agrees, “It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.” 

And after the past year-and-a-half, the data has a lot to say. Today, Microsoft’s signature problem-solving efforts continue as a workforce contemplates its return to the office. How do workers use the chat function? How do things function when half the meeting’s attendees are remote? Is the chat channel more visible to those who are remote—and is it then ignored by those in the room? As we all inch closer to a new working model, mock-up solutions are popping up across the Microsoft campus. Their teams have been busy learning from what we’ve been doing these past months—and envisioning what a hybrid future might look like. 

“I think we’ll get to a place where we have more of a recognition of those who are remote,” Jeff predicts. “There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now that we’ve allbeen that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”

“I have a lot of appreciation for the data scientists; the best ones are artists who understand the numbers and do a great job of storytelling and making sense of the world, making sense of the work we do.”

And, notably, these changes bring with them important conversations about diversity, accessibility, and opportunities to broaden the hiring pool. “While Redmond and Seattle are lovely places, we don’t need to move the whole world here,” Jeff points out practically, citing his organization’s recent hires who will be staying put. “There are smart people everywhere and tons of opportunity. In tech, it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people—to deliver products.”

Speaking with Jeff, you can’t help but be excited by what’s to come, knowing these technologies will only expand our reach across both office and globe. And though we’ve each had to pivot over the course of this pandemic, to park our cars and watch our work clothes hang in our closets like question marks—we are the lucky ones. There’s plenty of promise in the ‘new normal,’ status unknown, even as it’s still coming into focus.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.

Ridley’s Architect: How an Old Boy breathed new life into campus

As we look to our grounds with an eye to expand, we remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that transformation sends ripples of change, not only across campus, but across time.

In 1919, a young group of architects gathered almost daily at Bloor Street’s Diet Kitchen Tea Room in Toronto, to “complain, plot and dream of a better city.” Fondly referred to as “The Diet Kitchen School of Architecture,” the eclectic group included Ridley’s own Ferdinand ‘Ferdie’ H. Marani ’1912—an up-and-coming architect who would change the cityscape in the years to come.

Ferdie Marani Manulife Building

The son of an instructor at the University of Toronto’s (U of T) School of Architecture, you might say Ferdie came by it honestly. For over fifty years, the Vancouver-born, Toronto-based architect was “amongst the aficionados of the postwar period of Toronto architecture and city building,” known widely for his Neo-Georgian style. The geometric, modular aesthetic became the main architecture of the public realm in the U.K. during the period of the 1920s to 1960s; its influence quickly reached North America and was soon seen popping up everywhere in the form of banks, shops, universities and military buildings.

Ferdie founded a succession of firms credited with the design of hundreds of well-known buildings, from Ottawa’s Bank of Canada, to the Canadian Forces Headquarters in Washington D.C., to Toronto’s famous Medical Arts Building, Sheridan College and the CNE grandstand. And, as you walk the paths of Ridley’s campus, you’ll see evidence of that classic Georgian style everywhere you look. Because Ferdie was not only an Old Boy and a Toronto trailblazer—he was also Ridley’s architect.

Ferdie Marani, c.1909

“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs]. I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.”

Ferdie was part of a virtual Ridley dynasty of Maranis that attended the school. His grandfather, J. Herbert Mason was responsible for setting up the Mason Gold Medal, still awarded every year, not only at Ridley, but also at Havergal and UCC. Ferdie, himself, won the medal in 1912. During his time here from 1901 to 1912, he proved to be a dedicated student, “a very fair tackler, and one of the hardest workers on the line” on Ridley’s football team, and a self-proclaimed military enthusiast. He joined the Cadet Corps the day it formed and was a member for six years, becoming Captain the year Ridley competed in the Imperial Cadet Competitions at the Toronto Exhibition.

“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs],” Ferdie laughingly admits in his 1924 In Memoriam for the Colonel. “I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.” But his persistence paid off: by 1912, Ridley’s first bugle band was formed, “organized through the hard work and interest of Cadet Captain F.H. Marani.”

Cadet Officers, 1911

Ferdie was studying architecture at U of T when the Great War broke out, and he left school to enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. He became a captain in the Third Battalion of the Toronto Regiment and was posted overseas, wounded in June of 1916. From 1932 to 1936, Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Colonel Ferdinand Marani was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his war service in the summer of 1945. 

Throughout his life, Ferdie’s passion for the military remained strong. In 1946, the War Memorial Committee of the Osgoode Law Society approached the architect who had served his country so faithfully, seeking his recommendation for a way in which to honour members who had lost their lives during the Second World War. Ferdie’s suggestion, a moving memorial by leading sculptor Cleeve Horne, still lives in the lower Rotunda of Osgoode Hall.   

Lt_Col_F.H._Marani

Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Though he left campus in 1912, Ferdie never strayed too far from Ridley, and became the Honorary President of the Old Boys Association. His wife, Constance, was also deeply involved in the Ridley community, presenting prizes for Sports Days in the postwar years, and an active member of the then Women’s Guild. Her detailed history of the Guild not only acted as a tribute to its hardworking women—mothers, wives and sisters who were also considered “staunch Old Ridleians”—but served as an important document for the Ridley record. The Guild’s aim, as Mrs. Marani expressed it, was “to help in making Ridley a greater power for good in our country.”

As you wander the grounds, you’ll find Ferdie’s trademark Georgian style dotted becomingly across our lush campus: he led his firms in designing the Lower School (Alumni Hall) in 1926, remodelled the Upper School (School House) in 1930, and completed Merritt House in 1932, merging it into the quiet impressiveness of the older buildings. The distinctive Marriott Gates went up in 1934, their arch an ornamental wrought-iron over-throw, with the shield of Ridley’s Coat-of-Arms as the centre-piece, topped by a bishop’s mitre.

In the late-thirties, Ridley turned to Ferdie to design a new gymnasium, later named for the Iggulden family, in response to an urgent need for indoor playing space. Built of red brick with white stone facings, the 1939 build was as good as that of any on the continent—and it quite literally revolutionized the school. Ridley enriched its athletic offerings beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket, giving way to a wider opportunity to represent the school and develop different talents; the impressive space also had all the bells and whistles needed to revive drama. A decade later, The Schmon Infirmary and Memorial Great Hall both rose up under Ferdie’s watch.

  • Memorial Chapel, 1926
  • Merritt House
  • Cadet Corps, 1907
  • Lower School
  • Iggulden Gymnasium

By the 1960s, nearly twenty years of discussion about expanding the Memorial Chapel turned to action. Due to space limitations, the Lower School had worshipped separately from the Upper School since the 1930s, and an extension was needed that would be built in absolute harmony with the rest of the structure. Naturally, the job was turned over to Ferdie, who had, coincidentally, trained at Sproatt & Rolph, the Chapel’s original architects. The seamless expansion was completed in time for the Old Boys Weekend of 1964.

Over the years, Ferdie’s firms won multiple awards, including an Honorable Mention at the 1948 London Olympics in the Architectural Design category, and one of the first Massey Silver Medals for Architecture in 1950. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, became a Full Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy, chairman of the Ontario Association of Architects and a member of the Governing Council of the Ontario College of Art, serving two terms as Chair—OCAD now has an award given in his name.

Ferdie Marani was part of an old age of architecture that’s now gone, “a time in which the mayor phones up Ferdie or Ron Dick and says, ‘We need a courthouse, University Avenue, OAA fees, okay, good, click.’” notes Bob Goyeche, a current principle at the firm Ferdie once founded. “That era changed.” The firm still stands, though it has since shuffled partners, now less Georgian and more concept-driven and elite. However, that’s one of the most amazing things about architecture: Ferdie’s unmistakeable prints are all over this country, its cities and its suburbs, and all across this campus.

And, as we now look to our grounds with an eye to expand and improve, to breathe new life into the Iggulden Gymnasium Ferdie Marani designed nearly eighty years ago, it’s a good moment to remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that the transformation of the gym and surrounding buildings will send ripples of positive change, not only across our campus, but across time.  

To learn more about The Campaign for Ridley, as well as plans for a reimagined campus, visit us online.

This article was printed in the winter issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 5

Keep Moving!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.”  — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep

This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.

So, what can you do?

  1. Ensure you and your child(ren) spend time each day outside, preferably in nature. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and a reduction in negative emotions. Need some ideas? Here are 31 classic outdoor games for you and your family to play.
  2. Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
  3. Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.

And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

“The Pandemic Gave Me My Teenage Daughter Back” — by Katrina Onstad, for Chatelaine magazine

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 4

Focus on Your Strengths

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” — L.R. Knost

This quote is a reminder to us all that we will get through the “awful” and that life will be “amazing” again. One way we’re encouraging students to get through life’s challenges—in addition to its more “ordinary…mundane…and routine” parts—is to use their strengths. Beginning in Grade 3, each and every Ridley student learns about the VIA Character Strengths. Classes talk about identifying both character and performance strengths, and how to use them, not only to succeed, but to flourish.

Ridley College became a Visible Wellbeing School after spending two years working closely with Dr. Lea Waters. Her research-based book, The Strength Switch, focuses on the need for parents and educators to focus on children’s strengths in order to build resilience, optimism, and achievement. There is no more important time than now to focus on our strengths.

So, what can you do?

  1. Discuss your child’s strengths with them. Reference the VIA Character strengths survey (for more information, check out these videos), and also discuss the strengths you see in them every day. Remind them how important it is that they know and use them.
  2. Reference their strengths every day. One great activity that can be done around the dinner table is “Three Good Things,” which helps children reflect on what went well that day, why it went well and which strengths they or others used.
  3. Choose a daily activity to do together. (Here are 101 from which to choose.) Talk about the strengths you used to complete these activities, and discuss how knowing and using their own strengths will help them during this challenging time.

And please remember, parents, you are using your own strengths to navigate these challenging times! Recognize all that you are doing—and please be kind to yourself.


REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you next Tuesday, April 28th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Nurturing Social Relationships.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 3

The Importance of Relationships

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This is a short week at Ridley, but another week of adjustments — and enhancements — for us all. To support our important work of ensuring students feel connected to the Ridley community, we’ve incorporated division-wide Assembly in Upper School, weekly Advisory times, class meetings in Lower School, and school-wide opportunities for student check-ins with teachers and Heads of House. Ridley, at its core, is built on relationships. We want to continue to maintain and grow these, knowing that they are a vital part of flourishing lives.

With relationships in mind, I share my current top five resources to support parents and introduce opportunities for them to build relationships and learn remotely with Ridley.

Top Five Resources for Parents:

  1. 7 Guiding Principles for Parents Teaching at Home (article)
  2. How to Turn your Home into a school without Losing your Sanity (comic)
  3. Who do I choose to be during COVID-19? (infographic)
  4. Get Through This: Self-Care for Parents (1 hr recorded ZOOM webinar)
  5. Coronavirus: A Book for Children (book)

In addition, we look forward to launching our Flourishing for Parents virtual connections next week. Please join us for learning and community!

Opportunities for Parents for the week of April 13th

Tuesday Tips with Hanna Kidd & Sue Easton:  8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. This week’s topic is Time Management. How can you support your child in achieving during this challenging time? Let us share some tips to support our Ridley family!

Thursday Sip and Chat: 8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. Join us with a coffee or tea for a chat and a break from the day. We need to stay in touch!

Coming Next Week: We’ll be sharing daily activities and practices to support your whole family in flourishing during these challenging times.

Be well and Happy Easter!

Off The Grid: Sandy Rasmussen ’07

Abstractionist, Sandy Rasmussen is proving to the art world that his has staying power.

“The grid started out as a pattern resembling my mom’s tablecloth,” Sandy laughs. “We would have dinner outside, and she’d put a tablecloth on the counter and tell us not to make a mess. I’d wonder, why have it? But that tension, that feeling of do not spill anything—I love that.”

Abstractionist and Old Ridleian, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Rasmussen ’07 always knew he would work in the arts. His grandfather, an artist and set designer at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), encouraged Sandy from a young age, and his time at Ridley was largely spent hanging around the art department, fascinated by stories of the abstract expressionists who broke visual traditions and found new ways to communicate.

Rasmussen's exhibition at the Christopher Cutts gallery

From his mother’s tablecloth, to the famous grids of Agnes Martin, to the linoleum tile floors of the gas station in which he used to paint, the Niagara-based artist is looking to explore that tension, earning kudos from critics at his recent show at the Christopher Cutts gallery for his “riveting works” and “delectable passages of paint that almost shimmer.”

“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? What if I do this? It’s totally subversive,” he concludes. “I’m going to do what I want.”

After graduating from Ridley, the St. Catharines native left to study at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, but soon realized he was looking for a different kind of experience. “As much as art can seem welcoming and nurturing, it can also be a towering history of knowledge that you may not possess,” he admits. “It’s a steep hill.” The following year, Sandy headed east to take Sociology at St. Francis Xavier University—but he didn’t leave art far behind. “I started seeing parallels between the things we were discussing in class and in art,” he says, looking back. And, a year into his degree, painting pulled him home.

Fat Chance

“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? It’s totally subversive. I’m going to do what I want.”

Sandy came back, borrowed $500 from his dad for supplies, and got to work. He sold pieces and secured commissions. He travelled home to paint on weekends and school breaks. He immersed himself in art history. After graduation, Sandy started painting full-time in his parents’ garage, then rented out space at an old rural gas station before spending two tough years working in a cold, dim-lit barn out in Jordan Station—an experience which he says hardened him as an artist.

He now paints in a light-filled barn not far from campus, the rustic surroundings informing his work in pleasant, unexpected ways. And a barn is likely the best place for him to spread out. For Sandy, painting is a sport—and he likes to play large, whether he’s physically stretching across a wide expanse of canvas or stretching out an idea twenty feet. He points to influential artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Bradford and Joe Bradley, artists whose physicality enters their work.

“The thing I loved most about basketball was doing layups during warmup, feeling hyped and excited,” he explains, looking back to his days on the Ridley team. “And with big paintings I get that same shiver down the back of my neck; I’m anxious to get going.”

You can see that energetic sprawl across Samosas, the 8-by 24-foot abstract which now hangs at Brock University. Sandy donated the painting to brothers Taylor ’07 and Clark ’09 Robertson in memory of their parents and sister, Joe, Anita and Laura ’11, who were tragically killed in a plane crash the summer of 2018. Their loss was felt across the Niagara Region; the warm-hearted Robertsons were known widely as philanthropists and community leaders, and they were generous supporters of both Ridley and Brock.

Sandy speaks at the unveiling of Samosas at Brock University. Image courtesy of Brock News.

“When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.”

The family was very familiar with Samosas, having admired its progression at the gas station where Sandy painted, and then rolled out on his barn floor mere days before the accident. “They’d seen it so many times,” Sandy recalls. “When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.” Taylor and Clark chose to display the painting in Market Hall, now a permanent memorial at the university where Anita volunteered and whose Board of Trustees Joe had served on for nearly a decade.

“I had nearly exhausted the look by the time I got to the right side of that canvas,” Sandy smiles. “It was like finishing a marathon.” If you see it, you’ll see why. Standing in front of that painting is like going on a contemplative journey; its pathways and rivulets thread across the wide expanse, and you can’t help but follow—all the way off the canvas edge. Samosas was unveiled at Brock this past April. 

Sandy’s paintings often slip to matters of time and nostalgia, his large-scale abstractions christened with playful names like Fresh Fresh (a nod to the woman who makes his favourite samosas), Horse Play (a sweet response to his late grandmother’s living room warnings), or Fat Chance (the gamble that is all art, really—and the piece that kicked off his Toronto show).

Alexander Rasmussen

“My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains. “And I just have to trust that, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact.”

His work incorporates memory, but he’s also conscious of it as a deliberate reflection of the present, with the occasional happy accident of an unplanned gesture, the quick scoot of a brush in an unexpected way. “My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains thoughtfully. “And I just have to trust that, I suppose, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact. To get an ego about a particular piece—that’s not going to last.”

But as time goes on, Sandy’s proving to the art world that his has staying power. “Rasmussen is already some way on his journey into figuring out those techniques that give his paintings the desired emotional content,” noted Toronto critics this past spring. “He is definitely onto something.”

As for the up-and-coming artist? “There’s no turning back,” he says resolutely. And there may be some delicious irony in that statement, as Sandy’s paintings often capture a textured and abstract past, even as his brush keeps going.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 2

Support for Parents

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This past Thursday, our community embarked on a new adventure through Ridley Remote Learning, or R2L. The initial response from students, teachers and parents was resoundingly positive. Every member of the community was excited to reconnect, share their experiences and emotions, and begin to bring some normalcy back into their lives through the addition of regular learning and new opportunities to connect. We know that Ridley is built on relationships; these will help us get through these challenging times.

But how best to thrive when we are surrounded by change? Please consider these five inspirational statements about change—along with some resources to help support you and the Ridley community.

  1. Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

How can you create the space in your home for your child(ren) to create or do something to support or inspire others?

Recommended Resources:

Corona: Artist Illustrates the Matterhorn

Charitable apps and websites

Kid-staffed Newspaper

2. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

How can you model or support learning during and beyond R2L?

Recommended Resources:

Building Growth mindset in children

Virtual Marine Biology Camp – free for kids

The Top 100 Documentaries we can use to change the world

3. Embrace change. Emerge positive.

How can you ensure that your child(ren) uses their identified VIA character strengths to stay positive? (If you haven’t read Dr. Lea Waters’ Strength Switch, now is a great time!)

Recommended Resources:

101 Strength-based Actions to Connect, from a Safe Distance

Ideapod: Complaining properly

How School closures can strengthen your family

4. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

How can you ensure there is still fun and challenge in your child(ren)’s day?

Recommended Resources:

Games to play collaboratively online

ESF Breakfast of champion challenge

Poem: Gone Viral

5. Change is a process, not an event.

How can you ensure your family builds practices to endure this change process?

Recommended Resources:

Sleep Better, Do Better (infographic)

Science-backed strategies to build resilience

A Simple Exercise to stay calm in the face of Coronavirus uncertainty

Our lives have changed. But is our response to those changes—both as individuals and as a community—that will ensure we continue to flourish.

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 1

Keeping Your Well-Being in Focus

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

The Ridley community is moving into uncharted territory, with new Remote Learning for students, and most of us either practicing physical distancing or in isolation—even quarantine—wherever we are in the world. Though this may be a time of uncertainty and change, our well-being doesn’t need to suffer. It may take more conscious, deliberate work than usual but, in keeping with Ridley’s vision to inspire flourishing lives (as defined by PERMA-V: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement, and vitality), each of us can benefit from incorporating the following five behaviours into our days—until we see each other again.

1. Connect with others.

Whether you’re spending time with those you live with, be it to share a meal or complete that jigsaw puzzle, or you’re reaching out via video call to family and friends, or playing a shared game of online Scrabble, connecting is important. We are practicing physical distancing, not social distancing, since we know that relationships are vital to support our well-being.

Recommended Resources:

Discover well-being videos on Facebook’s ESF Discovery College.

Got gamers in the house? Common-Sense Media features family-friendly games and other helpful resources.

New in The Guardian, Dr. Lea Waters shares videos to support families who are in isolation.

Balloons at Pep Rally

2. Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Day.

Mindfulness helps children become more self-aware. Knowing how they are feeling during this unsettling time not only promotes conversation but helps them nurture self-compassion. Mindfulness also helps students learn self-management and develop important decision-making skills. These skills support us in being present and engaged in our new reality—and ready to participate in learning and living activities.

Recommended Resources: 

Greater Good in Education offers well-being resources for both adults and children.

Clear your head with Headspace — a free site which features a variety of meditation practices.

GoZen includes family-friendly videos and activities to support anxiety, resilience and more.

Celebration of the Arts

3. Seek beauty to savour and appreciate.

Immersing ourselves in art, music or nature—be it inside, outside or virtually—boosts our positive emotions. By exploring the resources available to us, we learn where our interests lie, which in turn increases our engagement and helps give us a sense of control over our new situation.

Recommended Resources:

Google Arts and Culture is a virtual treasure trove, providing visitors with tours of hot spots, street art, museums, and more.

Listen up! NPR offers this comprehensive list of live concerts to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.

Go on your own ‘home safari’ via webcams from your favourite zoo. Learn more in this handy guide from The New York Times.

4. Get physical.

We all know that exercise helps with our physical health, but it is also one of the best ways to build positive emotions, decrease anxiety and stress, and support healthy sleep. Exercising outside while practicing physical distancing is a great way to get the benefits of being in nature while moving our bodies. But if that isn’t possible, there are many ways to get physical while keeping indoors.

Recommended Resources:

Get moving with one of these active apps highlighted by Common Sense Media.

Your kids are sure to love these movement and mindfulness videos from Go Noodle.

Stretch it out with classes from YogaDownload.com — the perfect size for any space.

Cross Country Run

5. Find your purpose.

Every human benefits from a feeling of achievement—often connected to what we believe is our purpose in life. For students practicing physical distancing, it may at times feel like academic work provides their sole sense of purpose. It is important that they know they make a difference in the lives of others, within their families, communities and beyond. For inspiration, consider some of these resources.

Recommended Resources:

Reach out via one of these great ideas from Random Acts of Kindness — be sure to check out their kindness calendar!

From practicing gratitude to building optimism, Positive Psychology is offering great resources and activities you’ll want to try.

Keep it close to home with Operation Warm — a website highlighting online volunteer opportunities.

We’ll be sharing more resources in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please remember that as part of the Ridley community, you’re only an email away! Feel free to reach out for support and to learn more.

CHAPEL TALK: THANKS-GIVING

Written by Head of Upper School, Michele Bett

With our Thanksgiving break rapidly approaching, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon why we should give thanks. In this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” in the words of English poet John Keats, ripened fruits and swollen gourds signal that the wondrous bounty of mother nature’s harvest has arrived. And yes, we have much for which to give thanks.

We give thanks that at Ridley:

our teachers have high expectations of their students;

our students come to school ready to be stretched and challenged;

our teachers support and scaffold curiosity in their classrooms daily;

our students are inherently curious and motivated learners;

our teachers arrange their learning opportunities, carving out space for imagination, wonder and reflection; and

our students flourish when they find passion and relevance in their studies.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk writes on the power of gratefulness. He encourages us to see each new day as a gift where the only appropriate response is gratitude. He urges us to open our hearts to all our blessings.

It is quite radical to see each new day as a gift. If you were caught thanking the sun for rising each morning, people might wonder about your sanity. Normal people don’t go around being grateful all the time. But why not?

I believe that it behooves us to show respect for – and be grateful to – nature, other people, and the past.

We have all stood transfixed and filled with awe in the presence of nature’s marvels – Niagara Falls is an obvious and near-by example. At moments like that, it is not hard to feel a sense of gratitude and to think to ourselves, “what a wonderful world!” The feeling is probably like that of a child playing in the garden. The difference is that, unlike us, the child does not need a raging cascade to get her attention. Here is how John Keats’ older contemporary William Wordsworth put it:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

The poet goes on to say that this time is gone: “The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” And yet, despite our obliviousness and routine and normalcy, nature does not stop being the miracle that it is. As a later 19th century English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Even in this time of climate change and global warming, an appreciation for the blessings of life on this earth is still the right way to respond. In fact, I wonder if things might be different on our planet if more people felt more grateful to nature.

At Ridley, we frequently emphasize the importance of thanking each other as often as we can. By doing so, we are recognizing the worth and significance of other people. It turns out that admitting the reality of what is outside ourselves is a necessary step toward well-being. Furthermore, by thanking others, we are acknowledging the other’s presence as a gift. We are saying to the other: “You have given me something that I did not deserve; you have been to me more than a friend.” What almost inevitably comes next is: “I will do the same for you when I can. I will try to be a gift to you.” It is a virtuous circle that fosters and celebrates loving relationships.

Being thankful for the past might seem somewhat strange, even suspicious; some of us might feel much more inclined to reject the past in our struggle for a better world. But human civilizations and cultures throughout all time have universally honoured those who have lived and died in earlier times. Similarly, our society commemorates heroes and martyrs and wise people who have done or said things that remain meaningful to us today. One of those we remember is Martin Frobisher, who in 1578 arrived in Canada and held a formal ceremony in which he gave thanks for surviving the long voyage from England. (Some 43 years later, the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and did something similar.) This nation began by opening its heart in gratitude to the blessings of life.

And that’s why I am so grateful to be part of a community that has opened its heart to all its blessings. Every student in our community is a blessing, and regardless of their academic trajectory, they are cared for and valued. They are loved.

As in so many of my chapel talks and conversations with parents and students it is the character strength of love that I find myself returning to so often. Love, it seems, underpins nearly everything we do at Ridley.

In the gospels, God tells who we are, and we know that it can be the hardest thing in the world for us to receive love, especially the love of God. Whether you are a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, non-believer, let’s be united in the idea that love is the strongest thing in the world, and to receive it demands that we begin by loving ourselves.

Unlike the bees in Keats’ ode to “Autumn,” we know that these warm October days will cease, but giving thanks at Ridley is not limited to the season of thanksgiving. At Ridley, we practice gratitude daily, all year round. May I wish all our families at Ridley a Thanksgiving break filled with joy, appreciation and, of course, much love.