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Tatiana Portelli-Graham: Leader, Risk-Taker, and Scientist

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waterloo chapter.

While Tatiana Portelli-Graham, like any other University of Waterloo student, and may be terrified of the geese on campus, she certainly isn’t scared of hard work and taking on leadership roles. From her experience as the Campus Response Team’s Service Coordinator to her Australian-themed travel ambitions, Tatiana doesn’t shy away from what challenges her. As she reflects back on her undergraduate experience, in fact, she believes the hardships she has faced have only made her into a stronger and more self-actualized individual.


Name: Tatiana Portelli-Graham

Program & Year: 5B Honours Science

Hometown: Toronto!!!

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her


I hear that you are the current Service Coordinator of Waterloo’s Campus Response Team (CRT), for which you won the Fall 2016, Winter 2017, and Spring 2017 Feds Award for Coordinator. How did you become involved with CRT?


I became involved with CRT in Fall 2015. I actually first noticed them in a Humans of Waterloo Facebook post. The post resonated with me so much that I bookmarked it in my browser. I would continuously open the post and reread the stories of those responders, which started me on this path of creeping the team. I was in awe of how confident, composed, and professional all the responders looked and I wanted to be able to come off the same way.


I decided to apply and throw myself out there, and luckily enough I made it on the team. Since being on the team, I have never gone inactive and have been active for seven terms! I have learned so much being on the team and had plenty of support from the people involved. I have made some of my closest friends by volunteering and they have pushed me to become the better person I am today (as cheesy and cliché as that sounds).


Tatiana Portelli-Graham with CRT Executives.  


You have been a FOC during your undergraduate career. Can you specify which year this was for and elaborate on your experience planning Orientation Week?


I was a Feds FOC for both 2016 and 2017! Planning Orientation Week was definitely a wild ride. I never knew how much a leadership position could develop you professionally until I finished my first year as FOC. The year-long planning taught me the importance of being detail-oriented and being prepared in worst case scenarios. I learned a lot about working in a team versus independently. The actual week of Orientation I was badly sleep-deprived and running on fumes, but watching my events unfold in front of me and having thousands of students participating was an experience that changed my life. It was crazy to think how I was able to impact first-year students’ lives by just writing a few action plans.  


Tatiana Portelli-Graham with her fellow FOC members.


What advice do you have for students wanting to get involved in CRT, Orientation Week, or other leadership positions?  


I would say to always put yourself out there. If you want to apply for something but are scared to do it or think that you aren’t qualified enough to get the position, apply anyways. You shouldn’t be the one hindering yourself. I did not think I was qualified at all to apply for CRT or FOC, yet I still decided to apply and got both positions.


I always think that you should apply for any position you have an interest in or want to do. Never hinder yourself. If the company doesn’t think you are qualified enough, let them make that decision, instead of you guessing that you aren’t qualified enough. You might surprise yourself with what roles and jobs you get when you just throw yourself out there, and you will probably be way happier when all your hard work pays off!


Tatiana Portelli-Graham with the CRT.


What is one of the greatest challenges you have faced during your time as a UW student?


I would say one of the biggest challenges I have faced while being a UW student is balance and self-care. I love volunteering and helping out, but I usually find that I can spread myself really thin. I also find it insanely hard to ask for help, whether that is from a professor, my friends, or my colleagues. I think our campus can have this environment of independence and resiliency, and that can make reaching out for help hard. I would recommend to everyone to always take breaks, always ask for help, and take time for yourself.


It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to need someone to be there. It is okay to ask for help.


What has been your favourite work experience and why?


I think my favourite work experience, while it isn’t technically a job, was being the Coordinator for the Campus Response Team. I have been the Administrative Coordinator for the Campus Response Team for over a year now, starting in Fall 2016 and ending in December of this term. It is already rewarding being a responder on the team, helping those who need it while on shift. But as Coordinator, I was able to help out the responders who help everyone else. I was also able to guide the team forward onto new initiatives and work towards serving the UW community better.


One of my absolute favourite things to do as Coordinator was to remind my responders of their importance as leaders on campus and their ability to impact others’ lives, which I encourage everyone to remember. Whether you are an Orientation leader, or CRT responder, or just someone doing something nice for someone else, you have the ability to impact someone’s life greatly by doing something so small for them. In case you ever forget, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE.


Tatiana Portelli-Graham showing school spirit.


Where do you envision life taking you after you graduate?


I’m not quite sure where life is going to take me after a graduate. I made a promise to a close friend of mine that I would go to Australia, so I might head there after graduating at some point. I am working towards my Bachelor of Science, so going into neuroscience research is an interest of mine. I also really am passionate about advocating for mental health issues. Working as the Administrative Coordinator for the Campus Response Team, I also realized that I love evaluating policies and think that a government or administrative job would be enjoyable for me!


I’ve come to realize that at our age it is 100% OK to not know where you are heading after getting your degree, or after that too. I have a few options, I just want to figure out which one will make me the happiest in life and pursue that. I think happiness is the most important thing to strive for in life!


Who is your hero?


I would have to say my hero is my mom. She went through a lot of things at a really young age and I was never able to see just how difficult it must have been until I was the same age as her. She constantly worked and still does to this day, no matter how many times she is told to take a break. She cares so much about her family and will help me and my brother in any way she can.  She isn’t afraid to speak her mind and she fights for what she believes in. She sacrificed a lot in her life and I look forward to paying her back in whatever way that I can. My mom has taught me the importance for being independent and strong, and while I know I can take a ton of pointers from her, I work towards being more like her every day.


I also like to think that a bunch of my friends are my heroes too. Each one of my friends has taught me a lesson that I can’t ever repay them for. Each one of them has supported me in ways that they won’t understand. And each one of them is my role model that I look up to. In no particular order: Zayd, Rahul, Saad, Nathan, Anna, Thilina, Hannah, Fiona, Emma, and Mia. Thanks to these people, my life wouldn’t be what it is today!


The more famous heroes that I think about or whose words have impacted me greatly are Rupi Kaur, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Susan Wojcicki, to name a few.


Tatiana Portelli-Graham having fun with a friend.


On a scale of 1-10, how scared are you on the geese on campus?


I am 11/10 scared of geese. I am the type of person who will cross the street to avoid them and if they look me in the eyes it is game over (they have really beady eyes). My best friend shows no fear when it comes to geese, so I will use him as a human shield to get around campus.



I enjoy naps, cake and sarcasm. Besides that I'm in Honours Science at the University of Waterloo!