Meet the leaders who will help us Defy Gravity: Q&A with U of T Engineering alum Som Seif

As campaign co-chair, Som Seif (MIE 9T9) will lead a coalition of volunteers devoted to inspiring the highest level of support for advancing U of T’s excellence and aspirations.

Som Seif has volunteered for many years at U of T as an advisor to the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. A former Varsity Blues water polo player, he served as coach after graduating, leading the team to four consecutive OUAA championships. A chartered financial analyst and industrial engineer, he is the founder and CEO of Purpose Unlimited.

What inspired you to get involved with U of T?

My time at U of T was very meaningful, both during my years studying engineering and playing water polo for the Varsity Blues, but also after graduation, where I took on the coaching role for the Varsity team. As a Varsity athlete, I had the benefit of a volunteer coach, and I felt it was important for me to pay it back. The same goes for my volunteer involvement in engineering now, with this campaign, and my overall commitment to the University. Many people played a role in supporting my journey. I hope I can play a small role in the future journey of others.

Som Seif holds a framed Arbor Award and poses with David Naylor and David Peterson.

Som Seif received an Arbor Award for volunteering as water polo coach. Left to right: President Emeritus David Naylor, Som Seif, and Chancellor Emeritus David Peterson.

Why do you think the world needs U of T right now?

The world needs leadership from great educational institutions like U of T. In Canada and around the globe, we have many opportunities but also many social, political, and economic challenges that need focus. U of T – and this campaign – provides a safe space to inspire people to focus on solving these problems and pursuing these opportunities.

Which of the campaign’s priorities is most meaningful to you?

Powering Innovation & Entrepreneurship is very important to me. I’m an entrepreneur who has built my career by driving customer-focused innovation. I believe that we in Canada need to focus on empowering people to dream, think about the future, and to lead as global innovators. It starts with showing people the way, but more importantly, giving people the confidence that they can change the world from their seat. I think this campaign will go a long way in doing that. Continuing to be part of U of T and partner with my alma mater gives me a chance to have an impact on future generations along with the issues that matter most to me.

As an alumnus, how has engaging with U of T positively impacted your life?

Volunteering has been a great investment in my life. It began in third year when I decided to become a Big Brother. It wasn’t easy; I had to balance a heavy workload, my water polo training schedule, some form of a social schedule, all while spending time with and being a mentor to a young boy without a father. But through it I learned so much. I was able to give so much to someone who was looking for guidance and a friend. It quickly taught me something important about the rewarding nature of volunteering.

From that point, I made a personal commitment to give my time to organizations and causes I care deeply about. I have not only focused on giving, but also in taking, in the form of learning and growing as a person, meeting amazing people, and building lasting friendships from my volunteer experiences. Spending time at U of T has given me 10 times what I have given back.

A staircase climbs upwards in a corner in the tall concrete facade of Robarts Library.

Robarts Library. Photo by Diana Tyszko

What is your favourite memory of U of T?

There are so many, but above all, I met amazing friends and had many laughs, joys, and heartbreaks over my four years. So, when I think about U of T, and when I am on campus, all those memories are encapsulated.

What is your favourite spot on campus?

There were so many places where I would hang out and do my homework. During good weather, my go-to spot was the courtyard at Sir Daniel Wilson residence at University College. I loved sitting on those benches. There was also a free phone there I could use to call my girlfriend—now wife! The University College Library was my favourite indoor spot. And I took many naps cramming in Robarts Library late at night.

Learn more about Defy Gravity: The Campaign for the University of Toronto and how you can get involved as a volunteer.


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