You belong here. The scaffold of belonging is everybody’s business
You belong here. The scaffold of belonging is everybody’s business
You belong here. The scaffold of belonging is everybody’s business
Doug Ota


Dr Doug Ota



Dr Doug Ota is the keynote speaker at our 2022 CIS Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance this week in Madrid. He's a child psychologist, researcher, and specialist in how transitions affect people. We asked Doug about the biggest challenge facing international education right now and to give us a sneak peek of what's to come at the Forum.


Ilustration of a group of diverse students holding hands in a circle

What do you consider the biggest challenge facing educational institutions and students right now?

In the twenty-first century, we have dismantled many of the social norms and structures our ancestors took for granted. The result has been more freedom than many know how to cope with. 

The covid pandemic accelerated a pandemic that was already underway: one of disconnection. 

Ours is an era of struggling to find, maintain, or rediscover a sense of belonging. 


What about in relation to the mental health and well-being of students during their transition from secondary school to university?

Meta-analyses consistently show that the biggest factor in whether a student adjusts to a new school or university is belonging. 

Do you want your students to thrive academically? To remain physically and mentally healthy? To stay, and not drop out or transfer? 

All such factors are empirically associated with the degree of belonging. But we are probably still in the “pioneer days” of actually addressing this challenge well. 

Each university has its own culture. Each secondary school prepares students for the transition in its own way—or not. The challenge lies in finding ways of bolstering best practices to support transition, by creating vehicles for sharing such practices between universities and by fostering dialogue between sending high schools and receiving universities.


Tell us about your keynote

My keynote is hopefully a gift. It's a gift you already have, though you might not realize it. It's hidden in your experience. 

The premise of this talk is a big one: touching participants' own experiences with transitions will help them shape their school or university into a place that improves the world. 

In forty-five minutes, we'll cover the state of the art in what we know scientifically about how transitions affect people as they move between schools and head to university. And they'll be able to see their pivotal place in the scaffolding that supports optimal human development—and arguably the health of the planet.

We learn best in the presence of emotion. Real-life experience—all of ours—will form the thread to weave the talk's far-ranging facts into a coherent whole they can take back to their organization to effect change.

Participants can prepare to get refreshed by a chance to consider their own life. They can prepare to get equipped to help their institution understand why belonging is crucial to the endeavour we call education.  And prepare to connect—with themselves, with like-minded others, and with the organizations to support them in this important work.


What will be the key takeaways?

It will be personal! We’ll go back and forth between must-know theory and experience. But we’ll start, and stay centered upon, experience. 

Have you digested your journey with transition and belonging? Just like flight attendees tell you to don your own mask first, this session will invite you to examine your own experience with moving and belonging. 

Why? Because we can only authentically help others with things we’ve mastered ourselves. 

(Think about trying to help somebody with an area of mathematics you’re not comfortable with and prefer avoiding.) Belonging is important. 

We’ll start, and return to, a sense of belonging in our own skin and experience.

You belong here. The scaffold of belonging is everybody’s business
  • Student well-being
  • University admission & guidance
You belong here. The scaffold of belonging is everybody’s business