Marie Beaudoin always wanted to go back to school. A week after she started looking for information she was in an English class in the Continuing Studies Program at Okanagan College Vernon Campus.
Most people take more time to plan how they are going to get on with their dreams but the first step is finding out what is available. The Returning to Education Seminar on Wednesday provides information about program options and financial aid and a chance to ask questions.
Beaudoin will be there with college staff to provide the answers.
“I’m so grateful for everything I’ve had so far in coming back to school,” she said.
She had done well in high school but left without graduating when she had a child and made parenting her priority. Later, with two more children, she was a stay-at-home mother. When that relationship ended she was a single parent again with little work experience.
“I knew I could get only minimum-wage jobs and would have to struggle. I wanted something better for my family and I knew that meant getting more education,” she said. “I went to the Aboriginal Employment Centre and the counsellor asked me what I would do if I could do what I really wanted. I said I wanted to go to school. She said, ‘Then let’s go to school.’ She drove me to the college. Everyone here was so encouraging.”
Beaudoin did the assessment, which showed she needed only English 12 to be admitted to college programs. She completed that in an intensive summer course in 2014 and in the fall was ready to start work on the Human Service Work Diploma program. She is now in the second year of the program and will continue on to get her Bachelor of Social Work degree.
“My kids are really proud of me and I think it is important to be a good example to them of working hard. My friends see what I’m doing and how happy and enthusiastic I am and I have inspired three of them to go back to school. My best friend of 22 years is in the same program with me now.”
Beaudoin was thrilled when she was offered a job at the community agency where she did her first-year practicum.
“Now I have the first-hand knowledge to go with what I am learning in class. The people I work with are so amazing and helpful and there are such great teachers at the college. They are always there for the students. I’m learning so much, like how my life experience can help me in my education and career goals. The students all help each other too.
“I don’t know how I didn’t know that this was supposed to be my career, helping people. I love it and I get to work with amazing people.”
There were some challenges to going back to school, like learning how to study again and how to balance study, work and family. She has kept her student loan debt minimal by working and with bursaries, grants and awards, including one from the Academy of Indigenous Scholars, a provincial program. There are many funding sources available to all students at the college.
“The best decision I ever made was to come back to school. Everyone is very welcoming and supportive and they really want the students to succeed. People can start wherever they are and go at their own pace; if it’s one course or six courses, they are going towards something they want for themselves. I’m so grateful, I want to give back wherever I can,” said Beaudoin.
She’s doing that now by being active on the college student counsel and knows there will be many other opportunities to give back to the community in the future.
“I’m giving in my work and it gives to me. The other day, I helped a client baking and decorating her birthday cake and the smile on her face said everything. It was an awesome day for her and me and there are so many special things every day. I make sure my clients have the best day they can have and that makes me day good.
“Without the wonderful education I am getting here, I wouldn’t have this incredible path in front of me. It’s really exciting. I invite anyone who is thinking of coming back to school to come and find out all the things they can do whatever their interests are. There are so many great programs. I’ll be there. My class ends at 6 p.m so there’s time. Come and say ‘Hi.’”
The Returning to Education Seminar is an opportunity for people who have been out of school for a while to discover what Okanagan College has to offer, learn about how to get started, whether it’s through upgrading or simply needing help with how to apply and what to expect after applying, and to learn about how student loans, bursaries and awards work. Whether it’s starting with a short program or signing up for something longer, people can see that the college isn’t an intimidating place, but rather a community of people working together to help students feel comfortable and achieve success.
The seminar takes place Wednesday starting at 6:30 p.m. in room D314. For more information, contact Tawnya Cameron at 250-545-7291, ext. 2309, or email email@example.com.