From Enriched Support Program to a life of academics

The story of my life isn’t one that I consider extraordinary. Like many young people I moved from a high school student, to a university student, and finally into a career in academics. It wasn’t something particularly special.

It came down to finding my interest.

In my next few blog posts I am going to reflect on my academic career and how I got to where I am today.

When I was in high school I wasn’t a particularly good student. My grades weren’t great and this came from choosing a future based on what other people, whether intentionally or not, considered successful. I remember my 10th-grade career studies and civics class, we completed a project which required us to choose a career, and plan our lives around that career. I remember we had a booklet full of jobs and their corresponding salaries. We also had a booklet full of houses, cars, hobbies, etc. that we had to budget within our potential salaries.

This was what my career studies project imprinted on me as the vision of success

So I did what I thought was right, I chose my future based on the highest paying salary and a career that sounded cool.

Aerospace Engineering…

My short career in STEM

There was only one problem with this. I wasn’t good at science and math. To me, that didn’t matter. I choose all the academic stream courses in math and science. My grades suffered because of this and I remember during the final test of my grade 12 chemistry class, my teacher called me up to the front and told me, “if you never take another chemistry class, I will give you 55% and we can move on”.

My initial belief was picking a high paying job would lead me to success.

Now, that seems harsh, but at the time it was a total relief. I did it, I passed grade 11 chemistry! I’m not super proud of HOW I passed, but I did it. Life can lead you to things in mysterious ways and that conversation with my chemistry teacher was actually a catalyst to changing my career and I am still thankful for that decision by that teacher.

From STEM to journalism

I did a lot of soul searching and I always enjoyed writing. Like I said earlier, my grades weren’t great so I came back for an extra year of high school to bolster my grades and prepare for university. During that year, I took as many writing courses as possible and even took part in a co-op position at the Enterprise Bulletin, a newspaper in Collingwood, Ontario. I thought that I would become an award-winning journalist.

Would journalism be a better fit for my skillset?

I applied to a few Canadian institutions, Ryerson and Carleton University (that I remember) and I waited. Unfortunately, I was rejected by every journalism program that I applied for. At this time of my life, I felt lost, sad, and honestly, a bit betrayed by an educational system that made me feel like there was only one path to success (STEM).

I felt dejected and didn’t know where to go from there. My focus shifted from university to college, which at the time felt like I was the lesser of two experiences. It was during this time that I got a letter from Carleton University, but I didn’t open it. I thought it was just going to be a bunch of pamphlets telling me how great the school was. So I sat on that envelope until about June or July. I ended up getting a call or email from the school asking me if I would be accepting my invitation to join the Enriched Support Program (ESP)? Huh…

The ESP program at Carleton allows students who didn’t qualify for a degree program to start earning credits that will count toward a degree. These students have access to support that helps bridge students into university-level work through academic skills workshops, mentors, and advising.

Long story short, I accepted but had limited options for course selection since I was late getting in. I ended up taking an Indigenous Issues FYSM, a history course, and an English course.

Transition from ESP to regular course work

Over my five-year career as an undergraduate student, those three courses remain the most memorable. I had a good relationship with my Indigenous Issues FYSM instructor and continued to speak with her until her retirement a few years ago. ESP allowed me to transition into university life. I often saw my roommates, friends, and colleagues struggle with workload and transitioning to academic life.

This program set my academic career up for success as I bridged into the world of academia. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university. This left me feeling out of my element within the culture of academics. Terms like pedagogy, discourse and peer review were all foreign concepts to me. ESP allowed me to gain my footing in a world and career that I wound up falling in love with. I have been in academics for 16 years and of those 16 years, 14 have been at Carleton University.

In my next post, I will talk about my transition into my undergraduate degree and my progress through that time of my life.

Spoiler alert: I struggled through my early undergraduate degree as well! More to come!

Header image photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

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