Some students are accepted into many colleges or universities and have to pick one program. It is not easy to weigh all the variables involved in such a decision. Case in point: Bernita Rebeiro had completed her OACs and was contemplating the options open to after her successful and active high school education.
Her major high school commitments were Yearbook for four years and Grad Committee in her final year. She was in choir and the student ambassador program, involved in musical theatre production and played rugby for two years.
The course she enjoyed the most was World Issues. She found the subject matter and course format stimulating. The teacher asked provocative questions that forced her to think and participate in discussions and debates concerning specific issues. Her flair for unraveling complex matters point by point, was noticed by both her teachers and peers.
Bernita qualified for the Canadian Merit Scholarship and placed third, receiving an award of $500, and was in contention for the Bishop Cody’s Scholarship. However, she was undecided as to what course of studies and what course of action she should pursue the following year.
Bernita was accepted into four universities. She narrowed down her preferences to two schools. Her quandary was whether to enroll at the University of Ottawa in Communications, where she could save money by living at home and learn how to use technologies to creatively package and distribute messages through many types of media; or, spend a lot more money, live away from home, and attend Queen’s University in Kingston for Development Studies.
She felt a lot of pressure to be practical and realistic and choose a program that would lead to a secure job. But neither of these two options seemed to fit that bill. She didn’t know what to do.
Her mother suggested that Bernita meet with me to help her navigate the options, which included her mother in the analysis process because it is important to have parents involved in their children’s early-career decisions. The key is to get parents to see the natural strengths of their children and to support the nurturing and development of those strengths into a successful and satisfying career.
Bernita adds, “I felt much more comfortable pursuing learning opportunities that I knew I would enjoy after speaking with George. I felt less pressure to go to school just for the sake of finding a good job.”
Based on our analysis, we determined that International Development was better suited to her long-term career goals, and Bernita enrolled in the Development Studies program in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Queen’s where she did a major in Political Science.
Bernita would study to become a content specialist with a strong international focus. The program included an overseas work and study program which would enable her to gain field experience quickly and test her will to work on the frontlines of development.
Her interest in political studies was founded on “understanding what’s going on in the world, where things are going, and why. I found the different lenses for understanding the world and analyzing issues interesting,” says Bernita. “How government can affect people’s lives through public policy was an area that attracted me.”
Also, the idea of living in residence at Queen’s appealed to her. Living in residence can help to establish and build relationships that can be important after university in terms of a network of employed contacts.
The downside was the cost, in the area of $7,000 annually. Between jobs and an OSAP loan, she felt she and family could manage the financial burden.
“I was attracted to the school spirit and the atmosphere of a smaller university in a ‘college town’,” she says. “I also wanted the experience of living away from home for the first time. I had a great time, being exposed to people from different backgrounds. Going to university was a very positive experience for me in terms of broadening my horizons.”
Through the program at Queen’s, Bernita was able to explore her interest in International Development. She traveled as part of her overseas placement. She worked one summer at Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
These experiences changed her ambitions. Our interests at age 17 can be different than our priorities and values at age 27. But our strengths never change. We can always adapt and modify them for the demands of different situations. When Bernita decided that she wanted a “more career-oriented” education, she used her natural strengths to do a Master’s in Public Policy at the University of Toronto.
“More than half” of her fellow students now work in government. “We each have contacts in many ministries and we are all learning to navigate our first ‘real’ jobs at the same time,” she says. “When I speak to my professors, it’s to get their perspective on overarching challenges or get their opinion on where the organization is headed. They help me to understand the larger picture.”
She cites “stability” as determining factor in her priority to work with government. “That was always in the back of my mind,” says Bernita. “And I wanted work that would enable me to help people in some way. It’s important to me to be able help others through my work.”
Bernita secured employment with the Ontario Provincial Government in April 2009. She worked as a research analyst with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs for a year before moving on to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in the capacity of Program Consultant.
“My responsibility is to support my unit and branch, which currently means working on a project team for a healthcare strategy,” she says. “I find that a lot of my time is spent finding and communicating information. I think I am at a great place right now because I am making use of my skills and education but am still being challenged every day. I find the work engaging and I believe that it is important.”
Just recently, Bernita has decided to advance her career by doing what many Canadians have done before her — Go North! She’s joining the Nunavut Government as a Senior Policy Advisor. By sticking to her strengths, Bernita has developed the kind of competence and confidence that is necessary for adapting to changing priorities. Now, that’s being practical!
~with Harry Gallon