Kindness of Strangers Through Bursaries Propels Educational Journey

February 4, 2023
Bursary Tea 2023 speaker Jamie Adams

In the midst of chaos, first-year Selkirk College student Jamie Adams is discovering clarity and direction through the generous support and validation of those along for her educational journey.

A newly single mom with a lot on her plate, Adams returned to post-secondary in September after a lengthy absence from formal learning. Starting in the School of University Arts & Science’s Psychology Program in the same week her son began kindergarten, the 33-year-old anxiously gritted her way through the first semester on the Castlegar Campus. 

By the time final exams were over in December, the stress and struggle had Adams debating if she was making the right choice and was capable of successfully completing school. Then she checked her email.  

“I wasn’t sure if I had the capacity to continue,” Adams says. “Between the mounting expenses to the emotional and mental transitions of being a single full-time parent… it was a lot of turmoil. Then to feel like I really flopped in the last two weeks, it had me feeling defeated and bogged down heavy with guilt. I felt like I was in a freeze, then I received my final marks and the notification of being awarded these bursaries. There was a sense of relief and reassurance that it can only get better from here.”

At the annual Selkirk College Bursary Tea on February 4, students and donors gathered at Mary Hall on the Tenth Street Campus to celebrate more than $237,000 in bursaries that will be provided to 225 learners. The needs-based financial support is an essential component of access for students who use bursary dollars to offset the cost of their education.

Finding a New Home and New Opportunity

Adams grew up in a rural setting near Brockville in eastern Ontario. After high school, she attended Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo where she was focused on global studies, then religion and culture. With too many interests and lack of direction, midway through her second year at university she dropped out and moved to Ottawa.

Working as a barista and dabbling in personal training, she eventually decided to return to formal education. After applying for both a massage therapy program and a welding program, when she was accepted to the latter she chose the trades. Despite having never touched a power tool, Adams finished at the top of her class and was immediately hired by an engineering company that manufactured military equipment.

Seeking new opportunities, Adams moved to Grand Prairie, Alberta with her younger brother where she worked mainly as a welder helper in the oilfield industry, but also took jobs in data management, equipment operator and a junior welding inspector. When her son arrived six years ago, she turned focus to being a stay-at-home mom. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adams moved south to Trail for a fresh start.  

“Moving to Trail was one of the most distinguishable moments of my life, everything seemed to be pointing here and leading to something big,” she says.

By late-2021, Adams began investigating programs at Selkirk College in anticipation for a return to post-secondary after a decade-long absence. Her plans hit a roadblock in early-2022 when Adams and her partner split. Despite the chaos in her life, she was forced to pick up the pieces and forge ahead.

“Turning 33, I knew if that I didn’t go back to school now, then it might be too late and I wouldn’t have the time to have a successful career,” she says. “I knew I would be grieving, but needed to start. Submerging myself into school would be a positive distraction and my best chance to have a hand in my own fate.”

Connecting with Culture for the First Time

Adams knew her father had Indigenous roots, but because he didn’t talk about his own family background she felt very little connection.

Shortly after deciding to attend Selkirk College this past spring, Adams took in a Mir Lecture Series event at the Castlegar Campus featuring Sixties Scoop survivor Dr. Raven Sinclair. The University of Regina faculty member spent the evening talking about her own experience of being torn away from her family and culture, then being adopted by a non-Indigenous family. 

“When people get to share their stories, you get to hear their struggles,” Adams says. “They overcome these struggles and it’s not always pretty or easy, but you get to see that it’s about trial-and-error Despite great adversity, it’s possible to find success and purpose. I appreciated it and it empowered me.”

At that same event, the college’s Cultural Activities Coordinator Ann-Marie Smith told Adams about an upcoming Indigenous Fine Arts 60 course being offered through the School of Academic Upgrading that explored culture. Adams had been connecting with the Indigenous Services team prior to the event and was eager to learn more. While taking the course as a trial-run in the summer, Adams had a chance to meet Indigenous artists and gained connections that led to her participating in the Nelson Mural Festival.

“That course changed everything,” she says. “To be in the space with other artistic minds, the conversations are so much more raw. That is the beautiful thing about art, no matter how distorted or alternative it is… there is truth there and nobody is trying to cover it up. That part felt good because through these conversations you see a different aspect of yourself and it gives you permission to get past a blockage. It blew my mind and I began to feel myself open up again as if I was being flooded with live and passion, after what felt like an externally agonizing coma.”

A First Semester Overcoming Trials and Tribulations

With a rekindled passion for art and tapping into her past training, Adams realized that she needed to pursue a pathway of becoming an art therapist. As September neared and with her newly realized direction, she thought it may be good to practice her theory and exercise her create creative self. At the last minute, she applied to the new Blacksmithing & Metal Arts Program at Nelson’s Victoria Street Campus. Accepted to both programs, she chose Associate of Arts because it allowed her more flexibility to focus on her son’s needs as he began his own school adventure and postponed blacksmithing until September 2023.

With a focus on psychology, Adams took a deep breath and entered Selkirk College’s Castlegar Campus on a beautiful day in early-September. During that first week, the mom’s group in her neighbourhood of Tadanac helped ensure it went as smooth as possible by helping with childcare, reaffirming a connection to her new loving community.

“I felt the love and support from my little community, that became very apparent on my first week of school,” she says. “When you feel that others notice your struggles and they really care, it’s humbling but if feels really special. These people don’t have any obligation to me, but they show up. It was a first for me and it kind of knocks you back into yourself because it makes you realize how much you did alone before... so it ends up hurting, but in a good way. Being humbled is an emotional experience filled with tears of gratitude and a heart so full it begins to throb in its expanse.”

Adams also felt support from a variety of college services, including Indigenous Student Counsellor Leah Lychowyd who provided vital advice and helped her work through applying for Metis citizenship. 

“The support has made it possible, I don’t think without that I would still be enrolled or feel confident that I could do this,” she says. “Despite the feeling of constant anxiety, I did well and remarkably kept it together.”

Buoyed by the support of instructors, staff and her neighbours, the chaos in other areas of her life did not wane. The financial pressures were building and though she has a student loan, the struggle was reaching a breaking point. Then in late-December, she received better-than-expected final grades and the email from the college’s Financial Aid office about four bursaries to help offset costs of the second semester.

“When you receive the notice, you don’t really get to see the person behind who is giving it,” explains Adams. “But they need to know that it’s a blessing to those receiving it because it helps take some of the pressure off, especially when you’re under so much at times you think you’re going to break. Knowing that you will be able to use these bursaries to pay for more of your school, it provides you extra time because it takes away from what is on that full plate. You have a little more room to breathe.”

Getting to her final educational goal is still distant, but Adams is taking it one semester at a time. The future is still uncertain as she continues the process of healing while creating balance and peace within her life. But her determination in moving forward is secured with the additional external support that offers a bout of confidence and motivation to continue on her journey.

“In the past, I have sold myself short because I would get caught up in all of these external pressures that make achieving educational goals feel impossible,” she says. “Even at the start of the first semester, I didn’t know that it was going to be something that I could achieve because I had so much doubt in myself. I’ve come to appreciate that this is an opportunity to invest in myself, so I need to find that balance that enables me to get to a point where I can create a more fulfilling life for me and my son.”