Campus Life - Kamloops  

Accessibility Services a partner in education

Melissa Little

Upon meeting Melissa Little, it doesn’t take long to be inspired by her sunshiny enthusiasm for student life. “University is not just beneficial on a scholastic level; it supports social and emotional outcomes, too.”

Little’s educational pathway was lined with supporters. Diagnosed with a learning disability in kindergarten, she was bolstered her pro-active mother and supportive instructors. Little attended Holy Cross Elementary School in Penticton, where she worked with the same learning strategist until the eighth grade.

“Teachers told me that anything was possible, but that it might take a little more time and effort. The encouragement and flexibility fostered my work ethic and motivation,” she said.

TRU’s supports and services gave it the competitive edge

After thoughtful consideration, Little chose TRU because of the abundance of supports and services.

“I explored other options closer to home, but from the Open House onward, Kamloops felt like was the right fit for me. I couldn’t have had this experience at a bigger university.”

Before graduating from Penticton Secondary School, Little met with Accessibility Services (AS) to arrange for accommodations. “Before I even started classes, I already felt on track – the staff alleviated so many of my anxieties.”

She credits the connections she forged with various educators and advisors as being at the foundation of her educational experience. Her eye on a future in education, the history major said, “I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher–I want to pay it forward.”

She now works with Accessibility Advisor Jeff Dineley. “His effort and accountability is on point. He is always one step ahead of the game,” Little said.

“Melissa is a very enthusiastic and dedicated student. Her positive energy makes her such a joy to be around. She will make a great teacher someday,” Dineley said.

In regards to positive study habits like time management, organization, brainstorming and planning, Learning Strategist Evelyne Penny helps build Little’s skill set and confidence. “Each assignment, exam and presentation leads to stronger outcomes.”

“Evelyne is the most non-judgmental, open-minded, supportive, helpful person. She’s the reason I haven’t dropped out of university. I can talk to her about anything.  I learn something new in every appointment.”

Accessing Accommodations

Penny reflected on Little’s drive and commitment to excellence. “Students with learning disabilities have to work longer hours, which comes at a cost in terms of the time and energy spent on course work. Melissa’s perseverance, determination and positive outlook are beyond admirable.”

When it comes to booking tests, there are many requirements and complexities to consider. “Erin McCarthy is the perfect person for that role in the Testing Centre. As an accommodations co-ordinator, she helps calm my nerves before an exam; she double checks my schedule to mitigate errors or amend any issues.”

McCarthy said Little is upbeat and enthusiastic. “Melissa is a real sweetheart, always so eager to learn. She often expresses her gratitude for the work we do, which we appreciate.”

Little paused to think about those who helped her along the way. “My experience with AS has made me feel comfortable and confident. I feel valued, respected and humanized. We are partners in learning.”

A career in sight

Penny said Little’s compassion and empathy will help her in her career.

“Melissa’s personal experience as a student with a learning disability will make her an excellent teacher. She knows what students can face and what their needs are,” she said.

All in all, learning how to learn is the overarching lesson of Little’s educational experience.

“Your final mark and your GPA only tells a part of the story – it doesn’t necessarily express what kind of effort went into learning,” she said. “Real life experience matters; it teaches resilience, tenacity, compassion and empathy.”


ESTR students reinforce learning at worksites

Daphne Peterson ESTR practicum

Often the best way to learn is by jumping into real-life situations.

For 28 students in the Education and Skills Training (ESTR) Program, they had plenty of those opportunities during their recent practicums at businesses around Kamloops. ESTR is for students with intellectual disabilities who need additional supports to learn essential workplace and social skills while opening up employment opportunities and gaining independence in their lives.

Cody Kostiuk ESTR practicum

Cody Kostiuk completes a customer transaction during his ESTR practicum at Tim Hortons.

“I’ve always been shy around new people, and I’ve come out of my shell by meeting new customers,” said Cody Kostiuk of his work placement at Tim Hortons, where his duties ranged from cleaning tables to working the cash register. “Meeting new customers is important because customer service is important in any workplace.”

ESTR offers three credentials: Kitchen and Food Service, Retail and Hospitality, and Career Exploration.

Each stream is nine months long and offers two work experience placements. It’s not uncommon for students to take all three streams and to re-take one or more. In addition to learning at a job site and in the classroom, students can learn through ESTR’s Market. The market offers experiential learning opportunities promoting diversity, inclusion, entrepreneurship and sustainability on campus.

» » Learn more about ESTR

In 2017, ESTR graduate Angel Phair was named valedictorian for the graduating class representing the Faculty of Education and Social Work. Watch her speech here.

A win for employers and employees

Dylan Dunn fish duties

Dylan Dunn performed a range of tasks during his ESTR practicum at Petland, including ones related to caring for the fish.

Each year 30 to 40 employers participate in the work placements, with some students receiving job offers as a result. This year, eight students were offered jobs. Through the years, more than 300 students have completed practicums, with many of them now working or volunteering for a range of businesses in Kamloops and around BC.

Dylan Dunn did his placement at Petland, where his enthusiasm and good nature made an impression. Always with a smile, he cleaned tanks and cages, fed animals, socialized kittens before being they were handled by the public and performed general duties like cleaning washrooms, folding laundry and emptying the dishwasher.

“We enjoy working with the ESTR program and enjoy the diversity of personalities the students bring to the team,” said Petland manager Heather Byers. “It’s amazing to watch students evolve with their confidence and with their ability to work with a team and individually.”

Daphne Peterson split her time at Gold Leaf Pastries and at Rock Salt Catering. Gold Leaf owner Carly Harding was impressed with what she saw, saying Peterson gained confidence as she took on tasks and mastered them. Peterson also demonstrated pride in her workplace that brought customers in.

“She would text people, inviting them to come in, and they would come in,” said Harding. “Her friends would come in before going off to their jobs, and even her TRU classmates would stop by.”

TRU wins national teaching excellence award

Faculty of Education and Social Work Dean Airini, Tess Gagnon and Elder Mike Arnouse.

Thompson Rivers University has won two of three prestigious national teaching awards from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STHLE).

On Wednesday, TRU was recognized with the Alan Blizzard Award at STHLE’s annual conference being held in Winnipeg.

The award recognizes collaboration in teaching. TRU won for Knowledge Makers, an initiative that involves more than 40 TRU faculty, staff, deans and students working together to mentor Indigenous students in learning to conduct and publish research as Indigenous researchers.

The win builds on last year’s D2L (Desire2Learn) Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning that went to five educators across Canada, including TRU botanist Lyn Baldwin. That award is also administered by STHLE and was a first win for TRU.

Dr. Catharine Dishke Hondzel, director of TRU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), said both awards have a strong impact on students’ learning. STHLE is a national organization that sponsors national awards for excellence in teaching, leadership, collaboration and achievement.

“Teaching rarely happens in a vacuum,” she said.

Teaching on a different level

Presented every second year, the Alan Blizzard award is overseen by a selection committee. This year, the award attracted the most nominations ever.

“We are doing something phenomenal here,” she said of winning the two awards back to back. “This is something we should really be proud of.”

The Alan Blizzard award is named after STHLE’s president from 1987 to 1995. Blizzard was a firm believer in collaboration in education and teaching; he felt that team teaching was effective for student learning. The award is given to groups of two or more people who have demonstrated effective collaboration in post-secondary education.

The Knowledge Makers included several Indigenous Elders, all nine TRU faculties, CELT, TRU World, the Library, Research and Graduate Studies, the TRU Office of Indigenous Education and Open Learning.

Faculty of Education and Social Work Dean Airini said TRU’s size and the enthusiasm for teaching, commitment to Indigenous-led research and to working together for Indigenous advancement were behind the Knowledge Makers getting started in 2015/16.

“This is one of the beauties of working in a university this size,” she said. “We can step across lines to do needed work together.”

Elder Mike Arnouse and Tess Gagnon admire the Alan Blizzard Award presented to TRU's Knowledge Makers initiative

Elder Mike Arnouse and Tess Gagnon admire the Alan Blizzard Award presented to TRU’s Knowledge Makers initiative

Addressing a gap

At that time, Associate Vice-President of Research and Graduate Studies Will Garrett-Petts noticed Indigenous students were underserved as recipients of internal research grants promoting TRU’s strength in undergraduate researcher opportunities. Dr. Sereana Naepi and Airini developed Knowledge Makers to address that gap.

The Knowledge Makers came from that initial collaboration and grew into much more. It’s now a four-month mentorship program with undergraduate, graduate, doctorate and international circles. It is part of the core role of TRU Elders (Mike Arnouse, Doreen Kenoras, Dr. Margaret Vickers Hyslop and Estella Patrick Moller) and involves collaboration university wide.

“Our TRU Elders remind us that Knowledge Makers is about the students first and their strengths as Indigenous researchers. We see potential and our job is to help make that potential fulfilled,” Airini said. “We do have a bit of magic here.”

Airini said teaching and learning are interchangeable in Knowledge Makers. Academics are also learning from the students. This dynamic approach is key in indigenized teaching and learning practices in the Knowledge Makers. Everyone is working together to expand the research needed in service to others.

“Research is a form of service. By recognizing the team of teachers through this award, this really shines the light on the Knowledge Maker students,” Airini said. “And that together we’re expanding Indigenous-led research.”

Indigenous researchers are flourishing

Since 2015 Indigenous students from more than 30 bands and nations have completed this interdisciplinary researcher mentoring program. To date, 64 Knowledge Makers have published their first reviewed journal article. These articles are now being cited in further research.

Knowledge Makers alumni have gone on to graduate studies, scholarships, national research grants ($50,000), research assistantships and international conference presentations. The Knowledge Makers international circle makes it possible for TRU Indigenous students to meet with other Indigenous student researchers through a five-nation international mobility network Canada involving United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.

“It’s a very special feeling to be part of Knowledge Makers. . . . This says universities are transforming. We are going to see more Indigenous researchers as academics—leading research and training future researchers. Knowledge Makers are high performers.”

Dishke Hondzel said Knowledge Makers breaks the mindset that students are good at some subjects and bad at others. Instead, a team is asking students what they need for support, and that mentoring is then provided.

“Students don’t always know how to amplify their voices. This gives them a microphone,” she said. “Everyone who is recognized in this award is a teacher who cares.”

The Knowledge Makers stood out because of its scope, which included Elders as teachers, Dishke Hondzel said.

“Universities don’t always put their Elders first. . . . It represents a community approach to teaching. With scope and breadth, you get depth.”

Knowledge Makers is breaking down barriers. TRU’s roots date back to 1970 when Cariboo College was created and spent its first year in buildings at the Kamloops Residential School. Just as the university evolved out of that past, so has the Knowledge Makers.

“This is part of the effort to decolonize the university as well.”

There is another teaching award that STHLE offers, the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, and Dishke Hondzel believes TRU can complete the trifecta.

“I’m determined. There are a lot of faculty here who could be recognized,” she said. “We have outstanding scholars here.”


Sampling trades

Students installing window

Students installing window


This story first appeared in the spring 2019 edition of Bridges Magazine: The Sustainability Issue. Bridges is the official publication of TRU alumni and friends, and can be read online in its entirety at tru.ca/bridges.

Nestled in the Fraser Canyon, the TRU campus in Lillooet offers a unique program for students to explore the world of trades.

The trades sampler program was designed for students without trades experience, giving them career-oriented skills that they can take back to their communities.

Heather Hamilton, manager of industry and contract training in the School of Trades and Technology, said TRU discussed options for the Lillooet regional campus with nearby Indigenous communities, and found that a practical, low-barrier trades program would most benefit the community’s job and industry needs.

The trades sampler program covers a broad spectrum of trades skills, including carpentry, electrical and plumbing. Through the program, a special project arose involving a partnership with the Xaxli’p First Nation near Lillooet. With community help, a group of students and instructors built a two-bedroom house for a brother and sister who needed a home.

The siblings were living in a condemned trailer. Gerald Carter, Xaxli’p housing manager, led the project to mend a small part of what is becoming a growing housing issue on Indigenous reserves.

“Gerald was absolutely instrumental in this entire project,” said Hamilton. “We need more of these projects and are hoping to see more of them in the future.”

Darren Arndt, an instructor on the project, worked as the lead plumber, teaching and guiding the students throughout the building process. He was impressed by the students’ work and enthusiasm. “I had never worked like that with a group of students,” said Arndt. “They were fantastic to work with.”

The house was built over a four-month period, giving the students learning experience in a real-world setting that gave back to two members of the community who needed it most.

“It was a very worthwhile project to be a part of. It was fun watching the students be so eager and enthusiastic about the work, and seeing it come full circle,” said Arndt.

Shortly after the house was completed in July 2018, there was a ceremony to award the students with certifications, and present the house to its new owners. The home now stands in a community, built by members of the community, who learned their trades in the community.

Learn more about TRU’s Lillooet and Lytton Regional Centre

Story written by Becca Evans.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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