Campus Life  

The road to Harvard: Okanagan College graduate continues her quest for knowledge

Guessy Wang at Pond Inlet, Nunavet

Dr. Guessy Wang is no stranger to the graduation stage having already secured a Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Dental Surgery.

Wang will be adding a third degree to her name, graduating from Okanagan College with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, an impressive feat that has propelled her to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health where she will begin her search for a solution to help address dental obstacles within Canada’s northern population.

Wang came to Canada from China as an international student. She attended the University of British Columbia where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree. She went on to study at Western University Schulich School of Dentistry with a dream of owning her own dentistry clinic one day. When that opportunity arose in 2018, she quickly realized she needed business skills to be able to support clinic operations.

“I came to the College in search of the know-how to run my business, but I found so much more here,” says Wang. “At first, I was in search of just a few bookkeeping courses but the business program at OC was so good and the education was incomparable that I kept taking classes even long after my original goal was met – and before I knew it four years of studying had gone by and I was getting ready to complete the degree, specializing in accounting.”

Wang currently works at and operates North Peace Dental in Fort St. John, B.C. She has a passion for public health and participates in a travelling dentist program that sees her work throughout various Inuit communities in Nunavut for several weeks at a time.

“Last year I arrived in Nunavut on March 12, unknowingly just four days before the pandemic would be declared in Canada,” explains Wang. “I knew that if I came back home, that community might not get another dentist in for emergency surgeries for months, maybe longer, so I decided to stay and I’m glad I did.”

She ended up staying in Nunavut for four months until the territory reopened for regular dental services. It was at that point that Wang turned her attention to how she could make a greater impact in remote communities in Canada’s north.

“My business degree from Okanagan College might be one of the most beneficial degrees I’ve ever had because it taught me another way to think about and approach problems,” explains Wang. “The more I learn, especially from different disciplines, you start to see things connect together at a higher level, almost in a philosophical way. There are science concepts in business and business concepts in dentistry.”

“It made me realize that interdisciplinary studies could be the key to unlocking answers to some of the larger problems our global society is faced with,” adds Wang. “By integrating all of my learnings and methodologies together, it might trigger some insight to help me solve other problems.”

Following her own advice, Wang applied to and was accepted to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health where she will complete her Master of Public Health degree virtually. She is hoping obtaining this education will give her the intellectual breadth needed to make positive and sustainable changes to Nunavut’s dental policies, a community she holds dear in her heart.

Wang is one of Okanagan College’s first graduates to continue on to Harvard University.

“I’ve been to many, many schools but Okanagan College just sticks out as one of the best experiences I’ve had,” notes Wang. “Even though I studied by distance education, I was able to make amazing connections with my professors. In fact, I made such a great relationship with my one professor Robert Wright that I asked if he would write a letter of recommendation to go along with my Harvard application, and he happily did. He was so excited when I told him I was accepted.”

For Practical Nursing student Joanna McClelland, the call to help was inspired locally.

Joanna McClelland

“I was born and raised in West Kelowna and I’ve wanted to be a nurse my entire life,” says McClelland. “As a nurse, I feel like I can make a big difference in my community especially within marginalized populations.”

McClelland will be using her skills to work in the correctional nursing field where she will enter local correctional facilities to help care for some of the region’s most vulnerable population.

“From my OC education and practicums, I knew I wanted to work with mental health and substance use patients and stepping into my first correctional facility just felt right, like I could make a really important difference in those people’s lives,” explains McClelland. “It is common for people who have been incarcerated to have experienced real traumas in their lives, they may have experienced homelessness and they may have mental health obstacles – they need access to good and meaningful care.”

McClelland will graduate from her program with Honours this Saturday, a distinction she credits to the help received from her Indigenous band – the Kawacatoose First Nation – and her family.

“My band has supported me wholly in my educational pursuit – with their help I was able to focus entirely on my studies and I’m happy to see all my hard work has paid off,” adds McClelland. “I also couldn’t have done this without the support from my family, especially my brother Brandon who helped me study for almost every single exam.”

McClelland has already secured a job in her field of choice after recently being hired as a Practical Nurse at the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver, B.C.

“I’m ecstatic about starting my career, I’ve been dreaming about this for so long and here it finally is,” she says. “Education is so important and having entered the field of nursing, I know I’ll be a life-long learner.”

Okanagan College President Dr. Neil Fassina will be amongst the first to congratulate and address the graduands in his first convocation ceremony since joining the College in April.

“OC and our students have a strong sense of community and it’s that sense of working together, lifting each other up, empowering one another and being an ally and advocate that is needed now more than ever,” says Fassina. “I take comfort knowing they’ll be the ones to improve and strengthen the social, cultural, and economic fabric of our region, the province, the country – and, truly, anywhere they find themselves in the world.”

“I am truly honoured to be among the first to congratulate you. Continue learning, continue sharing what you’ve learned and in doing so, you’ll continue to make the world a better place.”

More than 1,500 OC students will graduate this Saturday during three different Spring convocation ceremonies. The first ceremony is at 10 a.m. and will confer credentials on students in Arts and Foundational programs. Business students will graduate at the second ceremony, beginning at noon, and students from Science, Technology, Health and Social Development programs will graduate at the 2 p.m. ceremony.

To view the ceremony and learn more, visit www.okanagan.bc.ca/virtualconvocation. Viewers can also visit the webpage in advance to leave messages of congratulations via a digital guest book, pre-order flowers for a graduate with a special discount code or to purchase a commemorative gift.

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