Alison Lauridsen remembers her father saying, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
For her and many other adult learners, the path to a job to love has been through Okanagan College.
“I had several jobs and I did love them but I always thought there was something else,” she said. When her mother brought by some of her old school things with the childhood ambition, “I want to be a nurse,” written in the books, she knew it was time to act on that dream.
“My biggest fear was that I would be the oldest person on campus. I drove up here three times and sat in the parking lot and never came in. Then one day I got up my nerve and walked in and asked, ‘What do I need to do to get in here?’ I spoke to a counselor and told them what I wanted and they made it easy.”
Lauridsen graduated from her full year-long Licensed Practical Nurse Program in August and is now working in a complex care facility.
“First, I did the upgrading for two semesters. I was shocked at how easy that was, the teachers were so kind and helpful. I’d say the most difficult part was balancing my home life with kids and husband with my school work. The kids and I would do our homework together. It was a busy time but it was exciting and I made some wonderful friends.”
Lauridsen loves her job and is thinking of going back to school to work towards becoming a registered nurse.
Candi Kado is doing upgrading courses with the goal of taking some kind of health care professional training.
“I took the placement test awhile ago, then I moved and was working so I didn’t do any more about it. When I lost my job, I didn’t want to go start at minimum wage and work my way up again,” she said.
She started her upgrading last January and has already completed three years of math, two years of English and a year of biology courses.
“The teachers are really encouraging and the tutoring is helpful. I was not working, and living off my savings, so I was able to get financial assistance with tuition, books and travel. That made the difference for me.
“I had been out of school for 12 years when I came here and it was a big change but it wasn’t as scary as I thought because there were lots of mature students and it’s an entirely different atmosphere because people here want to learn.”
Kado plans to do another year of upgrading before deciding on a program because she feels she needs the background to do her best with her studies and for future employers and patients. She’s considering nursing, or maybe medical lab or pharmacy technician programs.
“This is all positive. I’m going to have career and financial stability and time with my family.”
Craig Smith is adult academic and career preparation coordinator, helping mature students find what they need to get back into the classroom.
“More people are accessing the program because of the economy. They can’t find work, or the work they want, or they are underemployed, or want a career change,” he said.
While many of the potential students have not finished high school, this is not as much of a barrier to further education as it used to be. People can enroll as mature students and take the upgrading they need for specific programs. These courses are offered day and evening so people can take them while working.
“It is important to some people psychologically to complete high school graduation and we can help them do that,” said Smith.
People can find out more about Okanagan College adult learning programs by coming to the campus office or calling for an appointment. They can take a skills assessment which helps them make decisions and select appropriate courses. All adult basic education courses are free and some people are eligible for help with other courses/expenses through the Adult Basic Education Student Assistance Program. Students who have diagnosed learning disabilities or physical disabilities can have specialized equipment or someone to help with writing and computer work. There is also tutoring free of charge.
“It’s hard work but the students enjoy it. It’s exciting to come back to school and be successful. Our students just out of high school do well but mature students do better and are more likely to get an A or B,” said Smith, who also teaches English. “This is just the best job in the world, you know. People are so happy to have the opportunity and there’s so much energy for positive change and we are all part of that.”
He recalls one student who came for an assessment and didn’t get out of the car the first time. The next time, the student got to the room, saw the assessment form and left. It was third time lucky with the assessment completed and the student going on to take courses. In 2007, 190 people took the assessment, with that number more than doubling to 448 in 2010. Some people go on to become students, some go to other learning institutions and some come back later.
Okanagan College hosts an Adult Learner Seminar Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. at the Vernon Campus. Representatives from Adult Basic Education, Trades, Continuing Studies, Business programs, admissions, financial aid and academic advising will be present to answer questions about programs, registration and assistance. Drop-ins are welcome, but pre-registration is encouraged to ensure that everyone can be accommodated. Pre-register by calling Tawnya Cameron at 250-545-7291 (ext. 2309) or e-mail email@example.com.