Discovering his passion: how this alum’s time at Douglas helped him build the foundation for his career
By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations
Psychology alum Aran Armutlu not only earned a degree at Douglas, he also gained an interest in advocating for students and education.
“I’m a firm believer that education leads to social and economic mobility,” says Aran, who now works as a Student Engagement Coordinator at Simon Fraser University (SFU), developing workshops, volunteer opportunities and leadership programs for students. “When we reduce barriers for people to access quality education, we are directly and positively impacting a person’s ability to create opportunity for themselves. I think it’s really important for people from different walks of life to have access to education.”
A rocky start
Despite Aran’s interest in education, his own relationship with it wasn’t always positive.
“At 17 I had no idea what I wanted to do,” says Aran, who started his post-secondary journey at Concordia University pursuing a business degree. “Business wasn’t something I was really interested in, and I wasn’t sure if I was even ready for university. I felt directionless.”
Knowing that business wasn’t his path, Aran took time off to work and figure out what he wanted to study. After two years and some soul-searching, he decided to come to Douglas for a change of pace and a fresh start.
“I told myself I wanted to do it differently this time,” he says. “I wanted to find opportunities, get involved and explore what I wanted to study. Feeling connected to my school was the biggest thing for me.”
Aran did just that. Shortly after starting at Douglas, he joined the Student Ambassador program, where he got involved with student orientation and helping students transition to college life.
“I immediately felt connected to my peers, and that I had found my sense of place,” says Aran.
Advocating for students
This newfound connection extended to academics. Studying at a college allowed Aran to get a quality education at a more affordable price. This gave him the freedom to explore a wide range of subjects as he figured out what he wanted to focus on, which turned out to be psychology. He planned to take the first two years of his bachelor’s degree at Douglas and transfer to university. Then, fate intervened.
“Douglas announced the Applied Psychology degree program and I knew I had to stay,” he says. “I loved it at Douglas. I loved the smaller community feel in my classes, the connections I’d made and my professors.”
Staying at Douglas meant getting more involved on campus as well. Because he’d already forged strong relationships with his peers and fellow Student Ambassadors, he continued building on that foundation.
“Instead of starting again and having to build new relationships at a new school, I took bigger steps at Douglas and got involved with the Douglas Students’ Union,” says Aran.
And the decision paid off. Aran was elected to the DSU’s board as the Director of Finance and Staff Relations Officer, where he worked with faculty and administration to improve the student learning experience and make education more affordable. He went on to become chairperson of the B.C. Federation of Students (BCFS), a provincial-level student union.
Discovering a career
While Aran’s interest in advocating for students was fostered by his involvement in student leadership, it was long-standing Douglas physics instructor, Jennifer Kirkey, who introduced him to another one of his interests: Open Educational Resources.
OERs are public domain, no-cost and freely accessible resources – such as textbooks, multi-media files, software and much more – that are created to increase access to education and knowledge.
“The whole point is to reduce as many barriers as possible to knowledge and make it less about ownership and more about accessibility,” Aran explains. “It really caught my interest, and I knew it’d be a huge benefit for students.”
As part of the DSU and BCFS, Aran helped adopt OERs both at Douglas and at post-secondary institutions across the province. He is currently a member of SFU’s OER Working Group, where he works to create awareness and build capacity for adopting OERs.
In 2019, Aran was the 15th recipient of BC Campus’s Award for Excellence in Open Education, an honour that his former instructor, Jennifer Kirkey, also received.
“Education is a huge social justice issue – it has an impact on society as a whole. It’s why I care so much about the work I do,” says Aran.