Douglas 360°

Top brass: This music alum and her saxophone build community through their sound

By Zach Siddiqui, Communications Coordinator

“It was always the idea of the saxophone that really captured me,” says Kaylar Chan, a graduate of Douglas’s Music Diploma Program.  

Taking up music from a young age, Kaylar was inspired by her grandfather’s love of classic woodwind players like Plas Johnson. Now, as a Douglas alum, she has built a resilient, self-driven career in the Vancouver music industry, playing gigs and creating fresh sounds with all kinds of people.  

We caught up with Kaylar to ask her about her beginnings at Douglas, her relationship with music today, and her advice for anyone interested in pursuing music themselves. 

Why did you choose Douglas College? 

I grew up in Surrey, so it was always just across the water. And it was in a part of town that I really loved: the New West Quay, a beautiful, historic place to spend time. I still remember my orientation day, and what it felt like walking into the school. The campus looked beautiful, but intimate. Just the right size not to feel intimidating. I still have the T-shirt from that day, you know; it’s one of my beloved pyjama shirts. 

How did the Music program set you up for success?  

Douglas taught me how important it is, as a musician or otherwise, to build relationships, to open yourself to people. The music industry reaffirms that for me the more I engage with it, and Douglas’s Music program let me connect with so many people. The program is how I met my current partner, at our audition – and we just celebrated our 11th anniversary. Some of my best friends are from Douglas, too, and I still play music with people from school. It’s the network I built there that I take forward with me into my current career and lifestyle. 

Read more: Striking the right chord: How this music alum found his calling in film and TV  

What career path have you taken since graduating? 

Before COVID-19, I had made it to a point where I was self-employed, my own boss, deciding my own schedule. Just making music with as many people as possible. I was performing two to five times a week, especially with my main band, Raincity, which started with three Douglas students. Then, once COVID hit, I was fortunate enough to have been able to reorient my work somewhat. That meant doing less gigging and more creating, discovering what I wanted to say with my craft. I focused more on teaching lessons, producing film scores, painting and recording/writing lots of music, including my first solo works ever. Luckily, gigs are trickling back in now. But we can only wait and see. 

Kaylar Chan (pictured right) performing with her band, Raincity.

Can you tell me more about Raincity and the music you make? 

We’re a five-piece rage-funk band. Defining our genre is hard because we’re trying to create something people haven’t heard before. But we make music that might speak to those who’ve felt unseen in the world.  

What about this band resonates with your personal values? 

Raincity embodies a lot of what is important to me – especially the representation and recognition of women in the music industry and in the world in general. There are three women in the band, and us five coming together… The strength and support of my bandmates are why I’m comfortable with dancing on stage, swinging the saxophone while yelling into the world.

At the same time, this isn’t a story unique to me. Growing up, I only saw a few artists in the media who would make me think, “I’m capable of that, too.” I didn’t experience that until I searched it out myself in my 20s.  

What’s your biggest goal for the next five years? 

A huge goal we’re trying to realize right now is creating a studio space on the property I live on. With a base like that, you can really foster a community — not just one of talented musicians, but also of amazing friends, all with different perspectives. It’s like I said before: music comes down to the network you build and how you interact with people. That’s especially true in Vancouver, surrounded by a sea, snow, mountains and a national border. There’s not a lot of directions that we can easily take, so there’s this close sense of community. Everybody knows everybody, especially if you’ve been around and have been putting yourself out there for a long time. 

Read more: Finding his rhythm: Music Technology grad engineers a career he loves, one beat at a time

What’s your advice for students considering the Music program? 

The great thing about Douglas is that the College is always doing their best to stay ahead of the curve. This is especially true when it comes to keeping up with the industries its students are working to enter, like music. And they do so in a way that is much more affordable for young people starting to make these big decisions. My courses at Douglas were completely affordable for me, just from working part-time.  

What would you say to a budding musician who’s hesitant to pursue music as a career? 

As a career path, music gets a bad rap for certain things, like financial stability. Be open to surprising yourself, though, especially if you already have a relationship with music. It’s an artform that can connect you with people, networks and opportunities for success in ways you’d have never even considered. In the end, happiness is really the point, right? Spend the time you have doing things that fulfil you. And music is that for me. 

Poet, prosaist, professor: Amber Dawn guides writing students through the art of creating in crisis

By Zach Siddiqui, Communications Coordinator 

Last year, Amber Dawn was one of many authors whose book launches were complicated by a global upheaval. Though her latest poetry collection, My Art is Killing Me and Other Poems, did hit shelves, its promotion was quickly stifled as the world scrambled to adapt to COVID–19. What remained stronger than ever, though, was her dedication to the Creative Writing students under her wing at Douglas College during the pandemic. 

“I feel very honoured to be teaching creative writing,” Amber Dawn says. “We can’t really be launching a lot of books. There aren’t public gatherings, so we can’t publicly gather to appreciate literature. But it’s a wonderful time to be creating something.” 

The rhythm of adversity

Amber Dawn juggles author credits in poetry, fiction and memoir, along with experience in editing anthologies. Her debut work, the award-winning Sub Rosa, is known for its adept exploration of sex work through speculative fiction. My Art is Killing Me is her latest of several texts since then, deals with the pain that artists face in making their art, especially through the lens of the behind-the-scenes struggles in the publishing industry. 

At a time when many creatives are grappling with stressful transformations in their fields, the themes of her latest work may be more poignant than ever. In Amber Dawn’s eyes, the pandemic – and its aftermath – could be a moment for writers like her students to blossom under hardship. 

“Some of our favourite artists throughout time have created liminal or outstanding works during crisis,” she explains. “I try to remind my students of that. While many of us are managing crisis, the other side of that is that we’re in touch with ourselves. 

“Imagination and possibility are working at an all–time high, and it’s such a treat to be reading what they’re working on.” 

Read more: Creative Writing instructor transforms short story into whimsical, yet poignant, graphic novel

Putting pen to paper

Amber Dawn’s creative roots lie in the Downtown Eastside, where she started taking free community writing classes in her early 20s. After spending time in writing groups and developing an interest in slam poetry, she enrolled in courses at Douglas, where she was already studying in the Stagecraft and Event Technology Diploma Program

creative writing instructor Amber Dawn

“It was a really accessible place for me to start, and I gained a lot of skills,” she explains. Soon after that, she transferred to UBC’s creative writing program, completing her undergrad and graduate studies there. During this time, she began to design and teach courses at Douglas as an adjunct professor. She debuted as an official member of the department in September 2019.   

While Amber Dawn is an established author, she brings little discussion of her poems or stories into her classroom. To her, everything hinges on making space for her students and what they themselves create.    

“I want to feel to them like a clean slate,” she explains. “So that all of the focus is on them and what they want to do.” 

Read more: English Instructor “brews dissent” in new book on craft beer and medievalism

Write and repeat

Amber Dawn teaches introductory and second-year classes in poetry, memoir and fiction, particularly speculative fiction and short stories. For students interested in pursuing creative writing long-term, her advice can be summed up in one word: practice.   

“Someone might have a certain charisma or uniqueness about them the first time they’re in their very first play. But to become a professional actor, you have to train, and train, and train. Same with music, with any of the art forms: practice is key.    

“So for students starting out in creative writing, I would say, let yourself be a beginner. Honour the newness of the craft. Know that through practice and through taking more classes, you’re going to see your craft improve and mature. Have patience with yourself.” 

As much as Amber Dawn’s own content factors little into her syllabus, there are still lessons she feels her students, current and prospective, can take from her journey as an author.   

“I worked very hard,” she says. “I worked for 10 years. I was writing actively and taking classes actively for a decade before I published my first book. 

 “And I believe in my students at the same level as I believed in myself at the time.”   

For more information about the Creative Writing Program, visit the Douglas College website.

Trail running builds resilience in women, Douglas College study finds

By Nicole Chiu, Research and Innovation Office   

The need for speed   

In 2018, Selene Lincoln pursued a degree in Therapeutic Recreation at Douglas College. When it came time for her to develop a community-based research project as part of her program, she had the perfect focus: her newfound love for trail running. Selene wanted to look into the gendered differences in building resilience through trail running. 

“It’s important to understand that gender and other social determinants of health impact the way we experience and conceptualize outdoor adventure,” says Selene.  

As an avid runner, clearing trails on a weekly basis, she knew firsthand that missing a trail run often affected her mental and physical well-being. On days when she missed a run, she would feel run-down and stressed. Inspired by her own experiences, Selene decided to explore whether trail running develops and supports resilience. 

In therapeutic recreation, resilience-building is an important factor for many clients. Therapeutic recreation is a rehabilitation process which uses recreation and other leisurely activities to address physical and mental illness or disabling conditions in people.  

Read more: How one Therapeutic Recreation alum finished off her last semester during the pandemic – and landed a job!

Ready, set, go… and interpret the data   

Selene began by sending a survey to local trail running communities. The survey caught the attention of North Vancouver’s Gary Robbins, a celebrity trail runner, who shared it with his social media followers. Soon, responses started pouring in from all over the world, including Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S.  

A total of 121 women and 28 men filled out her survey. Due to the imbalance of survey responses from women and men, the men’s responses were omitted from the study; she decided she would instead dive deeper into the women’s perspective.  

To prove that trail running built resilience, Selene had to show that her data matched the themes set out in a previous study on building resilience through outdoor activities. (“Gender matters: Exploring the process of developing resilience through outdoor adventure.”)  

The study suggested an outdoor activity can be effective in building resilience if it meets specific criteria:  

  • participants spend time in pristine environments   
  • it allows them to have a separation from normal life  
  • it provides social support  
  • the experience is intense and challenging 

Read more: This alum is bringing joy to seniors with dementia in the midst of the pandemic

Selene found each of these criteria reflected in her female participants’ responses. First, participants said that while trail running they spent time in natural environments. They mentioned being in forests and that the outdoors was a main motivator for trail running.  

Secondly, trail running gave them a separation from normal life. Participants discussed trail running as something that allowed their minds to wander and took them physically away from their normal routine or challenging emotions.  

Thirdly, being a part of a trail running community provided them with social support. They viewed trail running as a chance for networking, interacting and connecting with others. This community offered participants both support and motivation.  

Lastly, participants discussed the intense, challenging experiences they faced while trail running, and the positive impact on their day-to-day life. Respondents felt a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence after tackling a trail run. While the first few miles of a run were always the hardest, they also knew it wouldn’t last forever. They were able to apply this mindset to challenges in their daily lives. 

Selene says the data clearly shows there is a relationship between trail running and resilience. Moreover, it showed a profound relationship between women and the wilderness.

“The women are articulate about their motivations for trail running. They are rejecting the dominant messaging found in history and media that tend to masculinize nature. Instead, they are reclaiming their experiences as a profound opportunity for personal growth and the development of resilience,” says Selene.  

Participants indicated that they gained a sense of empowerment, bravery and tenacity through trail running. They also reported a gain in transferable outcomes such as resilience, perspective and mental health supports. Each of these changes improved their daily lives.   

Selene says understanding how resilience is built and supported is a significant factor in therapeutic recreation. 

“We work with client groups who are marginalized in a variety of ways, whether through disability, mental health or socioeconomic status, and we use recreation as a tool to move people towards their goals. Understanding how resilience is built, supported and drawn out is key to creating a successful and person-centered plan.”  

Crossing the publication finish line – what’s next?   

Earlier this year, Selene’s article, “Building resilience through trail running: women’s perspectives,” was published in the Leisure/Loisir academic journal, a publication which focuses on scholarly papers in areas of recreation, arts, parks, sport, travel and tourism. In the future, Selene hopes to pursue more research into resilience-building within nature and its relevance to COVID-19.    

“The pandemic has solidified the importance of access to recreation, leisure and natural spaces as were adapting to social distancing requirements during the start of COVID-19,” says Selene. 

From the classroom to the frontline: How one Douglas grad combined his education with a career in firefighting

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

Nick Cirillo always had firefighting on his career radar.  

“My dad was a firefighter, so it was always in the back of my mind,” says Nick, a Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching (BPEC) grad who has been working at Richmond Fire-Rescue since 2019. “But I wanted to get an education first. That’s where Douglas came in.”  

Blazing his trail 

Nick knew there was no one-size-fits-all approach to the career. Fire departments like to hire firefighters with diverse skillsets, he explains. 

“You never know what you’re going to come up against in the field, so they’re looking for a variety of tools to outfit their firefighting toolbox, so to speak,” Nick, whose colleagues have backgrounds in everything from finance to a Red Seal trade to the military, explains. “The hiring process is based on a points system where different things can give you an edge over other candidates. My bachelor’s degree was one of those things.”  

Not only did Nick’s BPEC degree give him a leg up on other candidates, but he credits his college experience as one of the reasons he was able to keep up with the rigorous hiring process.  

“I treated becoming a firefighter like preparing for a final exam,” says Nick. “The easiest way to get eliminated in the hiring process is by making a mistake. You really have to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Using the skills I gained as a student at Douglas really helped me during this stage.”  

Read more: this BPEC student came to Douglas for the learning atmosphere – and stayed for the degree of her dreams 

Climbing the firefighting ladder  

Though still a junior firefighter, Nick is excited about his career development.  

“I look forward to the potential of becoming an instructor and helping future probationary firefighters,” says Nick. “The coaching aspect of my degree gave me a solid understanding of how people learn. This will help when teaching skills to firefighters in training.”   

Nick says that when he was a probationary firefighter, he found the training officers who had a more hands-on, individual coaching method – like he learned in the BPEC program – had the most success in teaching the skills needed for the job.  

“They performed personalized evaluations and gave on-the-spot, constructive feedback to correct mistakes. I’m a better firefighter today because of their approach.”   

Adjusting to a new normal 

Nick’s first year at Richmond Fire-Rescue has been far from ordinary. Having wrapped up his mandatory year-long probationary period with the department in October 2020, most of Nick’s experience firefighting has been during the pandemic. 

While firefighters are highly trained to respond to medical emergencies of every degree – including those that might be associated with COVID-19 – in order to provide additional support to other emergency responders, Nick and his team have only been responding to serious, life-threatening medical calls since March 2020.  

Despite these new barriers, Nick can’t imagine being anywhere else.  

“My team is more like a family to me at this point, and the job definitely keeps me on my toes.”  

Not only for improving English: how the ELLA program helped this Post-Degree Diploma student’s journey every step of the way

By Maggie Tung, Communications Coordinator

When Amie Sarabosing, a Post-Degree Diploma in Marketing Management student, was looking to study at Douglas College, she didn’t think she needed to take classes to improve her English. It’s her second language, and she thought her language skills were up to par. She got a wake-up call when she couldn’t meet the English proficiency requirement to start her post-degree.  

ELLA program student Amie

Amie realized that while her English was serviceable for day-to-day activities, her academic writing and speaking needed improvement. So, she enrolled in the English Language Learning and Acquisition program (ELLA) — and she’s never regretted her decision. 

ELLA focuses on improving students’ English ability in a college environment. Its courses teach them how to write effectively, understand academic texts, and conduct university-level conversations – all things that Amie is very grateful for. 

“Doing ELLA before taking my academic courses was the best decision,” Amie says. “It made my transition to studying my post-degree a lot smoother. Instructors don’t spoon-feed you, so you have to do your part and take initiative.”   

Before her time in ELLA, Amie wasn’t confident in her ability to express herself in English, especially in public speaking or conversation. Now, not only has ELLA strengthened her English skills, but it has also made her more self-assured.  

“I was able to comfortably talk to my professors and ask questions,” she elaborates. “It actually felt like I was ahead of my classmates in my post-degree diploma program because I was exposed to the library and resources from the ELLA program. I knew how to do citations perfectly too. Since ELLA class sizes are so small, I improved so quickly in just one semester. It made studying at Douglas so much easier.” 

Learning more than English in class 

ELLA made learning English fun for Amie because it covered topics relevant to her everyday life.  

“I think what’s unique about the ELLA program is we got to discuss Canadian culture and global issues. In an academic class, the focus is only on specific topics relating to the program, not necessarily real life. They don’t talk about culture and ways to adapt to it. In ELLA classes, Canadian and international studies and issues were incorporated into the teaching in ELLA classes. It made the class very interesting.” 

Instead of being forced to write and speak about topics she felt detached from, Amie felt free to explore the subjects she had a genuine connection to.  

“For example, in our speaking class, we practiced public speaking a lot. The class expounded on many different topics. We weren’t just learning English but also about current events and international and domestic cultures.” 

Read more: English Language Learning program gave this student the confidence to pursue her dreams in Canada

Making lifelong friends 

Taking ELLA in her first semester at Douglas allowed Amie to meet like-minded people.  

“In the class, with both domestic and international students all learning English, we bonded quickly over how difficult it is to learn the language.” She continues, “My classmates were from China, Korea, Hungary, South America and the Middle East. We learned a lot from each other. ”  

More than that,  Amie is confident that many of the fellow students she met through ELLA will be  lifelong friends. 

“I am still close with people I met on the first day of class,” Amie exclaims. “I wrote a note here, ‘Friends for life’; that was one of the best parts about this program.”  

Using ELLA to go beyond her studies and to employment 

Amie is finishing her post-degree diploma this August. While excited, she isn’t nervous about her next step because she already has a job in Douglas College’s Student Support Department, working as a Student Support Navigator Assistant. She applied for the position as a student, and plans to continue working there after graduation. Her employment there is something she credits to  the help of her ELLA instructors. 

“I didn’t have anyone I could use as references to find a job when I started at Douglas. I was able to get my job with the help of my ELLA teachers. Because I was a hardworking student, they gave me a nice reference. I think it was a huge factor in my getting hired.” 

Sharing her positive ELLA experience 

Ella program English learning friends
Amie and the friends she made through ELLA.

Amie wants other students to know the importance of learning a language and culture thoroughly before beginning their academic studies. 

“I highly recommend that students who are new to Canada take ELLA first before transitioning to academic studies. Even if they think they have a good command of the English language, Canada has certain standards. I say this because I lived it.” Amie says. “The ELLA program helped me not only academically, but with my employment, and I met great friends along the way. It is one of the best and most unforgettable experiences of my life!” 

Interested in the ELLA program? Visit the Douglas College website and complete the eligibility form. 

Celebrating my heritage while finding my community at Douglas

By Aly Hillaby, Bachelor of Social Work student

June became National Aboriginal History Month in 2009, and in 2017, the name changed to National Indigenous History Month. The change is significant because the word “Indigenous” is recognized internationally in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was created in 2007 after two decades of negotiations. The UNDRIP is a comprehensive guide that sets out minimum standards required to protect the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples in terms of culture, language, health, education, employment, protection of traditional lands and their right to participate in decision-making. 

Acknowledging the cultures and contributions of Indigenous Peoples

Since 1996, National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 has celebrated and acknowledged the diverse cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada. June 21 was chosen because it is around the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and a day that is important for many Indigenous peoples and communities. Across Canada, this day is celebrated with cultural performances, activities, arts and other events that recognize the contributions of Indigenous people.

With many events being held virtually this year, Douglas College students and other community members can take this opportunity to participate and increase their understanding of the diverse cultures, arts, traditions, worldviews, languages, experiences and histories of Indigenous peoples.   

Read more: Guided by the Raven and Eagle: How this Psychiatric Nursing grad found clarity by following her Indigenous roots

New ways of learning and growing

Indigenous history month day

Experiencing aspects of our own and different cultures is a great way to continue to grow. Growing up, my main source of knowledge about my Indigenous roots was through the education system. I found that education about Indigenous people often paints them in one general stroke – thus losing important details about what makes each group unique.

National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day present an opportunity to learn about the history and diversity of Indigenous peoples, and to recognize the strength and resilience that generations have shown in order to uphold, pass down and reclaim cultural knowledge and traditions. Taking the initiative to learn more about different Indigenous cultures and groups may help you have a better understanding of yourself and others. My journey at Douglas College involved this type of learning and growth.

The welcoming environment of Indigenous Student Services

My experiences as an Indigenous student at Douglas have been incredible. Indigenous Student Services (ISS) feels like a community. I came across ISS when I was looking for a quiet place to study at the New Westminster Campus. Ever since then, I have stayed connected. I found a welcoming environment where I had opportunities to not only learn more about my culture, but grow as a person.

When I moved from the New Westminster Campus to the Coquitlam Campus, I was worried because I felt like I was losing a place where I belonged. Luckily, my hesitations were unfounded. I found the same type of environment at the Coquitlam Campus and got to know many more wonderful people. I felt heard and encouraged. It’s a place I go and say hi to people in between classes, check in with staff, grab myself a coffee and just unwind or talk about things going on with the people around me. 

The ISS team encouraged me to participate in events that came up at the school, organized lunches and events and updated me about things going on in the community that I was interested in. 

Throughout this past year, I still go to ISS to work or study because it is such a great place. I’m excited for when we can be back in person, and I can see everyone’s welcoming faces again. 

If you want to learn more about Indigenous culture, art and history, here are some resources to check out:

Q&A: How one Therapeutic Recreation alum finished off her last semester during the pandemic – and landed a job!

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

After experiencing the positive impact a therapeutic recreation team had on her as a child, Emma Martina was inspired to pursue a career in the same field. Despite the challenges of pivoting quickly to online learning last March due to the pandemic, Emma graduated and landed a job as a Therapeutic Recreation Assistant with Vancouver Coastal Health at UBC Hospital.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Therapeutic Recreation?

When I was younger, I stayed at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice with a family member. It was a confusing and difficult time where I was surrounded mostly by adults, but the therapeutic recreation team and the army of volunteers worked hard to make the space comfortable for us to enjoy childhood activities with other families.

Upon reflection, I recognized how vital those supports were for my psychosocial health, development and bereavement. After completing the Health Care Assistant program at Vancouver Community College in 2013, I became a registered care aide at George Derby Centre in Burnaby. It was amazing to witness the recreation staff and the various programs having such positive effects on the residents. I worked in complex and dementia units for four years and it reinforced the real impact therapeutic recreation can have for all ages and levels of health care. 

Read more: This alum is bringing joy to seniors with dementia in the midst of the pandemic

Why did you choose to come to Douglas College for your diploma? What was your experience with the program?

As a union member myself, I wanted to support a public college. Plus, all the therapeutic recreation staff I had met were all Douglas graduates and highly recommend the program.  

From the first email, it was clear to me that the program was extremely well organized and welcoming. And it was, from the first day to my last. I felt very supported by the faculty who all had amazing resumes full of lived experiences working in a wide range of therapeutic recreation roles. The small cohort size made it feel like a family where we could have open discussions and learn from one another. The program was well-paced and enabled me to build up to heavier course loads and practicums. 

What was it like to study remotely/online during the pandemic? What were the benefits of your online learning experience? 

We made the shift from in-person to online learning really quickly once the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. It was a bit overwhelming at first because we were at the end of the semester and we had projects and exams that we had been anticipating to complete in person.

Despite the quick shift to online, my professors were incredibly supportive and graceful. One of the benefits I experienced was how many hours I saved not having to commute, while still having a supportive classroom environment through Zoom. I can see the online diploma program as a great option for students who may have other responsibilities that would keep them from attending in-person classes, or for people who want to pursue a career in therapeutic recreation but don’t live in the Lower Mainland.

I took some elective courses in advance of the diploma program, which helped increase my confidence and competence. I went to Strong Start: New Student Orientation which was very helpful for me to meet fellow students and learn about the various resources available through the college.

Emma and her resident Eva Tokke, who worked with Douglas College until 2017!

How did Douglas prepare you for a career in Therapeutic Recreation? 

I also utilized a lot of resources and services at Douglas College – from accessibility services to financial aid to the learning center – which improved my advocating skills, aided my time management and made my diploma experience better. These skills in turn made me more competent and confident in the recreation assistant job search. They helped me find an employer who values providing their employees with positive tools and resources to succeed.

What was your most memorable time at Douglas?

The most memorable part of my Douglas experience would be the relationships with my cohort and professors. They are an inspiring group of women who are very dear to my heart. To have had such a close, supportive cohort from very different walks of life – all with a common goal to bring healing and hope to others – is amazing. 

I learned something long-lasting in every elective and diploma course I took. The teachings provided in the Therapeutic Recreation program have changed my paradigm forever on the endless abilities we are all capable of and intrinsic value in every life.

What were the most challenging and fulfilling aspects of your experience at Douglas?

The first semester with a full course load was overwhelming. I struggled with my health science course and was afraid I would fail and fall behind in the program. Within the first two weeks, I reached out to the learning center and hired a private medical student tutor who I saw every week for my first year of the program. This investment paid off and became one of my most fulfilling memories of the program. Not only did I do well in my health sciences courses, but I learned to love the material and appreciate my body and mind more than ever.

What words of wisdom do you have for future Therapeutic Recreation students considering taking the online diploma program? 

Taking the Therapeutic Recreation diploma online is a great option for those who want to make a difference in their home community, but don’t want to move to the Lower Mainland or commute long distances for school. You get the benefits and flexibility of learning online and can apply and hone those skills with work placements in your area. 

If you’re still unsure, attend an online information session! Sometimes timelines or course loads can seem daunting. Attending an information session can humanize and ground those narratives. Two years can seem like a lot – especially if you are balancing other responsibilities – but those two years are going to go by regardless, so if you feel the longing for change, go for it! 

The pandemic has sadly shown the fragility of many careers, but you will always have stability in health care. If you enjoy human connection and engagement, you can and will learn all the skills needed to help you succeed.

Finally, you’ll never be limited by working in therapeutic recreation. There are various environments, roles and demographics where you can find your passion. 

The Therapeutic Recreation diploma will be offered online starting Fall 2021. Learn more about the diploma on our website.

Meet Douglas College’s first recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

Child and Youth Care alum Meredith Graham has achieved a lot in her life. She’s a spoken word artist, workshop facilitator, keynote speaker, consultant, a Youth Transition Conference Facilitator with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and advocate for changes inside the mental health, education and government care systems.

But Meredith has also experienced many challenges. She’s a former youth from government care who has journeyed through abuse, homelessness, poverty and mental illness.

Today, Meredith uses these adversities to serve and advocate for vulnerable youth across the country, and as the inspiration for her company name, Symphony of ResiliencyTM.

“In my work, I often emphasize how I am where I am today because of the people who chose to be instruments in the symphony of my life,” says Meredith. “Because of my own experience, it’s really important to me to create the same opportunities for young people from care that many people from parented and caregiver homes have access to. I want to empower them to be the conductors of their own symphony.”

Rising up, against the odds

This year, Douglas College Alumni Relations is recognizing Meredith with the inaugural Outstanding Young Alumni award for her professional success and her contributions to youth in the community.

“Meredith found joy in life and decided she should not keep that joy to herself,” says Tracy Green, Meredith’s nominator for the award, who met her while working at the Douglas College Foundation. “Meredith’s advocacy work is a demonstration that we all have a role to play in our community. Her own resilience is a message that if we look for it, we’ll find the same in ourselves, and that if we are struggling, she’ll be the first person who offers to help you find it.”

“This award is really humbling for me,” Meredith says. “It’s not so much about what it means for me, but what it means for my people. You can have mental illness, you can be homeless, you can be from care, you can be a person of colour, you can have everything stacked against you, but you can rise.” 

Read more: Keeping an eye on Douglas: How this alum helps give the gift of education

Finding her true calling

Meredith’s post-secondary journey started with a diploma in the performing arts. But she quickly realized it wasn’t her true calling.

“I thought I was going to grow up to be the next Meryl Streep,” jokes Meredith. “I still love performing and theatre, but ultimately it didn’t feel like it gave purpose to my life. It didn’t feel like a way in which I could give back.”

For Meredith, giving back looked a lot like what the youth workers who had played an important role in her own life did for her.

“I was really drawn to their ability to care for people in a different way. I wanted to be like them, to be that person for youth – my siblings in the system, as I call them,” Meredith says.

She discovered the Bachelor of Child and Youth Care program at Douglas, and knew it was the right fit. “Douglas College offered one of the best programs in Canada at a college-level tuition. It made sense.”

It wasn’t just the program that drew Meredith to Douglas, but the ability to build relationships with her classmates and instructors in a close-knit community. Meredith took this passion for connecting with others to the Douglas Students’ Union (DSU) Board of Directors, where she served as the Disabled Students’ Representative. 

“I learned a lot of skills as part of the DSU. I learned how to make myself heard in rooms full of powerful people at the provincial government level and how to advocate for people and ask questions,” says Meredith. “It was really empowering to learn how we’re all in this together, figuring out how to do better and be better with and for others.”

When it comes to words of wisdom for Douglas College graduates, she shared this short poem:

May you, now that you’ve graduated, be wildly elevated, highlighted, and celebrated.
May you, now that you’ve exhausted your best and reached the crest, rest.
May you consider and ponder your individual and community responsibility, and the abounding opportunities, to be an instrument in a person’s symphony of resiliency.
And may you amplify the music of the marginalized – the ones the world tries to write off the page.
And then may you make music that moves.
And, if you ever feel or fear you’ve lost your words, know that I will sit and sing with you.

A poem by Meredith Graham

For more information on the Outstanding Young Alumni award visit the Douglas College website.

Guided by the Raven and Eagle: How this Psychiatric Nursing grad found clarity by following her Indigenous roots

By Brenna Robert, Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing grad

Yi’yáu, xƛanugva Brenna. Sahtu Dene du Háiɫzaqvṇugva. Gáyáqḷanugva tx̌as Wágḷísḷa du Tulita.
In Heiltsuk, this roughly translates to: Hello everyone, my name is Brenna and I am of Sahtu Dene and Heiltsuk descent. I hail from Bella Bella and Tulita.

I can say with confidence now that psychiatric nursing is my calling, but I didn’t always feel that way. Honestly, I didn’t even know the career existed until a few months before the program started. It was a Kwantlen Polytechnic University professor – the first psychiatric nurse I ever met – who pointed me in the right direction and encouraged me to apply. Up until that point, I had flip-flopped between different career paths and schools, sampling every subject from horticulture to chemistry to politics. At the time, I felt a bit like a thief in the night, stealing bits and pieces of programs, but the completion of every new course left me feeling emptier and even more confused about what I wanted to do with my life.

My ancestors paved the way

My mother used to comfort me by saying: “Whenever you’re lost, remember the Raven and Eagle on your shoulders. They’ll always be there to guide and protect you.” You can believe me when I say both birds had their work cut out for them. But thinking back on the hard times now, I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, like many other Indigenous students, I’ve inherited a heavy legacy from Canada’s educational system; many of my family members hide an agonizing past in residential schools, while others still fight for a space in academia, against all odds. My journey is one more story among theirs. Despite how mystified I am by how I ended up here, I truly can’t say I’m surprised that the same values that link my family’s stories together – resilience, compassion and hope – are the same values that define the profession I chose: psychiatric nursing.

When my professor introduced me to this new and exciting world of psychiatric nursing, there were a few colleges I considered enrolling in. When I couldn’t decide between them, I relied on the advice of the clever Ravens and wise Eagles among my family and friends for guidance. One of the biggest factors in choosing Douglas College was the designated Indigenous seats offered to students of the Psychiatric Nursing program, which nearly guaranteed my admission to a program famous for its long waiting list.

My Douglas support network

There were so many things I liked about Douglas College while I was studying there that it’s difficult for me to pinpoint the best parts. For starters, the Coquitlam Campus offered a variety of supports available to me as an Indigenous student; everything from counselors who supported me in my application, to our own room where we could relax and socialize. The Psychiatric Nursing program itself was demanding, but even on my worst days, I could always find my classmates and instructors right beside me. They believed and inspired me to reach my full potential even outside of the classroom. Being at Douglas also opened doors I never knew existed. Through the Psychiatric Nursing program, I participated in the Homeless Outreach Projects organized by my fellow students, worked as a student intern with other Indigenous professionals, and most importantly, advocated for Indigenous patients during various stages of their mental health journey.

Read more: Hitting a home run for Indigenous youth

Paying it forward for my community and beyond

Now that I’ve graduated, I’m leaving with bigger dreams than I ever could have imagined when I started the program. I want to help people within my reservations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories who struggle with substance use and mental health, I want to become a case coordinator of adult mental health services in Vancouver, and I want to continue to support other students who want to make a difference in the world of mental health – to name just a few. Of course, I won’t be able to do any of those without consolidating my practice, so my first baby steps will be to continue learning and strengthening my knowledge base in new grad programs at Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health.

If I can pass on advice from one budding Indigenous student to another, it’s to expect the unexpected and become comfortable with discomfort. Growth spurts aren’t predictable or easy, but we are gifted with strong roots and stronger communities that will support us through them. The world needs us now more than ever, but if you feel lost or overwhelmed by this, remember the Raven and Eagle are on your shoulders – always guiding you and protecting you on your journey. Ẁúq̓vanúgvuƛa. (I believe in you). All my relations.

Want to learn more about Douglas College’s Psychiatric Nursing program? Attend an upcoming information session.

Celebrating our student-athletes in Royal fashion

By Sean Velasco, Athletics, Recreation and Sports Institute

On May 6, the Douglas College Royals hosted their annual awards banquet celebrating the achievements of the student-athletes during the past year. The celebration was conducted virtually and streamed live via the Royals’ social channels.

Despite the cancelling of the sports season due to the pandemic, there was much to celebrate as each team recognized the outstanding contributions of their student-athlete leaders for team culture and academics.

Donor awards were also distributed to student-athletes who met the academic and sports qualifications.

The event also included a special presentation and recognition of service for Sport Science Faculty Emeritus and the first Douglas College Athletics Director, Gert van Niekerk. Gert dedicated 45+ years of service to Douglas as an instructor, coach and administrator.

Watch the full banquet livestream.

Read more: Setting up a career: How one former Douglas College Royals found success as a coach

Donor Award Winners

Andy and Helen Andrews Memorial Award:
Matt Shand, Men’s Volleyball
Olivia Cesaretti, Women’s Volleyball

Baseball Coaches Association of BC Scholarship:
Logan Newman, Baseball
Otis Pritchett, Baseball

Centaur Products Sports Award of Distinction:
Ben Shand, MVB
Karalee Antoine, Women’s Basketball

Coach Frick and Rick Hansen Difference Maker Award of Distinction:
Hannah dela Cruz, Women’s Soccer
Jennifer Nyce, Women’s Basketball

Dave Seaweed Award of Distinction:
Logan Richter, Women’s Volleyball
Madison Fowler, Softball

David Munro Basketball Award of Distinction:
Kayla Ogilvie, Women’s Basketball
Ben Rabel, Men’s Basketball

Gord Ellis Memorial Scholarship:
Sean Sasaki, Baseball
Nolan MacDonald, Baseball

Jesse Penner Memorial Award of Distinction:
Blake Nelson, Baseball
Matthew O’Reilly, Baseball
Cameron Dunn, Baseball
Nolan MacDonald, Baseball

Katy Cole-McGilligan Men’s Basketball Award of Distinction:
Taylor Smith, Men’s Basketball

Margaret Mason Women’s Basketball Award of Distinction:
Sasha Salmon, Women’s Basketball

Margaret Mason Women’s Basketball Award of Distinction:
Chantelle Zinger, Women’s Basketball

Nicki Kerr Service Award:
Shelbi Snodgrass, MPC

Our All, Our Honour Award of Distinction Supported by Vancouver Whitecaps FC:
Kya Cleto, Women’s Soccer

Peter & Kathleen Kerr Memorial Award of Distinction:
Sarah Svetic, Women’s Soccer
Ben Bergeron, Men’s Soccer

Relive the banquet

Gert van Niekerk presentation

A special presentation was made to Gert van Niekerk for his 45+ years of service to Douglas as an instructor, coach and administrator.

Donor Awards​

Watch the recipients of the Donor Awards.