Kathleen Tonnesen is no stranger to starting over. The Douglas College alum, who turned 50 last month, graduated with a diploma in Early Childhood Education in June and is completing her certificate in Performing and Fine Arts this summer. Kathleen, an artist, hopes to one day teach ECE at a college or university.
Though the future is looking bright, it’s been an up-and-down journey for Kathleen, who went from high school dropout and housewife in South Africa to confident college graduate in Canada.
In 1998 Kathleen left her native South Africa to come to Canada with her husband and two children, escaping what she describes as a “dangerous” and “male-dominated” society. The family settled in Maple Ridge, where Kathleen’s husband found a job and the children started school. But Kathleen was at loose ends. She had a background in professional art and theatre but dropped out of high school and believed she was never “good enough” for college.
“I believed the lie that I was blonde and stupid and all I could do was create, which was not a valid credential in the society into which I was born,” she recalls.
Kathleen worked odd jobs, did private art tutoring, painted free murals and taught children’s art classes. Then, two events rocked her world. In 2000, her sister committed suicide. Kathleen didn’t have the money to fly to South Africa for the funeral and was stricken with grief. The following year, on Sept.11, New York’s Twin Towers were brought down by terrorists and 3,000 people were killed.
“All I could think was, every person who died had family and friends who loved them. And they were all going to be grief-stricken. Because it takes a long time to get yourself into a space where you can manage it. But it never goes away. You just live with it, and if you can express it, it helps.”
As an artist, Kathleen knew all about expressing herself, and she wanted to do something for the family and friends of the victims of 9/11 and honour the police, firefighters and paramedics who died at the scene.
She did two paintings depicting the release of souls and, with a volunteer architectural designer, engineer and metal fabricators, created Release of Souls, an aluminum sculpture 18 feet high, 23 feet wide and weighing 6,000 pounds, representing the last three standing pieces of World Trade Center Tower no. 1. The names of the police officers, firefighters, airline crew members and Pentagon personnel who died on 9/11 are engraved on the piece.
“I wanted to create a gathering place to which people could come in the hope that they would converse, because in conversing we begin to share and heal,’” Kathleen says.
Release of Souls made its debut at Maple’s Ridge’s Act Theatre Sept. 11, 2003, with Maple Ridge police officers, paramedics and firefighters in attendance. Next stop for Release of Souls was Seaforth Armoury, in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Kathleen had written to the White House and City of New York to offer the sculpture as a gift. Both refused. But it made it to America and was put on display in Pasadena and San Diego.
“We exhibited a number of times and then I really just wanted to come home,” Kathleen says. “I thought, ‘You know, nobody in America really wants to accept it.’ But people kept saying, ‘Keep trying, keep trying,’ and that it should go to in New York.”
But after getting the runaround or being met with outright hostility from the mayor’s office as well as from other groups trying to memorialize 9/11 – by now it was 2006 – Kathleen began to lose heart.
“I met an artist in New York, and he said to me, ‘Every time you unpack your sculpture, you step into a hornet’s nest. Because when you unpack your sculpture, you’re unpacking political questions, personal questions, foreign questions.’”
After managing to show the piece for a short time in New York, Kathleen called it quits. She came home, her marriage fell apart, and she was broke. “I found it incredibly difficult to get a job and because I had created the 9/11 piece, people ostracized me. Even in the art world, I wasn’t helped, I was ostracized.”
Searching for a way to move forward, Kathleen, who loved children, heard about an eight-week Early Childhood Education program at Douglas College whose costs were covered by a government program. Kathleen took the program, received her certificate, but then decided she wanted – and needed – more. On the advice of her son, she applied for a student loan and entered the Early Childhood Education Diploma program. She’s never looked back.
“My first instructor, Cathy Sales, was pivotal in encouraging me to persevere with my studies and not to be ashamed of my circumstances, but to realize there was opportunity to be of service in this area,” says Kathleen. “She changed my life.”
Release of Souls is currently stored in the Chicago area in a semi-trailer. Kathleen is still reaching out to Americans who are interested in it. See more of Kathleen’s art on My Art Channel.
Find out more about the Douglas College Early Childhood Education program on our website.
She passed her chartered accountancy UFE exam with flying colours, earning her a place among the top 50 CA students in Canada, and on B.C.’s UFE honour roll. What’s more, the Douglas College alum is the only student on the honour roll who did not graduate from a research university. But there’s more to Erin Reimer than just numbers.
Chartered Accounting designation, CA School of Business, 2013
Bachelor of Business Administration – Accounting, Douglas College, 2010
Senior Accountant, Assurance & Advisory, Deloitte
The secret to my success
“I worked my butt off! It actually wasn’t even on my radar to finish that well on the UFE. But I had a good study partner and we worked really hard. Also, my family has been really supportive. Last summer while I was studying it was really important for me to take weekends off so that I didn’t burn out. So my husband sat down and planned stuff for us to do pretty much every weekend so that I wouldn’t be tempted to study.”
My job is more than digits
“It’s not just sitting there and punching numbers. I deal with a wide range of clients and industries. I’m not in the office that often. I’m usually out at a client site working there for a couple of weeks at a time and then moving onto the next one. So I get to meet a lot of different people.”
“I have a food blog. I enjoy cooking and baking, and it’s kind of been a stress relief thing for me. Going through as much school as I have, I needed an outlet. So that was something I found that I really enjoyed doing and seemed to have a knack for.”
Taking it on the road
“I wouldn’t mind doing a secondment in another country. I know that Deloitte offers that opportunity to their employees. That would involve transitioning to another office for a period of maybe six weeks to two years. A lot of people from Deloitte end up going to Australia. I have a co-worker who is actually in the Cayman Islands right now.”
The Douglas advantage
“The small class sizes were really beneficial because you could build one-on-one relationships with your instructors. The work experience component of the program – I had to work while I was in school – also really helped, because once you start the CA School Business you are working full time and taking really demanding courses. So having that experience of balancing work and school and life at Douglas really helped me successfully transition to working at Deloitte and studying to get my CA designation.”
Anna Rowinska is sitting on top of the world. Or at least, a good thousand metres above sea level.
For the past five years, Anna’s been the Marketing and Events Coordinator at Mt Seymour. It’s a dream job for the avid snowboarder, who graduated from the Douglas College Hospitality Management program in 2005.
“I love it,” she says. “I’ve been growing every single year, every single season with this job. I’m able to explore more options, do more marketing, do more events. And the company has really allowed me to do my own thing.”
After graduating from Douglas she studied event marketing at BCIT and is now in her final semester at Capilano University, where she’s getting a degree in tourism management.
If Anna’s got one piece of advice for people considering a career in hospitality management, it’s this: work while you study.
“Working and going to school at the same time is a bonus. They have a positive effect on each other. What I learn in school I can implement in my work, and what I do at work helps me with school projects. You get that learning curve and you get that industry experience. That’s invaluable.”
Do you have bad memories of high school English class? So much that you’re dreading taking English at college? Have no fear, because Douglas English instructor Brenna Clarke Gray speaks your language. A lover of new technologies and different ways of learning, Brenna will help you find your way into the study of literature at a level you can appreciate.
A text is a text is a text
“I like to start the semester with TV shows or graphic novels or films,” she says. “I find the same student who is super nervous about discussing a theme when it’s in something scary like a poem or a novel can talk about it fluently when they’ve seen it in a TV show or read it in a graphic novel. If students can recognize something in one kind of text, they are totally capable of doing it in another.”
Email is so 2000
“For our students, email is how you get in touch with Mom and Dad, how you get info from your bank and stuff. I find Facebook and Twitter are about meeting students where they’re at. Rather than sitting here waiting for them to reach out by email, they might send me a quick tweet that says, ‘Hey, I’m confused about this reading.’”
Beyond the classroom
“I set up course groups on Facebook, which means students have a common place they can go to discuss course issues. The best is when they say, ‘I just saw a funny video on Youtube and it reminded me of this main character we’re talking about.’ Making those real life connections is what the study of literature is all about.”
Brenna assigns her students to post articles on Wikipedia. Find out how it makes them more conscious writers in a story we published last year.
Read more inspiring stories about our students and instructors in our new viewbook.
Wondering what it takes to be a well-rounded person? For Cody Sterzer, it means getting a liberal arts degree. “Someone once told me a liberal arts degree is designed to do one thing: make the world inside your head a better place,” he says. “I never forgot it.”
The A student is planning to become a history professor, but his path wasn’t always clear. A self-described slacker in high school, Cody had his “OMG” moment when he took a history course at Douglas.
“Watching the instructor was fascinating. That’s when it hit me like a truck: I needed to do what he was doing. I needed to teach. Everyone else was struggling to take notes, but I just sat there looking at the board and thinking, ‘this is totally lighting up my world.’”
When Theatre student Chelsea Stamp-Vincent woke up in the hospital after being hit by a car, doctors told her she’d be a quadriplegic for the rest of her life.
Her first thought was that she wouldn’t be able to graduate with her classmates and fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming an actor. Not when she’d broken her neck in three places, fractured her spinal cord and sliced a main artery. She was facing life in a wheelchair.
Chelsea counted on the support of her friends and family to help her with her recovery. She got an added boost from Allan Lysell, Theatre Coordinator at Douglas College.
“Allan came to see me four days after the accident,” Chelsea recalls. “He told me about community theatre groups for people with disabilities, but I was hell bent on going through physio and getting better so I could go back to Douglas. Allan said that even if he had to carry me onto the stage, the Theatre Department would welcome me back with open arms.”
With tremendous determination, Chelsea slowly regained control of her body and her life. She learned to walk again and returned to school and the stage – in time to graduate with her class.
The intense program of classes and rehearsals gave Chelsea little free time. But thanks to bursaries through the Douglas College Foundation, she’s been able to make ends meet. “It’s harder now because I can’t work while I’m going back to school. My body just won’t do it. So it’s a huge blessing and a weight off my shoulders.”
A classically-trained opera singer, Chelsea always imagined herself on the stage. But her accident and rehabilitation have given her a new perspective. She graduated from the Theatre Department in June and is planning to pursue a degree in psychology at Douglas.
She wants to eventually become an occupational therapist working with young adults with spinal cord injuries. “I want to show them that it’s possible to achieve the dreams they had before they were injured.”
First-year Marketing Management student Richard Petrus has big dreams.
“I’ve always wanted to be a sales representative. I like the challenge,” he says. “I just have entry-level experience right now, but I want to do big business, selling to big corporations or even countries.”
Originally from Namibia, South Africa, Richard moved to Canada in 2011 when his mother, who was already here, told him about the opportunities he could take advantage of to complete his education.
“Marketing and communications are the two things that interest me the most,” he says. “My favourite class at Douglas is Personal Selling. We get to be creative and give lots of presentations.”
Moving to British Columbia presented some challenges for Richard. “I wasn’t used to the weather, I got lost a lot – my country is very small – and I didn’t know anyone,” he says. He managed to fix the last two with one smart move.
“I joined the Vancouver United soccer club,” he says. “I love soccer. It helped me make friends and get to know this place because we travel all around.”
One of his biggest dreams is to somehow combine soccer and sales.
“It would be great to work for the Vancouver Whitecaps in some way!”
It’s a dog’s life – and Craig McDowell wouldn’t have it any other way. Craig graduated from the Douglas College Self Employment Program in July and soon after opened Zoomies, the largest doggie daycare in New Westminster. Here’s what Craig has to say about the Self Employment Program and his new venture.
On working with animals
I’ve always loved dogs, but I’ve had a couple of really challenging dogs that pushed me to look for answers that were not easy to find. Through that process I discovered how exciting it can be to work with animals professionally and realized that I have a lot of skills that allow me to help people going through the same sorts of challenges that I did. After doing some film work and providing private consultations I decided it was time to fully realize my dream of starting a daycare and training centre to create a place where I could help dogs and their owners to learn new skills and have fun in a safe and friendly environment.
The thing about Zoomies
Zoomies provides all the support that people with busy schedules need to be able to enjoy quality time with their pet. At over 4,000 sq. ft., we are the largest dog daycare in New Westminster. We provide classes and workshops in obedience, agility and many other fun activities. We have a fantastic dog wash area that offers both full-service and self-service dog washing, nail trimming and ear cleaning. Our boutique retail features fantastic cookies and birthday cakes from Three Dog Bakery and other essential items like toys, food, supplies and treats.
Thank you, Self Employment Program
I would absolutely recommend the program to other entrepreneurs, with the caveat that you will only get out of it what you put into it. Going through the program helps keep you organized and gives you tools that present you with opportunities, but you have to be willing to do the work and keep pushing yourself in order to take advantage of those opportunities.
A word to aspiring entrepreneurs
Be ready to work long and hard at it, and be persistent, especially when times are hard. It’s important to remember that it’s about running your business first and foremost – marketing, finance, operations and sales are all equally critical to your success. Don’t get so focused on one aspect of your business that you ignore the others. If you aren’t good in one area, then try to find someone who is to help you.