Grads celebrate at Access Program Graduation Celebration
On May 19, Christie Lavallee celebrated her graduation with her family, and her second family- the Access Program. The Access Program, in Extended Education, provides holistic supports to UM students on their academic journey.
The Métis bachelor of science honours graduate from St. Ambroise was one of 19 Access Program 2021-2022 graduates celebrating their achievement at the first Access Graduation Celebration since before the pandemic. The celebration is in addition to each graduate’s convocation from their respective UM faculty. Fourteen students from Winnipeg and Manitoba Indigenous communities, and five newcomer students from Africa celebrated achieving degrees in medicine, nursing, arts, science, social work, education, health sciences and kinesiology.
Lavallee attended the evening with her parents and two older sisters. After all the uncertainties of the pandemic, she was thrilled to be able to attend the celebration in person.
“Access is like a second family. They are always there. When I started university, I came from a small community. Without them, I would have felt lost. They were a comfort. I came with the idea to pursue medicine, but I didn’t know there are so many other options. They helped me to explore them and decide where I wanted to go. Through Access, I have made lifelong connections.”
A traditional hunter with a passion for the outdoors, Lavallee found her true calling in biological sciences. This fall, she will head to Trent University to pursue her master of science degree, with plans to follow that up with a doctorate and run her own research lab one day.
To be a research doctor
“I will still be a doctor but a research doctor,” she says, noting she would one day like to study mammals in Canada. “I will see where my education takes me.”
For Lavallee, Access has been a huge part of her life for the past eight and a half years, and a great help in assisting her to navigate her undergraduate degree. The graduation celebration, hosted by fellow Access students Antonina Kandiurin and Curtis Leclerc, was “a very lovely evening, with fiddle music to get your toes tapping, and the sharing of kind and wise words and advice, a greatly motivating part of the evening” to tie up her UM experience.
“I would definitely recommend the Access Program to any Indigenous students starting at UM. There are so many supports including tutoring and a personal counsellor to listen. They are there to help. It is okay to ask for help. University can be a very daunting experience.”
Fellow Access grad Tyler Koswin, celebrating his BSc, agrees.
“To anyone wanting to go to university and change their life, this program is amazing. It’ll be tough but Access offers an incredible support system. All you have to do is reach out. I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Koswin, who attended the Access grad with his wife who is celebrating her graduation from medical school, and other family members.
Declined management job to come to university
From Winnipeg, Koswin, who is Scottish Métis, Cree and Ojibway, learned about Access from his wife. He had been working retail for 10 years, and was an assistant manager considering an offer of a store management position.
“It would be a decent living. But my wife didn’t think I would be happy. It was scary. I had to quit and take a student loan, but I told myself this is not permanent. I will work hard and I can do this. I kept a positive attitude.”
While he originally wanted to be a pharmacist, Koswin says his journey led him to a science degree and a dream of also being a doctor. He did not make it into medical school this year, but he plans to prepare himself to apply again next year. “I never thought I would attend university in my life. I had to upgrade for entry. And now, because of Access, I am here.”
The Access Program is wonderful, he says. “I had a few tough years. The biggest challenge as a mature student in my 30s was when I would wonder what I was doing here. I didn’t feel like I belonged. But the people at Access, I owe them a lot. I am so grateful I had them in my corner. They always made me feel great, like I can do it, like I belong here.”
The Access graduation dinner was a wonderful experience, he says. “University is tough. To be there and honoured meant a lot to me. I was truly touched.”