2020 Phyllis Pitre Bursary winners tell their stories by Heidi Riley
As seen in The Employment Journey
About the bursary
The Phyllis Pitre Bursary is funded and administered through the Career Development Association of PEI (CDA of PEI). The bursary awards PEI adult learners who are working towards completing a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree. In 2011, at the age of 48, Phyllis Pitre, former Chair of CDA of PEI, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. She lived in Charlottetown and was formerly of Tignish Shore. She valued lifelong learning and made a tremendous impact on people in her personal life and those she worked with to encourage and support them as they made life decisions and planned their career.
Dmytro Ponomarov has an engineering degree and is pursuing a Bachelor of Psychology at UPEI. “My software engineering training taught me critical thinking. As an engineer, I liked solving technical problems logically. But there are things you can’t express through logic. By joining logic from my engineering experience and emotions and feelings through psychology we can achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. “After coming through certain stages of personal growth, I realized if I want to live my authentic life, I must reach a decision and change my career.” In addition to a full course load, he works full time as a technician for a communications company providing television and Internet services. He says time management is important to reach his goals. “This summer, I woke up early and studied from 5 am to 8 am. After work, I studied for another two to three hours. Over the weekends, I studied for six to eight hours. “The fall semester courses are not as intense, but I expect a different situation starting in November, so I am getting ready for that.” Dmytro says he enjoys his job because it involves fixing problems and helping customers. “At the same time, I am pursuing my intellectual goals, learning something new, making sense of what is going on with myself in my environment. “There are so many aspects of psychology. You could go into the scientific field or be a clinician. I am also interested in social psychology, which takes into account the individual peculiarities of each person and the social context as well. As soon as I figure out the exact direction I would like to go, I will put all my efforts into getting to the finish line. “After earning my Bachelor of Psychiatry degree and finishing my honors thesis, there is an opportunity to go on to a Doctor of Psychology at UPEI. It may take eight to 10 years to achieve, but I am focused on the ultimate goal.” Dmytro and his wife and two small children moved from Ukraine to Canada four years ago. They now live in Kensington. Dmytro’s wife Olena is a second-year student in the Holland College accounting program. “She inspired me to take the practical steps toward my education and to believe it is possible. “Living in Canada is awesome. We work hard, but it is enjoyable. Canadian society focuses on being the best you can be. People who admire achievements offer bursaries and scholarships to encourage others to achieve. Here people smile and say hi when they pass me on the street. Canada is a prime example of dealing with different cultural backgrounds. We are so excited to see how our kids progress in the future.” “I want to thank the bursary’s sponsors and organizers, especially Gloria Welton, who promptly and substantially communicated with me about the bursary application. Also, I want to credit my professors who wrote reference letters for me: Dr. Gerald Wandio and Dr. Philip Smith. And lastly, I want to thank my wife Olena, who keeps believing and supporting me no matter what challenges I may engage our family with.”
Oyedamola Aina arrived on PEI with his wife and four children last September, and lives in Stratford. This fall, he began studying Computer Networking Technology at Holland College in Charlottetown. The family’s introduction to PEI was a stormy one. “We arrived on September 6, right before sub-tropical storm Dorian hit,” says Oyedamola. “Our luggage did not arrive for a few days. Luckily a friend from Nigeria helped us shop for the things we needed to get ready for the storm, and we came through ok.” In his home country of Nigeria, he earned a Higher National Diploma in Accounting and Masters in Business Administration and worked in the banking industry for 18 years. As part of his efforts to integrate into his new life on PEI and find work, he spoke with Lisa Chaisson, Employment Counsellor with the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada. “She was preparing me to pursue a job in banking on PEI, but I noticed that banking is quite different here. I was a retail business manager in Nigeria, but here I would have to start at an entry-level position, take extra courses, and it would be difficult to attain the same position.” He took some adult Education upgrading classes at Holland College, and realized his two biggest interests were in Nursing and in IT. He considered becoming an LPN, but decided instead on the Computer Networking program. “Lisa helped me apply for funding through SkillsPEI and also suggested I apply for the Phyllis Pitre Bursary. I am very grateful for her help, and for being awarded the bursary.” His wife, who had also worked in a bank and specialized in ebusiness, recently found a position at a Charlottetown IT company. Oyedamola’s classes at Holland College are blended between online and some in-person time. “Unfortunately, that means I don’t get a chance to meet as many people as I would like. “My lifetime goal is to improve myself and the standard of living of my family. My new career goal is to earn my Computer Networking diploma and work for a company where I can gain more skills and experience on the job and rise through the ranks. I also want to contribute towards improving my community by volunteering. “People have different reasons for continuing their education. I want to learn new things and keep abreast of changes. New ideas and solutions to problems are discovered every day through technology. I am closing in on 50 in a couple of years, and the things I learned have become outdated. “I am putting all my energy into my studies, so that eventually I will be able to reap the benefits of my education. Starting all over again is not easy, but it is awesome – it is the best thing that could happen to someone. I find myself experiencing life differently. The education and health system in Canada works – that is why we came here, to offer a better life for our children. I am ready to give back to my community as much as I can. “I miss my friends and family back home, but thanks to technology, we communicate with them often. We look forward to a time when they can visit us. One step at a time.”
Shelby McCarron came through many changes in her education path until she found the career direction that suited her best. She began with a science degree at UPEI and a plan to become a doctor. “A professor asked how many of us wanted to go on to medial school. Almost everyone put up their hands, and I realized that becoming a doctor was not a realistic goal for me. “I still loved the sciences, and five years ago, my husband and I moved to Toronto and I entered a Radiation Therapy program. When I started the clinical portion, I realized I wanted more patient interaction and rapport, and that perhaps Radiation Therapy was not quite the right fit for me. However, through my experience as a Radiation Therapy student, I was able to connect with other healthcare providers and developed a great interest in the work of the social workers throughout the hospital units. “Seven months before the end of the Radiation Therapy program, after a long period of uncertainty and career decision making, I decided to walk away and take time to truly figure out what I wanted to do in my career. This was certainly the hardest situation I have ever faced and overcome in my education and career journey. “Although it was a very difficult and heavy decision, I have never been happier. I now look back and am proud of myself for putting my happiness first and paving the way to my own success.” In search of a new direction, Shelby and her husband moved back to the Island, and she started volunteering with Family Services PEI. “I shadowed and talked with people in the career I was interested in and did some social media and research for them. The experience opened my eyes to how flexible social work is. There are so many options for what I could do.” In 2018, Shelby earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree through distance education with the University of Victoria. Currently, Shelby is working towards a diploma in Health Administration through distance education and will finish in December. “That program has opened the door to different aspects of management that could lead to a career in healthcare or in a non-profit environment. Eventually, one of my ultimate goals is to complete a masters degree in an area which concentrates on non-profit, health, or public administration.” In addition to a full course load, Shelby is also working full-time at Fitzroy Centre as a Mental Health Rehabilitation Worker in the Employment Unit, supporting individuals wanting to get back to work. She is also the Transitional Employment Coordinator, connecting with the community to develop short-term employment positions for members of Fitzroy Centre. “Once I delved into the non-profit world at Fitzroy Centre, I loved it, and I know this is what I want. I really believe in what we do, and I like the flexibility working in the community setting. “There has been a lot of evolution and self discovery in my journey, which has been long and full of twists and turns. The more I do, the more I realize where I fit. I don’t say no to any opportunity, because I learn from everything I do. “There are lots of skills and knowledge in my toolbox that I can pull from, because of all the experiences and education I have had. I don’t regret any of the education programs I have taken. There are no age limitations on when you can change your career direction. “I truly appreciative the Phyllis Pitre Bursary for Adult Learners, as the financial burden is always one of the biggest hurdles students must overcome.”