By Munjeera Phillips-Jefford
Most people will remember November 4, 2008 as an historic moment when Obama was elected president of the United States. But, I will always remember it as the day I decided to go to grad school.
A few years earlier when I was off on maternity leave, I applied to Brock’s Adult Education program. When I called about my file, Phyllis Stanley, then the Admissions Counsellor at Brock University and now retired, encouraged me to apply for grad school. Unsure about myself, I declined. I went back to my life without any real hopes for the future and figured someday my kids would be able to live a fulfilled life in Canada.
Then spurred on and inspired by Obamania, I called Phyllis and she informed me that there was an upcoming meet and greet session for potential graduate students and I could visit the campus and explore any opportunities available.
As I drove into the Brock parking lot, waves of rolling mist engulfed the building. I could barely see where I was going. Inside was an animated crowd of people talking beside tables with colorful brochures. I quietly observed the professors talking to potential students. Feeling very shy because I was presently a stay at home mom who had graduated almost 20 years ago, I did my best to make myself invisible.
Before too long though some friendly professors and administrative assistants approached me asking me questions about my aspirations. I explained that I was an ESL instructor with the Toronto District School Board working part-time, and that I wanted to continue work in immigrant services in an administrative role. They listened as I shared that my kids were growing up and I now had time to upgrade my skills and move into a role with more responsibility.
Armed with helpful information, I drove home along the lake and thought about what I could accomplish. For the first time, it appeared that my goals were accessible. A few months later I was accepted for the Leadership in Education and Administration stream for a Master’s of Education.
Much to my surprise on the first day of class, the professor walked up to me with a friendly smile and handshake and said, “Hi, I’m Joe Engemann.” The people in the class were from all walks of education, from principals to new teachers. The students were helpful in showing me how to research and use an online library. We were expected to work together in groups, present readings in Powerpoint and submit papers. It was the most enjoyable learning experience I had ever had in my life: meaningful and challenging. As I took the rest of my graduate courses, it became clear that all the professors had the knowledge, skills and will to help us and they viewed us as fellow educators.
It had always been my dream to pursue the thesis route and over the next few years, I met with my academic adviser, Joe, and we had many discussions about education. My topic was promoting inclusive spaces in classrooms, schools and neighbourhoods. At first, I felt that this topic was too controversial but was encouraged to voice my thoughts. Up until that time, I had never shared my experiences as a new teacher in the 1990s. Grad school was starting to feel very therapeutic.
About two years into my research, I applied for and was offered a supervisory position at the Toronto District School Board as a LINC Program Officer. I received much support for my new role from the professors at Brock. They were always willing to talk to me about any problems I faced as a new administrator. No matter how busy they were, they always made time for me and any issues I faced. The emotional support and advice they gave has helped me over the last three years and I am happy to say that I am now the supervisor at one of the largest LINC sites in Ontario with over 400 students and 8 service provider organizations, who in total have 40 respective staff members.
Not only was I supported professionally, but I was able to be published which was one of my long cherished academic dreams. I have also had the chance to present my research in poster form at the Mapping New Knowledges event at Brock.
Even after I graduated in October 2014, Brock has continued to provide networking opportunities for me. I facilitated a workshop at the Equity, Engagement, Learning and Teaching (EELT) event at Brock. I hope to continue to sit on the EELT committee to promote inclusivity in education. More recently I presented at the 2015 Rosa Bruno-Jofre Symposium at Queen’s University. The theme was “Embracing perspectives: The value of voices, stories, and viewpoints in education.” It is great to meet like-minded educators and exchange ideas. My learning continues…
Every day I try to live up to the high standards for educators set by the professors at Brock University. I was treated in a respectful manner at all times, supported in reaching my goals and viewed as someone who had valid contributions to make. If I had to sum up in one sentence what I have learned from the professors at Brock University, it would be that as educators we are held to the high standard of making the world a better place because we are all part of one race: the human race.