School Within a College inspires Shelby Baldino to strive for success

Shelby Baldino never imagined herself graduating from high school, serving as Valedictorian for her class or attending college, but thanks to School Within a College, Shelby achieved more than she thought possible for herself.

“I never in a million years thought I’d graduate high school, let alone be Valedictorian. It was a great experience,” said Shelby. “When I got the message, I cried. In high school, I was put down a lot by my teachers and peers because they didn’t think I was making an effort, but I had depression and that’s what was stopping me.”

In high school, Shelby had poor attendance, struggled with authority figures, and was battling depression. Her guidance counsellor introduced her to the School Within a College program, a partnership between the school board and Fleming College.

School Within a College offers a college learning environment for senior secondary students to complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma credits. The program includes a dual credit course, where students are able to earn one college credit.

“I loved it! It’s more of a college setting and it’s up to you to do the work. For me, it was a better environment and I felt safer, and the people who work here are more approachable and try to help,” Shelby explains.

“My attendance got a lot better— I used to not go to school at all. After being in this program, I saw how much I could get done in a day and that made me feel good,” she said. “I went from 50s and 60s in high school to 70s and 80s here. That made me feel good and made me want to come. It influenced me to try harder.”

Through the School Within a College program, Shelby said she improved her attendance, time management skills, organizational skills, work ethic and more. She also felt supported with her mental health and is especially grateful for being introduced to the Peterborough Sport & Wellness Centre.

“When my teacher Amy brought me to the Wellness Centre and I saw how everyone just does their own thing, I realized this isn’t bad,” she said. “Now I find exercise is relaxing and it makes me feel better if I’m stressed.”

After completing her Ontario Secondary School Diploma, Shelby decided to continue her studies at Fleming College. She is currently in her first semester of the Law Clerk program with plans to earn a dual diploma in Law Clerk and Paralegal.

“I have nine siblings and I’m the first one in my family who will graduate from college. My mom said, ‘you’re not allowed to drop out!’ It’s exciting, but I’m also nervous because I’m setting the bar for everyone after me,” Shelby explains. “It’s showing them that you can struggle and make it. Even if you have problems, you can do it.”

Shelby’s long-term career plans are to finish the Law Clerk and Paralegal programs at Fleming College, use an education pathway to earn a degree at Ontario Tech University, go to Law School, work as a lawyer for 10 years and then apply to become a judge.

“Back in high school, I never would think to push myself. But after graduating with good marks and being Valedictorian, I might as well strive to be the best that I can be,” said Shelby.

Bowman Allen takes on World Firefighter Combat Challenge

Bowman Allen isn’t afraid of a challenge.

“Hard work is a choice and I’m not one to shy away from it, so I will be doing all I can for my future,” said Bowman, Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training.

The Fleming Fire Combat Team member is flying to Montgomery, Alabama for the World Firefighter Combat Challenge. From October 21 – 26, competitors will perform physically demanding tasks that simulate the demands of firefighters in emergency situations. This includes climbing a tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses, and rescuing a dummy that weighs 175 lbs.

“I’m looking for an experience I won’t easily forget,” said Bowman about the competition. “I’m hoping to qualify for the final day, and am excited to experience the American course, talk to the different firefighters and departments from around the world, and hope to see some familiar faces from the past season.”

Bowman has been training regularly since Nationals, with a focus on leg strength and endurance to conquer the tower portion of the race faster, and is prioritizing sleep, nutrition, and recovery.

He joined the Fleming Fire Combat Team in February, wanting to try a new sport, compete, and network with firefighters from across Canada.

“Being on the team has been a great experience, getting to know each member of the team and the coaching staff,” he said. “The season would not have been as incredible had it not been for my teammates and the experiences we all were able to share.”

He also enjoyed his experience in the Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training program, which is taught at the Eastern Ontario Emergency Training Academy (EOETA) in Norwood, Ont. The EOETA applied learning environment features a burn tower, roof props, door props, search and rescue maze, confined space prop and new high intensity propane training props.

“The fire grounds and equipment we have access to is awesome and the environment we have because of the facility makes it all that more real,” he said.

Bowman chose this program because he wanted a rewarding career where he could make a difference.

“I feel being able to serve my community, help others, and have a positive impact on life and safety as a firefighter is the most rewarding career I could ever have,” Bowman explains. “Being a real-life superhero for my children is also pretty amazing.”

Bowman is currently serving as a firefighter in Cavan Monaghan and hopes to convince more department members to get involved in the Firefighter Combat Challenge one day.

Fleming Fire Combat Team’s Declan Fitzpatrick set to compete in World Firefighter Combat Challenge

Fleming Fire Combat Team member Declan Fitzpatrick is heading to Montgomery, Alabama to compete in the World Firefighter Combat Challenge.

This intense competition demonstrates the firefighting profession’s rigors to the world. From October 21 to 26, competitors will perform physically demanding tasks that simulate the demands of firefighters in emergency situations. This includes climbing a tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses, and rescuing a dummy that weighs 175 lbs, while wearing firefighting gear.

“I joined the team because I wanted the challenge and the experience of FireFit. The career networking was a bonus,” said Declan, who took Fleming’s Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training program and joined the Fleming Fire Combat Team in February, 2019. “It has been a lot of fun training and competing this year; we had an incredible group of people on the team this year, competitors and coaches.”

Declan qualified for the World Firefighter Combat Challenge last month at the FireFit Worlds & Canadian National Championships in Oshawa. He achieved an incredible 1:24 in his first year competing in FireFit, making him the fastest new competitor in Canada and earning him the 2019 FireFit National Rookie of the Year award.

“Being Rookie of the Year is very rewarding and has made all the time and commitment put in that much more worth it,” said Declan, who has maintained his routine of home workouts and weekend training with the Fleming Fire Combat Team. “In Alabama, I am hoping to achieve a time of less than 1:40, which is the cut-off to get into the ‘Lion’s Den’, a prestigious ‘club’ that is very difficult to become a part of. Even if that doesn’t happen, I will still be thrilled to have taken part in the FireFit Worlds.”

Declan enrolled in Fleming’s Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training program because being a firefighter has always been his dream job.

“Being a firefighter has always appealed to me because it’s a challenging and very rewarding career that will allow me to do a lot of good for my community,” he said. “I have enjoyed my time at Fleming, both in the course and on the FireFit team. We had a great group of people in the course, as well as the instructors.”

Keeping strong cultural and spiritual ties is important to Fleming Grad Recruiter Rebekah Rego

Fleming College’s commitment to helping every student succeed is what makes it so special to Rebekah Rego.

“Everyone here is dedicated to your success,” explains Rebekah. “Faculty and staff strive to help and want to see you succeed!”

As an Anishinaabek student, success to Rebekah means maintaining her strong cultural and spiritual ties, which is why she connected with Indigenous Student Services.

Indigenous Student Services at Fleming aims to help students transition into college by providing support, information and resources, cultural programming, and by acting as a link to the college and wider community. It quickly became Rebekah’s favourite place on campus.

“Indigenous Student Services felt like my home away from home,” shared Rebekah. “Indigenous Student Services provided me support and a safe place to strive as an Anishinaabek student. Their services include Elder visits and a medicine room.”

She added that the staff are supportive and provide cultural programming that fits everyone’s schedule to ensure events and programming are easily accessible.

Rebekah graduated this June from the Social Service Worker program with the Indigenous Perspectives Designation. She thoroughly enjoyed her Fleming experience, including the Sutherland Campus, Fleming staff, academics and the extracurricular activities she was involved in.

“I felt like I was a part of the Fleming community,” said Rebekah. “I had such amazing and meaningful experiences during my time at Fleming.”

At Fleming College, Rebekah said she was able to learn valuable skills while developing herself as a professional.

“My program helped me prepare for the working world while I also learned how to give a voice to those who cannot, be involved in community events, organize a student club and have the responsibility of being on committees,” she said.

Rebekah feels so strongly about Fleming College that she is joining the Student Recruitment team this fall as a Fleming Grad Recruiter. Rebekah will be travelling across Ontario to share information about Fleming with prospective students.

“I am really looking forward to being able to share my enthusiasm for learning and my passion for Fleming so that other potential students can see the valuable opportunity Fleming presents for their future careers,” said Rebekah. “I cannot wait to meet students across the province and share my experiences and knowledge with them.”

Weekly class inspires career change for Michelle Ménard

When Michelle Ménard was in high school, she felt lost about what to do next.

“I was not aware of all of the opportunities,” said Michelle.

She decided to take the Bachelor of Arts – Honours program at the University of Guelph followed by an Event Management graduate certificate at Humber College. After graduating from Humber College in 2014, Michelle moved to Edmonton, Alberta and worked in the hospitality and event industry for five years.

What changed Michelle’s path was a community silversmith class that she had signed up for as a fun activity to do once per week for four months.

“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of completing a piece from one of your own designs,” said Michelle, who fell in love with jewellery creation through the class.

Michelle realized this career would combine her artistic passion with the business skills she had gained from work and post-secondary school. She wanted to pursue the idea further and discovered the Jewellery Essentials program at the Haliburton School of Art + Design (HSAD).

“I had looked at a few different schools but noticed that their curriculum had a lot of electives that, as a mature student, I had no interest in,” Michelle explains. “The certificate program was appealing to me because I had already attended post-secondary school and I discovered that HSAD offered an intensive, 15-week program that would have me learning straight away. I visited the campus and the decision felt right.”

Fleming’s Haliburton Campus is nestled in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands, overlooking Head Lake in the town of Haliburton. The community is welcoming and known for amazing scenery and an eclectic community of resident artists.

At the Haliburton Campus, Michelle enjoyed the Great Hall, the Maker Space, and the surrounding forest for fresh air and inspiration. She said the quiet town offers lots of great activities to do and features beautiful scenery, including Skyline Park for a stunning view of the town and Head Lake.

“The community is friendly and the campus atmosphere with small classes offers the perfect place for students to connect,” said Michelle. “I was not expecting to make friends in just four months but, to my pleasant surprise, I ended up building connections with classmates that truly meant the world to me and that I will always remember.”

In addition to making friends, Michelle said the benefit of intimate class sizes is the in-depth personal training students receive from faculty. Faculty know students by name and can answer questions and provide help and guidance when needed.

“I fell in love with the atmosphere,” said Michelle. “Most of my time was spent making memories and creating in the jewellery studio. It’s a room fully equipped with possibilities and is where I felt most happy on campus.”

She adds, “After my program, all of my initial uncertainties about going into jewellery vanished. I learned that jewellery making is the career I want to pursue.”

Michelle graduated from the Haliburton School of Art + Design this June and will stay connected to the college by working as a Fleming Grad Recruiter this fall. As part of Fleming’s Student Recruitment team, Michelle is travelling across Ontario sharing information about Fleming with prospective students.

“I became a Grad Recruiter because I want to mentor young students and assist them in the overwhelming process of deciding their educational future,” she said. “I recall being in high school and feeling lost in terms of what I wanted to do next. I was not aware of all of the opportunities and I want to help as many students understand the exciting options to prepare them for careers.”

Michelle is most looking forward to promoting the arts and answering questions from students.

Timing is everything for Grad Recruiter Alannah Kennedy

Timing is everything.

The first time Alannah Kennedy came to Fleming College, she started right after high school in 2008, she didn’t feel ready for post-secondary school and she left during the winter semester.

The second time Alannah came to Fleming College, she was a mature student in 2017, she felt ready and excited to begin her studies, and she proudly completed the Office Administration – Executive program.

“I chose to return to Fleming and commute from Oshawa because I never forgot how Fleming made me feel; Fleming was like a family and everyone is very inclusive and really cares about you and your success,” said Alannah. “When I made the decision to return to school, Fleming was my first and only choice.”

Alannah’s favourite thing about Fleming College is the support offered by faculty and support staff, who truly care about every student.

“You’re not just a number here. Our college community genuinely cares about you and your successes, whatever that may look like. Faculty and support staff know you by name, not your student ID number,” Alannah explains. “We are at an advantage being a mid-size college; there’s lots more one-on-one opportunities to help you succeed. And our programs give you a lot of hands-on work experience via simulations and/or out in the industry.”

During breaks from her classes, coursework, and working and volunteering on campus, Alannah enjoyed a hidden gem at Sutherland Campus, which she recommends to others.

“If you follow the pathway behind the school by the cafeteria… in behind the Library you come to this one opening that has a bunch of shrub with a little bench and, in behind, is this beautiful rock pathway that leads up to doors that are off the main foyer,” she describes. “I really enjoy the beauty of the rock steps, the shrubs and forest in this particular area. Not a lot of people use this area, so it’s a nice place for me to sit and clear my head.”

Alannah has come a long way since her first Fleming College experience and, now that she has finished her program, she doesn’t want to say good-bye. Instead, she will be working with Fleming’s Student Recruitment team as a Fleming Grad Recruiter.

“I feel like sharing my story and my experience at Fleming College will speak volumes to students and that’s why I wanted to be a Grad Recruiter,” said Alannah, who will be travelling across Ontario sharing information about Fleming College with prospective students.

“I am not much of a traveler; I would love to do some travelling but I am honestly a momma’s girl, so I tend stay close by my mom,” said Alannah. “This opportunity is allowing me to get out of my comfort zone and letting me experience our big beautiful province and meet different kinds of people, so I am really excited to be just experiencing new adventures and seeing where the road leads me.”

OACYC provincial conference inspires Child and Youth Care student Denise Borg

Program coordinator Heather Sago (left) with Denise Borg

Child and Youth Care student Denise Borg loves to learn, which is why she signed up to attend the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care (OACYC) provincial conference.

“I felt like this would be a huge learning opportunity,” said the third-semester student. “I’d be able to introduce myself to people in the field and hear their stories, and learn a lot more about what career I’ve put myself into.”

Denise is one of 230 participants who attended the sold-out conference this June, which welcomed local, provincial, national and international speakers to Peterborough. Entitled “Weaving Perspectives: Challenging Ourselves and Others Through Storytelling and Narratives,” the three-day conference featured keynote speakers, panel presentations and interactive workshops that explored ways to enhance relational care practice, methods and models, and encouraged attendees to continue working towards excellence.

“One workshop moved me that I began to think of ways that me, as a student, could begin to make a change,” said Denise on the Working with young people experiencing death, loss or bereavement workshop. In that workshop, the group discussed that while there is a program for helping youth deal with the grief of losing a loved one, there is no program in place for new foster children dealing with the grief of losing the life they had been living before being placed in foster care. “The next workshop I attended was about influencing change in your organization [Influencing organized culture], and those two workshops together had the wheels turning in my head.”

Denise explains that when children are taken to a foster home, there is a “tiptoe period” where they try to behave, be good, and always do everything right so they can stay and not be moved. It is a huge life change, with new rules, a new home, and new people.

“I want to help foster kids deal with that form of grief,” she said. “Having someone to be there to work with that young person, to ask them if there’s anything you can do to make them more comfortable in this situation or happier, or any extracurriculars they want to do, or if they’re missing something from their culture that they want… just having someone there to support you with this, that is huge.”

From the ages of 11 to 16, Denise lived in foster care in her home province of Nova Scotia, bouncing from foster home to foster home before running away to move back with her mom.

“There was no one I could trust or talk to about being in care,” said Denise. “You’re taken away from your family and put in a stranger’s house. You don’t feel safe surrounded by strangers.”

When Denise read the description of Fleming’s CYC program, she felt inspired. “I thought, this is the person I needed in care. I wanted that, and I want to be that person,” she said. “I lived with addictions for four years of my life. When I saw I could work with young people who live with addictions, I thought ‘If I could work with foster kids who live with addictions or out of care with addictions that would be essential.’ If I had someone that I could have gone to and discussed my issues with, I don’t think I would’ve fallen down the path that I did.”

Denise said she reflected a lot about her past at the OACYC provincial conference and her experiences in foster care. One powerful moment Denise experienced during the conference was listening to Ziigwanbinesii Charles sing at the sunrise ceremony, opening ceremony and closing ceremony.

“My heart filled with so much love that I cried. It was so beautiful to hear her sing,” said Denise. “When I was in Nova Scotia, I was in a Mi’kmaq studies course and Ziig sang one of the songs my teacher sang to me when I was in school. It touched a part of my soul.”

She said the conference experience has also been beneficial in discovering more ways she can help others.

“I don’t think that I would have made the connections I did or that I would’ve thought about the grief that foster kids go through when they’re apprehended– and that there’s nothing in place for that,” she said. “It’s been beneficial, and I’ll take everything I learned and put towards my practise and next two years of school.”

Denise said she is enjoying her time in the CYC program at Fleming College and attributes it for her personal growth over the past year. She said the program’s inclusion of self reflection has helped her to move forward.

“I’ve had a lot of heart-to-heart moments with some of my professors and that makes the program that much more enticing,” said Denise. “You can tell Heather, Aurora, Cherylanne and Patricia really care, they are willing to meet you where you’re at– all of the teachers, really. My legislation teacher is the woman I inspire to be; Lisa Fenn inspires, has so much passion, she is my role model.”

Denise is excited to continue learning and developing skills for her career path. She said the OACYC conference confirmed that this is the right fit for her.

“Hearing other people’s outlooks and experiences put me in a spot where I need to do this. This is who I am meant to be,” she explained. “I feel it in my heart that I’m in the right place.”

A childhood in foster care inspires Andrew Chartren to make a difference through Child and Youth Care

Andrew Chartren did not have an idyllic childhood.

He remembers being placed in the foster care system, spending time with his father under supervised visits, feeling incredibly angry and acting out in school, and being grateful he and his brother were able to stay together.

“One time, my dad lost it. He yelled at the worker, ‘I don’t need you here, babysitting me with my kids!’” said Andrew, recalling an interaction between his dad – who had supervised visits for a period of time (and later unsupervised) – and a Child and Youth Care Worker. “It’s an invasion of privacy in a sense.”

Because of Andrew’s personal journey, he chose to become a Child and Youth Care Practitioner to support other families through this experience.

“I go up to the parent and I let them know ‘I’m here to support you. I’m not here to look over your shoulder, I am just here to keep you safe.’ I talk to them, I crack jokes, I make them comfortable,” said Andrew. “I’m more involved as a Child and Youth Care Worker than most of the service providers I had when I was in care. There is no awkward silence and I make it very relational, because the parents might think I’m judging them and I am not.”

Andrew, who was born premature with Cerebral palsy and spent months in care at Mount Sinai Hospital, was placed into foster care when he was eight years old. Andrew and his brother were able to stay together through foster care, which Andrew explains is uncommon and something he feels incredibly grateful for.

Although Andrew was obedient to his foster care family and behaved well at home in Warsaw, he felt a sizzling anger inside. “At home, I was good and listened, but at school I was bad. I had anger problems,” he explained. “I used to get made fun of, so I’d retaliate in anger; and sometimes I would just smack people around because I wanted to. People would ask my brother why I was so angry.”

As a speaker in the Children’s Aid Societies’ PRIDE program, Andrew says he tells new foster parents to expect their limits to be tested. He encourages foster parents to sit down with the child and reassure them, “I’m here for you. I know things are hard.”

Andrew does this because he strongly believes that a great support system can make a huge impact.

“Your support team will determine your progress,” he said. “If you have a great support team who want the best for you, you will do better.”

When Andrew left foster care at 18 years old, he went through a rebellious stage, but his support team got him through it. He credits his youth group at church for never giving up on him, and always speaking highly of him and saying kind words.

“Those were words of healing to me,” he shared. “Because of that, I was able to bounce back. I was able to look at myself and say, ‘Andrew, wake up man!’”

He signed up for Academic Upgrading to earn the English and math credits needed for post-secondary school and completed them when he was 23 years old. With a goal to work in the foster care system one day, Andrew enrolled in Fleming’s Child and Youth Care (CYC) program because the curriculum covers this field.

“I really like that the teachers came in with their own experience in the field. That was really encouraging to me,” he said. “These aren’t teachers who just read and talk about it and don’t actually have the work experience; these are teachers with real work experience in it. Everything my teachers said was accurate and I know it because I went through it.”

One learning experience that reminded Andrew of his past was preparing for supervised visits as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner. “I had to go through that and this class made me see that this program is real,” he said. “It is emotional, spiritual, intellectual… it is real to a person.”

Andrew recommends the CYC program to others, especially the Therapeutic Interventions courses that prepare students to help young persons work through real life issues, facilitating opportunities for change (“those three courses were a highlight. I’d recommend CYC just for that”).

Through the program, Andrew has developed notetaking and communication skills, learned theories from the field, and gained knowledge.

“I came in at an advantage with a lot of knowledge of the system already, but I feel like this program really added to my tool belt and is super beneficial. They did a good job,” he said.

Andrew graduated from Fleming College this June and is already employed full-time as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner working in the care system. His career goal is to work in family interventions to help reunite families, instead of placing children in care.

Andrew is still very close with his brother, visits his mom regularly, and said that his father passed away six years ago (but they were in contact before that). Andrew is happily married, a certified minister who leads a youth group, and his goal in life is to free others from their hurt.

“This career is important. We need CYCs in the foster system because children and youth need help and support,” said Andrew. “I want more people in this field. It’s super rewarding; it’s about caring for the lives of others and being selfless. It’s not about a pay cheque, it’s about making a difference.”

Integrated Design student’s bright idea earns Best Student Product Design in New York

Convocation day was extra sweet for Integrated Design graduate Kelly Van Raay. In addition to receiving her diploma and Ceramics certificate from the Haliburton School of Art + Design, Kelly crossed the convocation stage with an award from [Wanted Design] Brooklyn.

Kelly earned Best Student Product Design for her Lump Lights featured in the Human/Nature: Meditations on Material Culture exhibition. The exhibition, curated by Integrated Design program coordinator Barr Gilmore, displayed in New York at [Wanted Design] Brooklyn during NYCxDesign last month.

“I’m very honoured to have received an award,” said Kelly, who is one of 12 winners out of 150 nominations. “It was exciting. I’ve never won anything in my life before!”

Not only is this Kelly’s first award, the experience is also Kelly’s first time in New York. She travelled to Brooklyn with classmates Christina Dedes and Kelsey Redman, and Integrated Design program coordinator Barr Gilmore for the event.

“It was exciting! I’ve never been to New York before,” she said. “It was crazy to see my work amongst everyone else’s. There were some really prestigious schools there, like the Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design. Being there, I felt like a part of the design community on a world stage. And I’m really happy people enjoy my weird art!”

Kelly, who earned the Ceramics certificate within the Integrated Design diploma program, was asked by program coordinator Barr Gilmore to produce work for the Human/Nature: Meditations on Material Culture exhibition. Kelly coil-built and textured the Lump Lamps by hand, which she then bisque fired, glazed, and then glaze fired.

Patience is a virtue, she learned, as the process is slow and tedious.

“I had to not work too fast, so they take me a couple months to do. I had them done a week before New York,” she said. “I take my time with it. When hand building with wet clay, it’ll slump if you’re working too fast and the piece will crack if you’re drying it too fast, so I have to work slowly.”

After months of hard work leading up to [Wanted Design] Brooklyn, followed by an amazing visit to New York to see her work on display, Kelly is honoured to receive the Best Student Product Design award. Unfortunately she had already left New York before the awards (Barr accepted it on Kelly’s behalf), but was happy to be presented with it on stage at the Haliburton School of Art + Design convocation ceremony.

Kelly said she enjoyed her time at Fleming’s Haliburton Campus, especially the small campus environment and class sizes.

“I had freedom to be creative with my process. It was a very encouraging environment; if I had an idea, I could talk to my instructors or classmates about it,” said Kelly. “It’s always a good environment when you’re surrounded by people making.”

Kelly came to Fleming College after earning her diploma in Theatre Arts – Technical Production from Fanshawe College, where she developed an interest in prop making.

“I thought the Integrated Design program was good for getting more experience related to prop making because it gives you an introductory to many art practices, approaching each practice with good design in mind” said Kelly, who worked in the theatre and entertainment industry in London, Ont., briefly before starting Fleming College. “My Props teacher told me that the most important thing I could do for my career [in prop making] is to go to art school and learn to draw—which, I’ve never had a teacher say ‘go to art school for your career’ before!”

Last month, she graduated from the Integrated Design diploma and Ceramics certificate from the Haliburton School of Art + Design, and is now working as a Studio Technician at a pottery studio in London. Kelly said her experience in the program, as well as at [Wanted Design] Brooklyn, helped shape her as a designer and human by reminding her that practice makes perfect.

 “You’re going to mess up, but that’s okay because you’ll learn for next time,” said Kelly. “I’m at the beginning of my journey, but I learned that I should stick with my gut of what I think is good design, because it’s obviously working.”

Fleming Justice Programs community cheers for Rachel Cooper’s Valedictorian success

Rachel Cooper had a special support system throughout her studies at Fleming College, her six-year old son Austin. Austin was there at the Justice Programs convocation ceremony last week to cheer on his mom and watch her serve as Valedictorian.

“He had many opportunities to join us in classes at Fleming and always loved to inquire, raising his hand often,” said Rachel, who graduated from the Customs Border Services (CBS) program. “I have no doubt that when he gets older and is choosing colleges, Fleming will be a huge contender.”

Rachel is a two-time Fleming College graduate; in 2008, she graduated from the Preparatory Health Science program (since renamed Pre-Health Sciences Pathway to Advanced Diplomas and Degrees), and this June she graduated from the CBS program. Rachel said when she returned to Fleming, she had her sights set on being Valedictorian.

“I had set many high goals for myself at Fleming, Valedictorian was one of them. To actually be chosen, though, was indescribable,” said Rachel.

“Being in a program I loved contributed to being successful, but I couldn’t have worked so hard without the constant cheerleading from my friends spread throughout the Justice programs— we all wanted each other to succeed,” she explained. “Our friend went as far as to open her home to us to do our work­­­­. We called it ‘Homework Camp’ and spent countless hours of our semesters there, from PF students to CBS to Paralegal… everyone was welcome!”

Rachel chose the CBS program because she heard amazing reviews from her cousin, a CBS student who endorsed the courses and program coordinator Jesse Pudwell.

“We discussed the future possibilities this program would bring and I felt like it was right for me,” said Rachel. “As a graduate from Fleming in 2008, I knew Fleming was the college I wanted to attend. The faculty was amazing then and proved to be amazing again through my most recent experience.”

Rachel credits the faculty for their support and for making class time enjoyable. She also has a huge appreciation for the Common First Semester that students in Justice Programs take, which introduces them to a variety of career options and other Justice programs, and develops their knowledge and fundamental skills.  

“The Common First Semester allowed us to get into the groove of college life, academically and socially, before moving into our specialties,” said Rachel. “The College itself provided endless possibilities to get involved socially through extracurricular events, pop-ups, and volunteering. I enjoyed being involved in the community atmosphere at Fleming.”

Rachel shared that she learned some valuable lessons outside of the classroom at Fleming, including her awareness of obstacles and experiences faced by transgender people.

“My favourite memory was experiencing the joy that washed over my friend’s face when he, a transgender student, learned Fleming would have gender neutral washrooms,” said Rachel. “I learned a lot about what it means to be transgender through hearing about difficult experiences and obstacles. That’s why Fleming’s rainbow crosswalk installation was another on the favourites list. Those involved will never forget the day we put paint to pavement. It gave a whole new emphasis on belonging at Fleming.”

Rachel (left) poses for a photo with faculty member Shauna Longmuir (centre) and Fleming College President Maureen Adamson (right) at the re-dedication ceremony of the rainbow crosswalk this month.

Rachel, who graduated from Fleming College last week, said she felt well prepared to leave the Sutherland Campus and enter the work world thanks to her five-week program field placement.

“I was able to apply everything I learned while at my field placement at PepsiCo. I was prepared for all of the Customs tasks delegated to me. This gives me confidence going out into private industry,” said Rachel. “I’m excited to find a role in the trade side of Customs within Ontario. I also plan to take the Certified Customs Specialist designation this year.”