By Sharon Kelly, Teaching Faculty Member and Degree Advisor, Faculty of Management/Educational Counsellor, Student Affairs, VIU

open-accessVIU is an open access institution.   And each year, new students join programs with big dreams and high hopes.  They have spent time exploring their options, thinking and preparing, applying, getting transcripts in or assessments complete and once admitted they register in courses, organize finances to study and set out to fulfill their educational dreams.  They have created educational plans with great hopes of achieving their educational goals.  Goal setting and planning skills are required in order to get into school.   May I suggest that the ability to face and overcome obstacles and challenges is what it takes to stay in school and realize a dream?

Goal setting, on paper, is a relatively easy task.  I am here, and I want to go there.  I make my plans, garner my personal resources and set out to achieve my goal.  I see students do this all the time. I also continually see students bump into obstacles and unless they learn to overcome them, they become defeated and the educational goals and plans they’ve made can fade off into a distant forgotten dream.  Sometimes the obstacles are external like time constraints or financial issues.  Sometimes they are internal like fears or self-limiting beliefs.

Some students come to school with a strong circle of support in place – friends, family, mentors, and others who are there for them when the going inevitably gets tough. Education, in my books, is transformative, and even if one has all the financial resources to get to school and stay in school (which is an obstacle to be overcome by so many), it is tough work to transform. The task is fraught with many obstacles. Many wins are hard fought with late nights, early mornings and dogged determination.  Some students know how, or maybe are mentored at home into how to be gritty and determined and how to increase their circles of support to include their teachers and other professionals to help them build skills and reach goals regardless of the obstacles encountered.

And, in my experience, VIU has many capable and dedicated teachers who know how to reach out and make themselves available to students on a personal level to become part of each of their students’ lives not only as teachers, but also cheerleaders, encouragers and mentors. Many also know when and how to refer students to the support service professionals who work along side the academy enabling students to learn skills they can use to overcome obstacles.  These obstacles range from writing and study challenges, to financial challenges and lack of budgeting skills, to procrastination and time management challenges to name just a few.  Fortunately, there are also teachers, encouragers, cheerleaders and mentors who work in the Library, Writing Center, Math Center, Student Affairs, the Gathering Place, International Student Services, IT and in the gym.

I have wonderful colleagues across campus and am honored to witness them work to engage students, challenge them, reach out when they see students struggle, and help them learn to overcome an obstacle.  I try to do the same. Transforming is no easy task, and when we all recognize and rely on the skills of the other, and know when and how to refer, some of our students, all of whom inevitably encounter obstacles, may choose to widen their circle of support.  They may decide to face their challenges, struggle and learn new skills, transform and overcome – not all by their lonesome, or just with the aid of their personal resources, but with the inclusion of resources available to all students at VIU. Rather than walking away when they run into challenges, they choose to leverage available resources to help them learn new skills.  And this is a very good thing, because we all know that once a person graduates and realizes their academic goals, they do not suddenly stop encountering obstacles.  To learn how to overcome obstacles is to learn how to achieve a goal.