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STU Celebrates Summer Convocation: “STU Has Given You the Knowledge and Tools to Make Change”

PUBLISHED DATE: Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Elizabeth Weir, a respected parliamentarian and international development expert, received an honorary degree from St. Thomas University. She spoke to the 115 graduates in applied arts, arts, social work, and education.
Education makes change. Courage makes even more change.

This was Elizabeth Weir’s message for the graduating class of 2018 at STU’s Summer Convocation.

Weir, a respected parliamentarian and international development expert, received an honorary degree from St. Thomas University. She spoke to the 115 graduates in applied arts, arts, social work, and education.

She spoke about the courageous group of students from Parkland, Florida who, in response to a shooting in their school, are determined to change the laws that have made access to guns too easy.

“Still in their teens, these survivors of gun violence have launched one of the most impressive campaigns for change. They are courageous, creative and unyielding,” she said. 

Within days of the shooting that killed so many of their classmates, these students had organized national marches and protests. They debated against members of the National Rifle Association on network television.

“Their fight is focused and uncompromising. And they have already had successes with a number of states adopting restrictions on weapon sales,” she continued.

“I have to think that this success is in no small measure because in 2010, the State of Florida adopted a comprehensive public civics education program, including debates and mock trials. One civics teacher reported that when her school was closed because of a shooting threat some students insisted on staying to write letters to politicians asking for stricter gun control.”

Weir compared the importance of this public civics education program in Florida to STU’s new program in Law, Politics, and Society.

“STU’s new program gives students the skills to make change. The result will be a generation of engaged young citizens. And we need more of these students,” she said.

“This is what you as teachers and social workers can help to achieve in your careers. STU has given you the knowledge and tools to make change. And so, we will now look to you.”

“People Who are Going to Change this World”

Education graduate Shania Maguire, BA’17, BEd’18, from Saint John, NB, delivered the valedictory address. She reminisced on their time in the education program and expressed gratitude to the university.

“It has been a time where I have grown, as have all of you. I’ve watched you all grow into beautiful people who are going to change this world,” she said.

“It’s impossible to know what the future holds. Maybe you’ll become famous or maybe you’ll be a nationally recognized teacher, but either way, we did it. We are a grad class full of passion, charisma, and we will inspire future generations for years to come.”

University Medal Winner

The winner of the university medal was Education student Cassie MacPhail, BA’17, BEd’18, from Riverview, NB.

“I've always wanted to be a teacher because I had incredible teachers when I was in school that inspired me to follow my passion; given that my passions are literature and helping others, becoming a teacher felt very natural to me,” MacPhail said.

After graduating with her Bachelor of Arts from St. Thomas, she said doing her education degree at STU felt like a natural fit.

“The community I found in the Education program was even better than I could have imagined; the professors and my fellow students were all so supportive, I really don't think I could have gotten this far without them,” she said.

“The classes were interesting and very useful, and the two practicums I did gave me so much insight and experience. I feel fully confident, prepared, and excited going into my teaching career, and I know that if I ever need help, or just a listening ear, I can rely on the friends and professors I met in this program.”

From Mess to Success: BEd Alumna Heather MacDonald is Helping Students Take Control of Their Time

PUBLISHED DATE: Friday, January 26, 2018
Heather MacDonald, BA ’02, BEd ’10, is in the business of creating stars.

She’s the Learning Strategist at St. Thomas University, and she spends her days helping students master time management and organization, study more effectively, improve reading comprehension, take better notes and avoid procrastination – all the skills required to become an academic star.

Many of the students in her caseload have learning disabilities; however, other students who are accessing her services are student athletes who are trying to balance their studies with their sport, students who want to boost their GPAs, or students who are finding the transition from high school to university overwhelming.

“I try to find ways to make sure that students who experience challenges can have the same great experience at St. Thomas as every other student,” she explained.

MacDonald spends most of her days doing one-on-one consultations and coaching with students, but she also runs workshops, does classroom visits, and plans large campus events like the Long Night Against Procrastination.

“When I got my Education Degree at St. Thomas, I had no idea that my life would be outside the high school classroom, but there are just so many opportunities out there for people to use their skills beyond K-12. What employer wouldn’t want someone who can transmit information to large groups clearly and effectively, plan engaging lessons, assess and evaluate their work and do it in a timely and organized manner? These are the skills of a teacher.”

Although the primary focus in the School of Education is to prepare teacher candidates for work in the traditional K-12 job market, Grant Williams, director of STU’s School of Education, says many education graduates choose to pursue careers in other education-related fields. 

“One of the greatest values of the BEd degree for these people is that it helps them understand how individuals learn, what kinds of strategies work best for teaching various subjects and concepts, how to develop effective teaching plans, and how to assess learners’ understanding.  In this world of lifelong learning and learning outside of the traditional school setting, many professionals can benefit from the kind of knowledge and experience gained in an education degree”

A Background in Adult Education

Prior to being the Learning Strategist at STU, MacDonald worked in adult education. This is where she discovered her passion for working with adults with learning disabilities.

During her first contract at Stella’s Circle in Newfoundland, she taught a small group of adults a K-6 literacy and numeracy program with the intent that they would go onto the next level of adult education and eventually get their General Education Development (GED) diploma and enter the workforce.

She then returned to Fredericton and taught a GED program with the Central Valley Adult Learning Association.

She says seeing some of the adults she has worked with succeed and get motivated made her realize how powerful learning strategies are.

“I remember one student very well. He had just come out of a correctional facility and for the first time he decided to really focus on his education. We discovered that he had dyslexia and that he also had a short-term retention issue. He had dropped out of school because he thought he wasn’t smart enough. When he was finally diagnosed in his mid-20s, his attitude completely changed and he became voracious about learning even though it took him a little bit longer. And he ended up going on to get a job that supported his family.”

Seeing his transformation made her realize that when people get what they need to succeed, they become unstoppable.

“And if we can apply that to someone who is so young in a university setting, they could be a superstar. Providing students with the opportunity to be the best learner they can be opens up so many doors.”

Kailea Switzer, BEd’10, Teaches Students the Power of Organization

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, November 30, 2017
When Kailea Switzer was a child, her favourite activity was removing books from her bookshelf only to place them back in new categories.

“I have always been like this. I am passionate about organization. My brain just thinks that way; it thinks in categories, so I am happy to find a professional use for that.”

Today Switzer is a student coach. She teaches university students the importance of being organized to help them tackle their academic work with more ease.

“The gap between high school and university can be very extreme,” Switzer explained. “Students had so much structure in high school from their families and teachers. When they get to university, they have so much freedom, which can be really exciting but it can also lead to increased anxiety and procrastination and other self-defeating outcomes.”

Switzer earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at Mount Allison University, a Bachelor of Education degree at St. Thomas University, and a Master’s of Education at Harvard University.

As part of her master’s program, she designed an intervention to support students who are transitioning from high school to university by teaching them how to increase self-regulation and executive functioning skills. This intervention is the framework for her current coaching practice.

Switzer currently lives in Los Angeles but most of her clients attend universities in Canada. Their sessions are virtual and take place via Facetime.

“I think of organization as a skill. For many years I studied piano, and I always think it’s the same as that. You wouldn’t try to learn the piano or a sport just by reading a handout. But often with things like time management, planning and organization, that’s what we give students. It’s a skill set, so we have to learn it the same way that we would learn any other skill. It takes one-on-one attention and time to develop.”

Switzer said often students will begin a session feeling overwhelmed, but she helps them create plans that make their workload more manageable.

“Whenever you feel overwhelmed, it means your first step is too big and you need to know how to break it down into something smaller,” she says.

“Students often end the session saying, ‘I feel like I can breathe now. I have a plan for this week. I know what to do today and I know what to do tomorrow.’ At the end of the coaching session, my goal is that they can breathe a sigh of relief and have a sense of how they can get their work done, with less stress along the way.”

Switzer helps students identify priorities, set weekly goals, and lay out what they need to do each day to stay on track. She teaches students how to make a schedule that balances school work and fun, and uses habit formation and learning research to support students’ unique needs.

Switzer says although she struggled a bit more than her friends with academic content when she was an undergraduate student, her organization skills helped her succeed.

“There were people around me who seemed to master things so much more effortlessly in the classroom, but they weren’t organized and so their grades would suffer. I was extremely organized and it always seemed to work well for me in school. I feel like organization was my secret weapon!”

For more information about Kailea Switzer’s coaching practice or her online course 'Straight-A’ Secrets From a Non-Genius', please visit

Mental Health in the Classroom: Teacher Candidates Organize Workshop to Reduce Stigma and Misconceptions Surrounding Mental Health

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, May 4, 2017
Jennifer Purdue, one of the workshop organizers, believes teachers need to stay informed when it comes to mental health.
Students in St. Thomas University’s Bachelor of Education are keeping the dialogue open when it comes to mental health.

The teacher-candidates organized a professional development workshop titled
“The Elephant in the Classroom,” which connected student-teachers with experts from the public school system and non-government organizations to explore ways to reduce mental health stigma, correct misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, and create safe and inclusive environments for students.

“It was evident many people had questions and a strong desire to learn more about this topic,” said Stacey Hoffe, one of the workshop organizers. “I truly believe the more informed we all are about mental health, the better we can help ourselves and others.”

For Jen Purdue, who spearheaded the workshop, the subject of mental health is personal.

After being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in grade nine, it took years for Purdue to find a successful treatment method. She understands the effect mental illness can have on someone’s life and academic performance if not addressed.

“I needed to juggle the usual academic and social demands of high school with panic attacks. I missed a lot of school and my grades suffered,” she said. “I was afraid to talk to teachers about my disorder because I didn’t want them to judge me, and even if I did work up the courage to talk to my teachers I had no idea what to say.”

Although there’s no set formula for teachers to follow when students encounter mental illness, the workshop made it clear to the class of teacher candidates that listening and creating a safe space for students is crucial.

“Educators play an important role in shaping the mental wellness journeys of their students. Whether it’s by educating students about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health, modeling positive coping strategies, creating safe spaces, or being a listener for those who need to talk,” Hoffe said.

Purdue added getting to know students to have a better idea of when their mental health might be deteriorating is important.

“Like with all exceptionalities, it’s important we don’t try and diagnose our students, but if we know the signs and can recognize a potential mental health problem, we can discuss it with the students and their families.”