Profiles of Success

Here, There and Beyond: A Panel Discussion

As part of our Profiles of Success section, we thought that it might be neat to do a panel discussion with three people who are enjoying success at various stages of life.  As such, we interviewed Rima Kaddoura, a high school student from Calgary, AB, Ben McConnell, a graduate student from Victoria, BC, and Diane Bergeron, a working professional from Edmonton, AB.    Given that our interviewees are located across the Province and beyond, interviews were conducted over the phone and via e-mail, however in order to simulate a true panel discussion, each participant was asked to answer the same five questions.  When warranted, additional questions were asked to obtain more information.  

1. Tell me about your previous/current educational/professional situation.

Rima:  I am a Grade 12 student at Dr. EP Scarlett High School in Calgary.

Ben:  I am currently in my second year at the University of Victoria’s Law School. Before moving to Victoria, I finished an interdisciplinary degree at Carleton University’s College of the Humanities—a unique four year degree program which focused on the study of human history through philosophy, mythology, literature, political thought, and languages. As part of my degree, I also elected to travel abroad in Scotland. 

Diane:  I have three credentials from Grant MacEwan – a Rehab practitioner diploma (1992), a Management Studies Diploma (2001), and a Bachelor’s of Applied Human Services Administration (2007).  More recently, I completed a Master’s of Arts and Leadership from Royal Roads University (2011).  I am currently working in a Senior management position within the Alberta Public Service.

2. What has been the highlight of your educational or professional career so far?

Rima:  Honestly I am a total nerd, so I would have to say taking Biology.  What about taking biology was special?   I love learning about how everything works - I find it fascinating.  It is a fun course and I did well.  I finished Bio 30 last semester with a 96%.  How did they adapt dissections?   Well, for example, we dissected a sheep’s eyeball.  It was very small, so for this one my partner did most of the cutting and then they let me feel what they were doing.  How did you find the diploma exam in terms of adaptations?  The diagrams on diploma were very well done, I was impressed, and, they didn’t omit anything which made me happy.

Ben:  For me, one of the highlights has been the variety of experiences, and the diversity of people that I have had the privilege of meeting along the way.  My University professors were also inspirational in many cases, and amazingly helpful most of the time. Having studied in three cities abroad, as well as in my hometown of Spruce Grove, AB, the variety of fellow students that I have met, and the number of experiences that I have been exposed to, have been immense.

Diane:  Education-wise, the highlight was obtaining a graduate degree, as I am the only person in my immediate family to have done so.  I am the only person in my family that has a disability and yet I have the highest level of education.  I feel good about that.  As for my career, having the Master’s degree has allowed me to work in an area where my focus is working within the government to come up with better policies in  order to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.  This is really my passion.  I feel like I am working towards making the world a better place by influencing change for people with disabilities.

3.  What are your plans/goals for the future?

Rima:   I have definitely decided to become a high school math teacher.  My family is planning on moving to Lebanon within the next year and I will be applying to the American University of Beirut – the top University in the country.  They offer an American curriculum which means that their courses can be transferred to anywhere in the world.  At this point I think that I would like to major in Math and minor in Biology.  Why teaching?  I grew up with two younger brothers and I have spent a lot of time helping them with their homework.  I love explaining things to people and teaching them new things.  I love to learn and I would like to pass that on.  A desk job wouldn’t suit me, I can’t sit still long enough for that!  High school teachers seem to have a lot of fun!  It seems like there is a lot of job satisfaction for educators.

Ben: My plans for the future include becoming financially stable, having the chance to live (and work) abroad, and practicing law in a couple of different areas. Unlike many law students, I would like my experience after law school to remain as varied and diverse as my experience at University has been so far. Thus, I would like to work in a variety of areas of the law, policy management, and possibly the diplomatic core. I would also like to settle for a time in my home province of Alberta, or in Ontario which I very much enjoyed. My goals include becoming wealthy, holding political office, and travelling as much as I can.

Diane: I’d make a good lawyer, don’t you think?!  (laughs.)  The truth is, I am a life-long learner and will continue on with my education in its various forms: workshops, certifications, etc.   You can never get too much learning.  I really believe that learning is the key to gaining experience in life in general.  In terms of my career, I am very happy with where I am at.  I can’t see my career goals changing, although given that the government is ever-changing, my position might change.  I just started this new position in October, and right now, I am really where I want to be.  In the future, I want to continue to work on programs and policies that focus on making communities more inclusive.  Also, at some point I would like to teach part time at the post-secondary level, in either Leadership or Disability Studies.

4. What factors have led to your success thus far?

Rima:  I have had a lot of support from my family which has been very important.  I have seen what happens to students who don’t have that.  My parents raised me to believe that just because I am blind, it doesn’t mean that I am inferior to anyone.  This has helped me to strive to be the best that I can be.  Also, I have found systems that work for me.  For example, I am not a huge note taker.  What works best for me is listening to the teacher and then following up by doing the homework.  Lastly, for most of my education I have had a very good braille assistant.  I get my materials on time and it is high quality work.

Ben: The number one factor has been the support of those around me, particularly some of my friends, and, of course, my family. I know that I couldn’t have done any of the things, or had any of the goals, that I have experienced so far they had not been there for me. I am also dedicated and determined to succeed, and I think that, if needed to be, I could be flexible and adapt easily to new situations (although some would say otherwise!).

Diane:   Determination and a drive!   I remember one night during my Master’s program I was reading a big stream of posts from one of my on-line courses, and reading about how difficult my classmates were finding a particular assignment.  I was surprised by this and said aloud to my husband, “I don’t get it, it’s not that hard!”  He laughed and replied, “Honey, I don’t think you realize that most people in the world aren’t as driven as you are.  Also, some of those people probably want to have a life!”  Needless to say, a sense of humor has also been hugely important!  The support from my family and friends has also been great.

5. You are paving the way for the kids who are following in your footsteps.  Do you have any words of wisdom and/or advice for them?

Rima: Find a system that works for you and stick with it.  If you need to take notes – take notes!  With that thought in mind, it is important to be a good self-advocate.  For instance, at the start of the semester, you might find that some of your teachers are a little nervous.  I have found that if you joke around with the teacher – make light of the situation, they will warm up to you a lot quicker.  From my experience, building a relationship with them is key -- showing them that you are okay with who you are.  If you show them that you are okay with it, they will be okay with it.

Ben: Take advantage of all of the resources that are out there; become as capable with technology as you can. Advocate for yourself in all situations, whether it be asking for help on the street or ensuring that you have your materials on time. Do not be downhearted by the attitudes of discrimination you may face, some people are just ignorant and there’s not much that we can do about that.

Diane: I have three keys to success:

  1. Education is absolutely essential.  Whether it be formal or not.  Any kind of learning/education/training is an asset.   I can’t emphasize this enough.
  2. Volunteering is important.   I believe that employers today are looking for people who are connected to their communities.  This is more interesting to me on a resume than the work experience.   I always think to myself, ‘If they are willing to do that for free, imagine what they would do if I paid them!’
  3. Networking.  Create or take advantage of every opportunity that you can to network with other people.  The more people that you are connected to, the more opportunities will come your way.  You know the old adage, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’?  I don’t believe that, I think that it’s actually who knows you that’s most important!  Think about how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd in a positive way – be memorable.

Any final thoughts?

Rima: I have done some inspirational speaking in the past and I often leave my audiences with this statement: “You are only truly disabled if you disable yourself”.

Ben: Stay true to your goals. Try to educate people about vision loss, but do not make it the only thing people notice about you, though this can be difficult at times.

Diane: The only thing that can limit a person’s success is their own perception of themselves.   We need to do what we can to reach our own goals.