For Kyla Atkinson, family is everything.
“The main reason I returned to school was to do something different for myself and my son,” said Atkinson, a recent graduate of the Child and Youth Care (CYC) Bachelor of Arts degree program at Vancouver Island University.
Atkinson, or Kwusalumat, in her First Nations name, comes from the Snuneymuxw, Coast Salish First Nation. She was working in Ucluelet where her son attended child care when she discovered her calling.
She chose VIU’s Early Childhood program before switching to CYC in her second year because “it gives a broader base for practice with children and their families.”
Atkinson graduated with distinction in the Child Protection Specialization and hopes to pursue a Masters of Education degree and become a counsellor.
For two of Atkinson’s years at VIU, her grandmother, Ellen White, was the Elder-in-Residence.
Kwulasulwut Garden on the Nanaimo campus is dedicated to “Auntie Ellen,” who retired from VIU in 2008 after 13 years. Her grandmother was an important role model, as was her brother who told her the greatest thing about an education is the confidence it gives.
“Education was always promoted in my family,” she said. “We were urged to use the money and the opportunities that were there for us.”
The biggest change in Atkinson’s life in completing a BA is “sense of personal competence that allows me to feel excited about future possibilities for working with youth and families.”
Child and Youth Care professor Heather Sanrud, describes Atkinson as, “Insightful, with lots of life experience that she brings forward. She’s willing to share. I saw a lot of growth in Kyla, in her presentations and her ability to speak. Kyla is an effective problem solver who seeks out what she needs. She took risks in group classes as she tried things out, and reflected in the moment, speaking with authenticity.”
Atkinson most enjoyed the validating and respectful faculty, its programs, and fellow students.
“VIU very much promotes First Nations knowledge, acceptance, and inclusion,” she said. “The university is trying to engage with First Nations people. It is welcoming and respectful of First Nations culture and history. The university is empowering.”
Atkinson found one of her biggest obstacles came from, “my own limiting beliefs, just self-esteem issues. But as the years passed I recognized that I’m doing just fine.”
She received support from her band, as well as student loans. “It allowed me to focus on my school and still remain available with my family.”
Atkinson, who made the Dean’s list during her last two years of study, is confident her good grades and hard work will help her move on to the next level of her education. “My degree from VIU provides a solid foundation,” she said.
More than 1,000 First Nations students are enrolled in programs at VIU’s four campuses. For information on First Nations programs contact First Nations Student Services by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 250-740-6385 (Nanaimo), 250-746-3535 (Duncan), or 604-485-2878 (Powell River). The recent graduating class included 14 First Nations students from western Canada.