Samantha Magnus

Samantha with her two children
Samantha, who is the mother of two young children, is pursuing a Master's in Public Health.

A single mother's legacy helps Samantha pursue opportunities

Samantha Magnus remembers the summer before she started her Master’s program as one of the toughest times of her life. Recently single, she had moved to Victoria from the gulf islands with her 3-year-old son and her 6-month old daughter in order to continue her education and follow opportunities that would ultimately enable her to support her family alone. She says:

“Going to graduate school as a mom is very different from my undergrad as a single person. I can’t just cut corners the same way. My kids rely on me for safety and a stable home and everything they need to be healthy and develop properly.”

Samantha was sure that although it was daunting, the best way to advance her career was to leverage her BSc and pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health. Because the program is mostly delivered online, Samantha was able to stay home and care for her baby while she studied.

The road from welfare

Samantha and her young family relied on income assistance to get them through the summer months until her student loan cheque arrived.

“Income assistance just isn’t enough,” Samantha says, “You’re looking at $1050 when you have two kids, and that all goes to rent.” Additional child tax benefits kept her family out of the food bank line up, but didn’t cover much else.

“Having to overanalyze even the tiniest expenses really eats you up,” she says. Samantha told a story about missing the pick-up for pre-paid box of produce while she was attending orientation week for her program. “It was a little thing, but I have to admit I cried when I realized our box was gone. We were relying on that.” The staff helped to scrape together some food from their own stock in response.

The arrival of her student loan was a huge relief, but at the same time, “my notice of assessment said the loan would cover less than half of my costs for the semester. As nice as it was to have money in the bank, I knew it wouldn’t last,” says Samantha.

Samantha had applied for financial aid but didn’t know how much support she would be receiving, if any. When she checked her account online to see what she had been offered through donor-funded bursaries, Samantha says “I literally fell to my knees and had to sit on the floor to take it all in. I felt so supported and validated in the choices I’d made. It was like these invisible hands were lifting me up. It was incredibly humbling.”

Doris’ legacy

One of the invisible hands supporting Samantha belongs to the late Doris Stastny. Fifty years earlier, Doris found herself in the same situation as Samantha, facing the daunting challenge of supporting her children alone. She also made the brave decision to return to school. After a year of commuting from Campbell River to Vancouver, Doris obtained a degree in Library Science from the University of British Columbia.

She secured a job in the library at the University of Victoria, where she met Harry Stastny, and they married in 1967. The challenge of attending school while raising a family of four alone never left Doris. She decided to leave a lasting gift to help other single mothers who might be in a similar situation.

Focus on social change

Now Samantha has nearly completed UVic’s Master’s program in Public Health. The flexible learning options fit around her work and childcare hours, and classes and practicum have helped Samantha focus in on the area of social sustainability.

“We are failing to protect and promote the health of that bottom 10–20% income group,” she says. “We have to get more creative about income inequity and how we help people out—change some of the current policies that trap families in poverty.”

The Doris Stastny Bursary is a financial cushion that helps Samantha sleep at night. Without it, Samantha says, she and her kids would be a small step away from homelessness. “I’m not sure I would have made it with just student loans,” she admits. “It would have been too much stress, every moment of every day.”