Distance learning helps Calgary grad balance life and studies

Human and Social Development

- Stephanie Harrington

Maddy Yonkers

When Maddy Yonkers crosses the stage for convocation at the University of Victoria in June to receive her bachelor’s degree, it will be the first time she has set foot on the island.

Yonkers, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Public Health, has spent her entire UVic degree studying from her home city of Calgary—and she couldn’t be happier with that choice.

She studied health sciences for two years at a university in Southern Ontario during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic before deciding she wanted a different academic path. Three thousand kilometres from home, Yonkers also wanted to be closer to family, an issue that became paramount after one of her loved ones fell ill.

“Being able to be home and be present is really important to me,” Yonkers says.

Public health’s big-picture lens

The School of Public Health and Social Policy’s distance education program turned out to be the right fit for Yonkers. She had her credits transferred over from her previous university and joined classes online in her third year.

I knew I wanted to do something within the health care field, but I didn’t want to be a nurse. It’s interesting to look at health from a larger perspective, rather than the physiological sense.

—Maddy Yonkers

With an emphasis on social justice, the BA in Public Health focuses on community-centred approaches to health promotion, health protection, and disease and injury prevention. The degree will enable Yonkers to work for health and community groups that provide services that address health inequities.

Yonkers focused her studies on aging, learning about how Canada’s aging population will impact various health sectors, what different organizations can do to support adults in their later years, and what is lacking in society to support them.

This program gave me a good overview of what impacts individuals’ health as a whole, including different factors, such as environmental and social factors, that influence an individual’s health.

—Maddy Yonkers

Finding her career path

While studying, Yonkers volunteered for the pet therapy program at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. There, she met numerous child life specialists, pediatric health care professionals who work with children and families to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness and disability.

Yonkers felt she had found her calling.

“Watching them and their impact on the kids and their experience in hospital, as well as their family and siblings, I realized this was such an amazing opportunity to learn about a profession not well known,” she says.

In the fall, Yonkers will start an online master’s degree at McMaster University in Hamilton to become a child life specialist. Besides being grounded in an understanding of the social determinants of health, Yonkers says her undergraduate degree’s focus on cultural safety will inform her future practice.

Yonkers says the work experience she got while working with vulnerable children and youth during her UVic practicum at Luna Child & Youth Advocacy Centre in Calgary will further support her chosen career path.

Social justice commitment

Assistant Teaching Professor Natalie Frandsen says Yonkers’ commitment to social justice and equity exemplifies the values of the School of Public Health.

“As one of her instructors, it has been inspiring to see her growth as a student and to witness her finding a career path that she is passionate about,” Frandsen says. “Maddy’s career path to becoming a child life specialist illustrates the breadth of careers available to public health students.”

While she appreciates the flexibility of online learning, Yonkers says the personal connection she felt with instructors at UVic made the difference in her education.

Being able to have those connections has been really important to make sure I can reach my goals. I wanted to work hard because I have people on the other side [at UVic] helping my success.

—Maddy Yonkers

For now, Yonkers is enjoying some down time between her studies. She is looking forward to visiting UVic’s campus in June and soaking up the ambience of Vancouver Island with her parents and grandparents at convocation.

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In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, mental health, health, aging

People: Maddy Yonkers, Natalie Frandsen

Publication: The Ring

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