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Student with cropped blonde hair and blue eyes sitting on stone bench in front of university building

Nicole Hack (who prefers they/them pronouns) is looking forward to completing their degree next year, over a decade after they started their journey at the University of Victoria. Nicole chose to step away half-way through their degree due to finances. But when they finally jumped back in, donor support provided a safety net to get them successfully through to the finish line. 

Nicole grew up in Williams Lake, BC with a deep appreciation for the outdoors and a desire to help protect it. Their high school grades were good, so, with several scholarships in place and an older brother at UVic, they felt they should give university a try. The first two years went well, but Nicole hadn’t found their passion. While they were working a summer job at a ranch near their hometown, they realized they weren't ready to go back. 

“I didn’t feel confident enough to be investing financially—and in my time—in going back to university,” Nicole says. “I thought there were less expensive ways to find my path.”

A six-year break

Over the next six years Nicole trained as a welder and worked in many different trades. When a personal relationship ended abruptly, Nicole moved back to Williams Lake and was at a crossroad once again. Their mother reminded them of the degree goal they'd never fully given up on.

“At that time, the prospect of going to school was more exciting than it had been in my previous attempts because it felt like I was finally doing it for me, not because it was an expectation,” explains Nicole. “I was 27 at that point so I had a lot of concerns about being the ‘old kid’. But I was really excited because I had discovered what I wanted to study, and by the prospect of future jobs that align more closely with my environmental values.”

Another twist in the journey

A year after resuming school, Nicole was feeling inspired and positive about their decision, but was feeling financial pressure. They were considering taking another year off to make money for the following year’s tuition. Deep down they feared that another break from school might mean they wouldn’t ever go back.

Then came another twist in the journey—a global pandemic that sent Nicole back home to Williams Lake for a year of online courses. In the end, that opportunity to buckle down and focus only on school allowed them to achieve higher grades and led to them receiving a substantial scholarship.

The scholarship email

When Nicole got an email notifying them that they received an award, they couldn’t quite believe it. The donor-funded scholarship, awarded to students in third- or fourth-year Geography based on their grade point average, would cover Nicole’s tuition for a whole year, making Nicole's dream of finishing their degree seem finally within grasp.

“It seemed too good to be true,” Nicole recalls. “My mind immediately went into planning mode, but my brother sat me down and encouraged me to take a second to just feel proud of myself.”

At times it was hard not to think the universe was making it harder for me to finish my degree. Going back to school had been a hit to my finances so I was going to have to take more time off, but the scholarships meant I could come back and finish. I will be forever grateful to the donors behind the scholarship for giving me this incredible opportunity.

Finally looking forward past graduation

Next spring Nicole will be graduating with a double major in Geography and Environmental Studies with co-operative designation. They are hoping to find work in Indigenous land management and stewardship and has found purpose that links back to their childhood appreciation for nature.

“There is so much fear surrounding climate change and environmental degradation,” says Nicole. “I believe that reconciliation work with Indigenous nations is an important path towards environmental restoration and environmental justice. I really want to be part of the solution and share my passion for the environment with others.”

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