Student Success

Brendan Cummins comes full circle

Brendan Cummins first attended the University of Lethbridge in 1989, fresh out of high school and barely 17 years old. This year, almost 30 years later, he’ll be crossing the convocation stage as a newly minted Master of Arts graduate.

“When I first started here I was away from home for the first time,” says Cummins (BA ’16). “I had a really good time but didn’t go to class. I stumbled through my first semester and went on academic probation, so I was required to withdraw in the spring of 1990.”

After spending some time overseas, Cummins returned to Alberta and enrolled at Red Deer College. He got involved in student politics and journalism and continued to enjoy the student lifestyle, however, studying remained a low priority.

“I walked away from formal education for a long time. I really didn’t think it was for me,” he says. “I was going to school because I was told to go to school by my parents, guidance counsellors and teachers. Because I had been really good at school without having to do any work, I didn’t realize there was work involved in university.”

Over the next 14 years, Cummins completed a radio and television diploma at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, got married, became a parent, got divorced, worked in radio for a time and as a cook in bars and restaurants. He moved back to Lethbridge in 2005 and his soon-to-be second wife encouraged him to think about going back to university. A year later, he started chipping away at a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history, while working as a furnaceman at Lethbridge Ironworks.

“From 2014 to 2016, I worked full-time on the night shift 45 to 50 hours a week, plus was on call on the weekends, while I finished my undergraduate degree. I was a full-time student and I did an honours thesis through all that, so I figured it out about work,” he chuckles.

After finishing his BA, Cummins had no idea what he wanted to do next. He thought about going back to work but his wife, Jeanie Baczuk (BA ’95), encouraged him to go to graduate school. He started a Master of Arts in the fall of 2016, with a focus on American religious history. With graduate school as his only focus, Cummins found his studies enjoyable and he even found time to serve as president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA). He earned the School of Graduate Studies Silver Medal of Merit for finishing his thesis early and serving a year as GSA president.

As he looks back on his educational journey, what might he say to his younger self just entering university?

“I would actually tell my younger self not to change anything. I would do it all the same because I don’t think I would appreciate what I do now as much,” he says. “I don’t think I would be as good at it if I didn’t have the life experience that I’ve had.”

If there’s one piece of advice he’d like to pass along to students entering university, it would be to make the most of the experience by taking advantage of opportunities to learn in the classroom and to interact with professors and fellow students.

“This is a time to learn what you like, discover what lights you up. That’s one thing the U of L does better than just about anybody,” he says.

Cummins followed in his father’s footsteps (Frank Cummins, BA ’71) by attending the U of L and his daughter, Skye, is following in his. She’s finished her second year, with a major in psychology and a minor in religious studies.

While Cummins has closed one circle, he’s starting another as he’ll be joining the School of Liberal Education as an instructor beginning in July.