A voyage of self-discovery

Joanne Peterson was initially disappointed when she learned how many classes she'd have to take before she could pursue her master's of counselling degree. Now, having just graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology (with distinction), she has a true appreciation for the breadth of her educational experience.

"When I learned I needed to complete 20 courses at the U of L before applying for my master's, I felt discouraged," says the 46-year-old Peterson, a mature student who returned to post-secondary school after being in the workforce for years. "But I can truly say that the undergraduate courses I have taken have taught me more about myself than I could ever have realized."

Aspiring to be a registered therapist, Peterson found herself in classes she would never have considered taking beforehand, such as neuroscience.

"I discovered I had a passion for learning about and understanding the brain and behaviour," she says. "Now, I can see it really benefitting my career as a therapist. I've enjoyed the process of learning and in doing so, I realize that the more I learn, the less I know. It is both humbling and exciting at the same time."

Joanne Peterson
Joanne Peterson is learning more about herself than she'd ever imagined when she returned to school as a mature student.

Peterson immersed herself in the university experience, taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded her.

She took an applied study course that placed her as a volunteer at Martha's House, an independent living seniors' community, where she had the opportunity to study quality of life issues for seniors. Through that association, she was introduced to the Lethbridge Seniors' Forum and now is an active committee member.

Her applied study resulted in the creation of a series of four brochures that reflected quality of life topics most important to the residents of Martha's House. Packaged as a Navigation Guide for Seniors, the brochures are now being published and distributed by the City of Lethbridge.

This experience led Dr. Jennifer Mather (psychology) to encourage Peterson to write an honour's thesis (Seniors Views on Quality of Life), and she turned the difficult task into an excellent experience of self-discovery.

"She recognized my lack of confidence, even though I was carrying a very high GPA," says Peterson, who had to present her thesis to an audience of professors, administrators, fellow students and invited guests. "Without her encouragement, I don't believe I would have pushed myself to write a thesis and it turned out to be such a rewarding part of my university experience."

She was later invited to present her thesis findings to the boards of directors at St. Michael's Health Centre and the Green Acres Foundation.

Throughout her educational journey, Peterson saw time and again the supportive nature of U of L faculty and staff, something that was in stark contrast to her first post-secondary experience, years before at a much larger institution.

"In attending a smaller institution, my experience as a student was much more personal and hands-on than what I'd experienced when I attended the University of Alberta years back," she says. "The class sizes, particularly in the 3000 and 4000-level courses were often 20 to 40 students, allowing me to engage in discussions with my professors that greatly enhanced my learning. I also found the accessibility of my professors to be remarkable."

It's another reason why she will not hesitate to apply for the master's program.

"I intend to take this next year as a professional development year and seek work experience in the counselling field before applying for the 2014 cohort," she says. "The encouragement and advice I've been given from the Master's of Counselling program, particularly Dr. Blythe Shepard and Dr. Dawn McBride, has really made an impact in my continued pursuit of a career as a therapist."

This story first appeared in the June 2013 edition of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.