THRIVE Child Development Centre is more than just a brightly coloured painted building in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Inside the walls is a staff cohort whose cheerful demeanour matches the bright blue, green, orange, red, and purple hues found throughout the centre. The team devotes their hours to supporting the needs of children with diverse abilities and their families within the Algoma district. Among those working at THRIVE, are seven Algoma University graduates who are committed to improving the lives of those residing in the north. Sara Bates, Kelsey Dugas, Jamie Kirk, Kate Lawrence, Jenny Maguire, Tina Newell, and Justine Slewidge are proud alumni of the Sault Ste. Marie post-secondary institution, who credit their alma mater with providing them with the necessary skills and networks needed to obtain meaningful work in their fields, and make a difference among those in their community.

“I have Algoma U to thank for my job,” says Tina Newell, who graduated from the University’s Honours Bachelor of Social Work program in 2014. “I had to do a 700-hour placement in my last year and I did it here. Within two weeks of graduation, I started working here and that’s all because of my placement and the connections I made here.” Newell is a social worker at THRIVE who’s case load deals with children who are eight years of age and younger. Many of her clients are Indigenous and Newell feels prepared to work with this population due to her degree’s programming focus. “Some of our clients come from Indigenous backgrounds and it often requires us to use a different perspective and approach when working with these families. Having taken classes in the social work program with both an Indigenous and anti-oppressive focus allowed me the opportunity to learn various cultural components and practices. It’s also helped me to be more critical and self-aware when I’m interacting with clients or families from diverse backgrounds.”

For Kate Lawrence, the Professional Services Manager for Early Childhood Education, who oversees the onsite inclusive preschool and the early learning resources, her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree has been crucial in her role and helping her secure a promotion. “I graduated from Sault College’s Early Childhood Education program and started working at THRIVE almost immediately. But I wanted to move up into a management position and those management positions required a degree in a related field.” While working full-time, Lawrence studied part-time at Algoma U, and graduated on schedule to
secure the management position she is currently working in. Lawrence is thankful that she never had to leave the Sault or her family to pursue a university degree. “I had a family. I had a husband and kids so I wasn’t able to just pick up and go to university,” Lawrence adds. “The [diploma-to-degree] program that was offered was fantastic. I was able to get almost half of my degree because of my Sault College credits, so I didn’t have to start right from the beginning… Plus a lot of the courses were available in the evening or late in the afternoon. There was a lot of availability in the courses I needed to take without jeopardizing my employment. It was a really good fit for me.”

Both Kelsey Dugas and Justine Slewidge, Honours Bachelor of Arts in Psychology graduates, credit the guidance they received from Algoma U faculty and staff as being instrumental in their career paths. After graduating from Algoma U, both attended graduate school at the advice of their faculty. “Algoma U presented the opportunity to me for the Master of Social Work program at Grand Valley State,” begins Dugas, who is a social worker and Coordinated Services Planner. “I always knew I wanted to do the counselling piece and work with children. I also knew I didn’t want to get my PhD, so I talked to my faculty about what I should pursue that fit within my interests. That’s when they talked to me about Grand Valley State, which
is a cohort program. My faculty were amazing, especially in my fourth year. They were great role models and I trusted their advice.”

Slewidge, who is an occupational therapist, discovered the career with the help of faculty and then Student Services Advisor, Karen Hudson. Knowing that she didn’t want a repetitive job and wanted to work with the public, Slewidge spoke to her mentors for advice. That’s when she discovered the field of occupational therapy. “The staff and faculty were very helpful through the application process. Both Drs. Dwayne Keough and Deborah Woodman were references applying to my Master’s in Occupational Therapy. What I really appreciated was that the faculty weren’t ‘forcing’ you into a certain stream of psychology. They were asking you what you want to do. This approach really helps ensure that you’re really going to love your career path. I love working with children and their families at THRIVE.”

A single course at Algoma U opened Jenny Maguire to the field of speech and language pathology. “I took an intro to communications disorders in my undergrad and that is what led me to become a speech and language pathologist.” Maguire is a speech and language pathologist who provides services to children ages six and under and travels to Desbarats, Thessalon, Bruce Mines, and Blind River to work with THRIVE clients and their families. Despite having graduated from the University years ago, the Algoma THRIVE cohort are still feeling the after effects of attending the Sault Ste. Marie post-secondary institution.

For Slewidge, attending her hometown university was more affordable and provided her with the opportunity to continue with graduate school after convocation. “I received a substantial amount of funding through Algoma U which offloaded a lot of financial stress going into my master’s program. I received the Algoma University Gold Award of Excellence entrance scholarship, as well as other bursaries, which covered approximately half of my tuition fees. Without this financial aid, I am not sure if I could have completed my master’s immediately post-graduation.”

Last year, Newell applied to earn her Master’s of Social Work from the University of Windsor. She was nervous about applying since the application required references from her professors at Algoma U, and she hadn’t been in their classrooms in over three years. “But I managed to get a hold of them. They remembered me and could recall my work ethic in class. They helped me get my acceptance into Windsor. It definitely pays to go to a smaller university where people know you and you’re not just a number.”

While THRIVE works tirelessly to support children and their families in the north, Algoma U is working hard to educate students and prepare them for the workforce. Christianne Monico, Chief Executive Officer of THRIVE, agrees. “Algoma University does not only turn out fantastic students but dedicated professionals as well. THRIVE is honoured to employ so many great people who have chosen a career in supporting children and youth with diverse abilities across the Algoma district. Algoma University has blessed our THRIVE Child Development Centre team with several staff who are devoted each and every day in supporting our children and families to reach their personal extraordinary!”