This fall, Admissions Advisors Heather Douglas and Taylor Jaehrling will be travelling across Ontario talking to high school students about Algoma University and their undergraduate experiences. While they graduated from two vastly different academic programs, their undergraduate days were much the same: filled with opportunities to get involved and travel abroad.
Both from Sault Ste. Marie, Douglas earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2016 while Jaehrling graduated this past June from the Bachelor of Arts in Community, Economic, and Social Development (CESD) program with a minor in Marketing. Jaehrling also earned the prestigious John R. Rhodes Scholarship for her extra-curricular activities.
In her first year, Douglas landed a research position working with Dr. Jennifer Foote with endangered species. For Douglas, this was one of the highlights of her undergraduate degree. “Right off the bat, in my first year, I got to do a really cool job where I got to work with an endangered species, which is really unheard of for an undergrad,” she begins. “I lived in Michigan in this cabin in the middle of nowhere, like 10 miles from the nearest town. There was no cell service, we had an emergency radio. I had to backpack in propane tanks. It was a bio student’s dream. I hiked on the beach every day and set up video cameras to document the cutest birds, the Piping Plover. I would capture them hatching and their daily activities.”
Douglas worked on this project for two semesters and later wrote her fourth year thesis on the research she conducted. “But it didn’t end there. The research I did became the foundation project for other students to build on. So the work kept going even after I was done with the project. It made me feel like I had a stake in research. I felt really enabled and really empowered.”
Jaerhling got more involved in student life, becoming a member of the Algoma University Students’ Union (AUSU) and the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). With AUSU, Jaerhling was on the Campaigns Committee. With WUSC, she helped fundraise and attended two conferences in Canada.
In their upper years, both took part in the student exchange program. Douglas ventured abroad to South Korea for one year and Jaehrling spent six months in Spain. “Exchange creates such a great foundation,” says Jaehrling. “If there’s one thing I can tell students, it’s to take part in a student exchange. Algoma makes studying abroad and travelling easier. It’s a shame that more people don’t take advantage of this great opportunity.” After graduating, Jaehrling ventured abroad for five months backpacking through Europe. Douglas too ventured back to South Korea, teaching English for two years.
Both feel strongly that such opportunities wouldn’t have been possible at a larger university. “We would have had to compete with thousands of other students for the exchange program, to be on council, or to work in a lab. But that’s not the case at Algoma. Opportunities are everywhere.”
“Exactly. And these opportunities are what will set you apart from students graduating at bigger universities. We’re all getting the same degree but it’s the stuff you do in your spare time that will set your résumé apart from others. For me, my time working with the Piping Plover is the highlight of my résumé. After teaching in Korea, I got a job in avian ecology in Florida. I wouldn’t have gotten that job without that experience. After that, I got another job in avian ecology in Pennsylvania. Algoma really opens doors. Because of Algoma, I have specialized job experience in my field right out of my undergrad,” continues Douglas.
When on the road this fall, both will be sharing these experiences and more with university-bound students and helping students make informed decisions about choosing the right university. Despite their different academic paths at Algoma, both feel that the University’s smallness and close-knit community is what makes Algoma truly different and unique and helped them succeed. “We had a Town Hall meeting the other day and the President of Algoma talked to us about how different it is for students in today’s climate and how stressful it is. That really resonated with me. University is intense and unfortunately, mental health issues are on the rise. We’re told to follow our dreams, which means we have to have a dream, or an aspiration or goal in mind. But we’re only 17 when we’re going to University and those are big decisions to have to make at such a young age. But it’s different at Algoma. Yes, you still have to make those decisions. But it’s easier. It’s stress-free. It’s chill. There’s places to explore, nature is at your fingertips. There’s real relationships and you’re not a number. It’s really a breath of fresh air in today’s academic climate. When you’re choosing a university, it’s definitely a big decision and it’s going to be stressful no matter what. But Algoma really made it easier for me and was here every step of the way for me. I really had a great undergraduate experience and I want others to have that same experience.”
Jaehrling echoes these sentiments. “If you have any anxieties about taking tests, writing exams or papers or approaching a professor, Algoma makes everything easier. We’re so small that you can talk to your professor without going through a TA. You can always ask for help. I felt really connected here and I think that’s what made me feel so comfortable when it came to get involving. I wasn’t afraid to join AUSU or WUSC. It was easy. People supported me.”