Simon Fraser University

SFU five collect their degrees

October 06, 2005 , vol. 34, no. 3

By Julie Ovenell-Carter
Five SFU employees have completed their bachelor of general studies degrees through the integrated studies program and are gearing up to graduate together on Oct. 7. They include (from left): Kathryn White, Fiona Burrows, Shelley Porter and Grace Wandolo. Missing is Shaheen Manji. If there was ever a good reason to walk off the job during convocation, five SFU staffers have found it: they'll be crossing the stage themselves to claim their newly minted bachelor of general studies degrees.

“You're going to hear a huge roar when we get up there,” laughs biology receptionist Fiona Burrows, who will be joined on the dais by Burnaby campus colleagues Shelley Porter, assistant to the director of education undergraduate programs; Grace (Wandolo) Wattanga, secretary to the linguistics chair; Shaheen Nanji, acting associate director for international programs in continuing studies; and Kathryn White, secretary to the dean of business administration.

During the three-year, part-time cohort program, the long-serving SFU employees have become “like family” says White, a former SFU pipe band member who is looking forward to being piped into convocation mall by her old kilt-mates.

Each of the five women had her own reason for pursuing an undergraduate degree. Some, like Burrows, White and Nanji, were seeking a professional advantage. Others, like Wattanga and Porter, wanted closure on post-secondary training they had begun years before. All got more than they bargained for.

“I feel like I've grown so much in so many ways, both personally and professionally,” says Nanji, who is now considering graduate studies. “The program was great for me because it provided the structure I needed to get through and the support I needed to build my confidence. The learning was just so much fun - the courses were so engrossing - and I made lifelong friends.”

Grace Wattanga found out just how strong those ties of friendship had become when her father died last January and her classmates took up a collection to fly the single mother of five back to Kenya to be with her mother.

It was during that visit that Wattanga conceived Project Grace, a fundraising campaign to help improve living conditions in her family's village. After completing a proposal for her capstone project, she and her fellow graduates have made the commitment to work together to implement the project in the coming year.

Observes Burrows, an avid soccer player who kept the Nike Just Do It slogan pinned above her computer for the past three years: “I don't know why more staff don't take advantage of this opportunity to earn a free education. It's an underutilized benefit, for sure. It was so incredibly worthwhile and the rewards come back in spades. Until you experience it, it's hard to put into words."