Sept. 24, 1998 * Vol . 13, No. 2

Studying a family affair for 'working student'

For the last three years,Teresa Doromal has spent her days at work, as collections coordinator for Canadian Pacific Railway, and her evenings immersed in study time with her sons.

The boys did their homework - while Doromal did hers. She's one of 32 'working students' who are the first to graduate from Simon Fraser University's Integrated Studies program. They'll receive bachelor of general studies degrees at fall convocation on Oct. 2

Fourteen CPR workers and another 18 employees from B.C. Hydro completed the program, designed to provide employees with an opportunity to complete degrees while maintaining their jobs.

CPR approached SFU with the idea as part of its move to enhance employee development. B.C. Hydro joined in - and generated more than 160 responses from its employees vying for an opportunity. The result was a class of 34 employees, and the program's first pilot group.

The unique program provides employees with new learning opportunities that balance students' technical skills with new skills in leadership and critical thinking, which can lead to advancement and even new career opportunities.

Employees aren't the only beneficiaries. Companies stand to gain from employees' new skills, broadened knowledge and commitment.

The liberal and business studies format provide students with a broad range of courses in everything from humanities and writing, to management and industry-related issues. Students meet four times a semester for an intensive three days and take two courses per semester over a three-year period.

In addition, students like Shirley Sung, health promotions manager at B.C. Hydro, spend up to 18 hours a week on studies and research. "I went into this a committed person, because the company had shown a commitment to me," says Sung, whose workload includes developing health programs and managing incentive recognition programs, along with two fitness centres. "I had previous training in human resource management, but I felt this program would help to broaden my skills.

"In a sense, I run my own ship, so the business side was useful. The liberal studies presented a 'human side' which also ties in with what I do, so for me this was a natural fit."

Cheryl Wallace, who works in field operations for CPR's Coquitlam freight yards, calls the program "an opportunity I couldn't refuse."

Wallace had continued her education through night school with support from the company, but found sitting through class after a day's work difficult. "This program was also challenging, but much more feasible," she says. "It's helped me find new ways to 'think,' and that is influencing my focus on the day to day job."

David Hill says he was a "lowly engineer" working in construction management at B.C. Hydro prior to the program. "The biggest complaint in any company is that engineers aren't 'well-rounded,' and this program has changed that for me," says Hill, recently transferred from New Westminster to the 800-member community of Hudson's Hope, and a job involving maintenance of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.

Earning his degree helped Hill get the job. "It certainly pushed me over the top," he says. While the main qualification was to be a civil engineer, Hill says the program made him a perfect candidate for the job's non-engineering component -- working with unionized crews, proposal and business case writing and making presentations to government and the public.

Back at CPR, Doromal says her broad-based knowledge will also help her adjust to a new job -- in Calgary.

The move is part of the company's extensive reorganization. Doromal will now work in asset management. "Just learning how to study again -- after 18 years of being out of the classroom -- was one of many benefits," says Doromal, who had to live up to the work ethic she preached to her children ("cramming wasn't an option," she says).

Interest in the program led to a second and third group in 1997, and a fourth began this semester.


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