Maria Di Paolo

Maria Di Paolo first attended SFU in 1986 but admits she simply wasn't ready at the time. Photo by Greg Ehlers.

Good things come to those who wait. For Maria Di Paolo, good things came from not only waiting—but working hard. After deciding to finish the degree she’d begun in 1986 Maria took classes with SFU NOW: Nights or Weekends over a number of years to earn a bachelor of arts in criminology. This time, she committed herself to completing what she started, no matter how long it took.

What did you do before SFU NOW?

I’m a paralegal with Clark Wilson LLP with their litigation department and I had been doing my job for a while. I was good at it, but I wasn’t being challenged much outside of work. I wanted other things to keep me intellectually busy and challenge me.

Why did you decide to return to school?

I started my post-secondary education right after high school. It did not go well. I went to SFU and I stunk up the place. I didn’t want to be there at the time and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so it was really bad. I ended up having to leave.

[SFU NOW] was about finishing what I started and getting my really awful GPA up to something that wasn’t embarrassing anymore. It was about proving to myself that I deserved to be in university. When they first accepted me, I was young and immature, but now I belonged. It was all about gaining some pride in my university degree.

How was the transition into SFU NOW?

It was awesome. Everything I needed was offered. The people involved with the SFU NOW program were brilliant. I needed an answer in the short term and I had a human to talk to who said, let’s get you an answer right away. She essentially made sure I knew what my plan was, and that was so helpful. It was truly remarkable. It was exactly like having a personal advisor.

After that, it was just a matter of fitting in a course or two that I needed and wanted. It made finishing easier—it made it happen.

What was it like being a mature student?

I had way more confidence. When I was younger I was terrified of public speaking, but as an older student, I said what I had to say and I wasn’t worried about making an impression. I spoke freely and I was myself. With SFU NOW there were classmates that I would see regularly and still keep in touch. My university connections were all a result of the SFU NOW program.

Do you use anything you learned at SFU NOW at work?

I think the ability to think far more critically was the most transferrable skill. You’re taught different ways to think about things because you’re talking to different people and learning from instructors who come from extremely different backgrounds. All of a sudden, you’re open to a different mindset and it helps to break down prejudices and approach things in a new way.

What advice would you give someone considering SFU NOW?

Call, call, call. Go on the website. Go to an information session. Do it. Tomorrow will come, the day after will come, the time will go by and you’ll either have finished something or not. When I thought about going back, I committed to doing it for as long as it took. SFU NOW made it all manageable. 

By Alison Brierley

“SFU NOW was about finishing what I started and... proving to myself that I deserved to be in university.”

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