media release

Grad lands PhD – and high school diploma

June 08, 2011

Rob McTavish, 778.782.5294; 604.771.7622 (cell);
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210/9017;

Photo on Flickr
Rob McTavish
Two days after Rob McTavish received his B.C. high school diploma in the mail a letter arrived announcing his PhD in educational psychology from Simon Fraser University.

The two deliveries neatly wrapped up a sometimes-difficult 25-year educational journey for McTavish, a 42-year-old program director with SFU’s Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE).

“I struggled through school,” he admits, “and a lot of it was behavioural.” Labelled a “problem child” by Grade 2 and kicked out of seven elementary schools by Grade 5, McTavish’s marks ranged from A+ to F.

McTavish attended three high schools and was expelled four times before quitting without graduating to join the Canadian army. Surprisingly, he did well in military courses and says he began to realize “that the problem wasn’t necessarily me.”

Five years after quitting high school, he felt confident enough to return to college in 1991 as a mature student, transferring to SFU in 1994, where he found a student job with CODE.

He juggled increasingly responsible jobs in CODE with studying, family and part-time military obligations until retiring from all military duties in 2006 to concentrate on his doctoral studies.

Now that he has an educational psychology PhD, McTavish understands why he had so much trouble in school, despite supportive parents and no behavioural trouble at home. “I wasn’t challenged,” he says. “I should have been in a gifted program.”

McTavish focused his graduate studies on improving learning outcomes for students. His PhD thesis examined how learning objectives can help students improve their studying performance.

“I use what I’ve learned every day in my job developing courses,” he says. “I want to make SFU distance courses the best they can be.”

After completing his doctorate last December, McTavish approached the Surrey school district about completing Social Studies 11, the last remaining course requirement for his high school diploma.

The district waived the requirement based on his military experience and college courses, and he received his high school diploma in February.

  • McTavish will formally receive his doctoral degree next week during SFU’s Spring Convocation (Friday June 17 at 2:30 p.m. – at the same ceremony, new chancellor Carole Taylor will be installed). He’s one of more than 4,200 students eligible to graduate from SFU this spring.
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