Extraordinary educator completes master's despite significant obstacles
By Diane Luckow
Returning to university later in life is always a challenge, but Cheryl Schweizer, 53, of the Tlazt’en Nation, encountered more obstacles than usual.
An itinerant Aboriginal education worker, Schweizer travels throughout the Prince George School District to teach students about Aboriginal language and culture. The Tlazt’en Nation resides in the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, which encompasses Prince George, B.C.
In fall 2016, intent on improving her teaching strategies and assessment, she enrolled at SFU to begin a Master of Education (MEd), driving nine hours bi-weekly to attend classes at the Surrey campus.
But in late October, she suffered a major stroke. A week later, she had open heart surgery. It was three months before she could begin rehabilitation work to overcome significant brain damage from the stroke.
“It left me with disabilities, including the loss of much of my long-term memory,” she says. “I had to re-learn a lot, including how to drive, how to type, and even why I was accepted into the MEd program.”
Unable to attend classes during the spring 2017 semester, she remained determined to complete her degree.
“She formed a study group with colleagues and friends with the support of her professors, and worked through the curriculum with her local colleagues as pseudo classmates,” says education professor Cher Hill, who coordinates SFU’s field and community graduate programs.
Says Schweizer, “I had wonderful people to read to me and the learning they experienced along the way in my healing journey was incredible. I want to ignite that same experience in the kids—to have them read something and have a great conversation about it—to get them excited.”
Schweizer says she got through her ordeal by keeping two goals in mind: acquiring more knowledge about her First Nations language and finishing the MEd program.
She returned to her SFU classes last summer, commuting through the forest fires near Kamloops, B.C., and once narrowly escaping the blaze on her return home. She successfully defended her comprehensive examinations in time to convocate in October.
“She is an extraordinary educator who did exceptional work in our master’s program despite so many obstacles,” says Hill. “We are all so inspired by Cheryl's determination and dedication to her studies and by her contributions to the field of education.”
Schweizer hopes to return to work this year.
“What I learned in the program will keep me on track as I consider what lens I am using, what my teaching strategies are, and how I’m going to assess what works and what doesn’t,” she says.
“Indigenous education is high on the agenda now,” she adds. “I want to show it’s not a scary process. I want to create a positive process for thinking about how it can be done.”