Julia Burke


From overwhelmed to exemplary student

With our student-employee match program, Julia Burke found the confidence to succeed.

Julia Burke celebrated her son’s news that she would be a grandmother. She wanted to be a good role model for future generations, so she knew she needed to make changes in her life.

The full-status member of the Whitefish Lake Band in Treaty Eight has three grown children that she raised on a grain farm in north-central Alberta. She returned to learning after a “horrible time”: a traumatic farm injury, subsequent addiction to painkillers, and the breakup of her marriage. 

Motivated by her son’s announcement, she found a doctor to perform surgery on her injury and withdrew from painkillers. She moved to Calgary and enrolled in Bow Valley College with a desire to help northern Indigenous youth escape the intergenerational cycle of poverty and criminality. She is in her first year of the Justice Studies Diploma.

Julia is testimony that Bow Valley College’s Learning Navigator program helps students succeed. 

“Everything came down at once,” Julia says. “I was frazzled, struggling with time management and the coursework. I lived on a farm where we didn’t have internet and I had very limited knowledge of the computer. I might as well have crawled out of a cave.” 

Julia also struggled with her mental health, feeling inadequate, and that she didn’t belong. 

“I was so overwhelmed that I almost pulled the plug,” Julia recalls.

Everything changed in her first semester. She signed up for Learner Success Services’ Learning Navigator program. That’s where students are paired with a staff member, who guides them to the services they require to succeed at school.  

Julia was paired with Heather Deacon, team lead in Academic Success Centre.

“It really meant a lot to me that Heather was accessible and nonjudgmental,” says Julia. “She lifted the weight off my shoulders, so I could get on with my learning.” 

Heather directed her to the Iniikokaan Centre’s Cultural Resource Elders, and the RISE program, which offers help to students with whatever supports they may require to succeed at school – from finances and housing, to mental health and academics. 

“I was able to help Julia access all of the services and academic supports available to her,” Heather says. “Julia made a brave step to come back to school,” Heather says. “Part of her struggle was the confidence that she lacked. I was able to say ‘Yes, you can do it and here is how we can support you.’ ” 

Being paired with Heather provided Julia with a huge boost to her confidence as she gained new skills, learned to manage her time, and took computer tutorials. Julia became an exemplary student, and a recipient of one of Bow Valley College’s most prestigious awards, the Premier’s Community Commitment Scholarship, which recognizes academic achievement and volunteerism.

“Receiving the scholarship and all of the positive reinforcement from my instructors were like little gold stars,” she says. “The little and not-so-little rewards that help you keep going.”

Heather attributes Julia’s success to her perseverance. “Winning the scholarship puts any self-doubt Julia may have had to rest for her. I know she will be very successful in her career.” 

She adds that the Learning Navigator program is also a good way for staff who don’t have contact with students to connect with them, and to learn more about the services Bow Valley College offers students. All it takes is an hour or so a week to answer emails, chat on the phone, or meet them in person.

She says “You get to see directly what supporting a learner can do.”

To find out more about the Learning Navigator program, visit our Learning Navigator page.

Story posted on April 5, 2019

Story by Anne Georg
Photos by Chris Bolin

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