‘A natural decision’: STU, UNB students reflect on university, look to the future

(Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash)

Katelyn Ryan is graduating from St. Thomas University this spring with a gerontology major and a psychology minor. For her post-grad plans, she applied for a recreational therapist position at the Shannex near her hometown of Miramichi.

“I’m feeling hopeful,” she said.

Before finding gerontology, Ryan explored a range of education-related degrees. She initially enrolled at the New Brunswick Community College for a career in early childhood education, later changing to human resources.

The summer before she started, she volunteered in a nursing home. She was entranced by the life stories of the residents and the idea of being an uplifting presence for them.

After her volunteering experience, she applied to STU for gerontology and got in.

“It was a natural decision,” said Ryan.

Though a university degree is not required to work in a nursing home, Ryan believed it would get her a job above minimum wage. She was also interested in studying gerontology academically.

“[STU’s education went] far beyond my expectations,” said Ryan. “I thought it was going to be just stuff that I already knew. … There is just all this stuff that you wouldn’t think of.”

Ryan was pleased with the gerontology courses and professors at STU.

She said speaking with professors in the field who have insight into career opportunities helps with uncertainty and creates connections.

For now, Ryan wants to follow her passion instead of focusing on money.

“You can always find a job, even if it’s not something you want right away … just to pay the bills until you get your dream job,” said Ryan. “So don’t stress too much about getting your dream job right away because it is coming.”

Katelyn Irish is a UNB law student who skipped her undergraduate convocation at STU. She heard that students could apply to law school in their third year with a good GPA and LSAT scores.

When she lost her summer job because of COVID-19 last year, she decided to take the time to study and take the LSATs. She applied to the University of New Brunswick for law.

“I kind of just had it as a side thought and I just assumed I’d still be graduating and that was my plan,” she said.

But then she got in.

She decided to step back from her degree in gerontology and human rights. After she decided on law school, Irish was left with the same feeling she had at the start of first-year.

“I just had to completely restructure my plan and everything I was going to do,” said Irish. “It was kind of crazy.”

She thought when she finished her undergrad, she would feel it was the end of something, but she said it feels like the beginning.

“I almost was starting from scratch again,” she said.

Irish thought that the critical thinking she was taught at STU transitioned well into her studies at UNB.

Irish said university is a transition period which ends with the expectation of being an adult. She sees the dividing line of graduation as more of an illusion rather than a legitimate separation between two stages of life.

“You’re the same person so there’s not really that much difference.”

Irish hopes to merge her interest in gerontology with her law career, considering the idea of health law, like ethical issues in nursing homes. She said she never considered a job that fused gerontology and law before.

“There’s just so much more out there that I think people realize,” said Irish.

In law school, she was opened to a lot of new opportunities.

She said it was important to follow her interests and success will follow after that.

“Part of that is not only what you’re interested in, but you learn along the way what you’re good at, what you’re not good at.”

Irish said she deals with uncertainty and stress by addressing these feelings, then following her gut and interests. She said there is a lot of pressure on students to know what they are doing, especially in law.

“The biggest thing I would have told myself is also just to have fun,” she said. “[Careers] are just so future-focused that I feel like I didn’t take as much time to just be in the moment and appreciate where I am.”