Award winner's education a long path to new experiences and perspectives

June 07, 2019

Anita Rooke, winner of the Angela Armitt award

Anita Rooke’s journey to her degree was an interesting path that opened her eyes to new experiences and new perspectives.

Rooke is graduating with an Honors Specialization in First Nations Studies, having completed her degree after more than a decade as a part-time student. Rooke will carry the gonfalon to open the convocation ceremony.

When Rooke started her studies at Western in 2007, she was focused on completing her degree to make herself more employable. While she initially began with plans to complete a degree in Science, following a conversation with a neighbour, and with consideration of a possible career in environmental consulting, she took her first course in the First Nations Studies program in 2010.

Through the First Nations Studies program, Rooke said she was able to see and develop a new perspective on the world, and on research.

In one course, Rooke was part of a team that travelled to Walpole Island First Nation to work on projects the community identified as high needs. During that project, Rooke focused on mapping invasive phragmites growing on the banks of the St. Clair River.

“It was good to tear down barriers, where historically researchers might have gone in and more or less told community members what they were going to do, we let the community members tell us their needs, with the community and the researchers receiving credit for the work, and the benefits going to the community ,” Rooke said. This type of participatory research is all about building ethical relationships.

Rooke said her experience was challenging at times, balancing work and personal life with her studies. She would travel from Woodstock to take night courses, or would take half-day vacations to take courses. She said her journey was helped by the support of staff and faculty.

“They were very accommodating, which was a great aspect to Western, especially for a mature student, and for Indigenous students,” said Rooke.

Rooke is the recipient of the Angela Armitt Award, which is awarded to the top student in part-time studies. She has also received scholarships for part-time students for each of the past seven years.

Rooke said for mature students it’s important to persevere, and know that they can complete their degree, but it will require hard work and some patience.

“I’m glad for the knowledge, and it’s important to be able to examine your barriers. It teaches you about your own culture when you try to see it through the lens of somebody else,” said Rooke. “Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Part of the journey is being aware when other doors open and trying new things. You may end up on a different path from where you started, but that’s what higher education is about. Be flexible!”

Having finished her degree, Rooke hopes to develop a career in consulting work, with a focus on building relationships with First Nations communities.

But first, she is going to take time for a break. “I’m looking forward to being able to actually take a vacation,” said Rooke.