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Support from peers keeps lumby student on the road
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Support from peers keeps lumby student on the road

As a single mother of three juggling a hectic schedule and a lengthy commute, Okanagan College student Heidi Smithson was facing a financial roadblock on her way to becoming a Therapist Assistant. Fortunately for Smithson, support from her fellow students recently arrived to help keep her on the path to a career in caring.Heidi S 2

Smithson is the third recipient of the newly created Okanagan College Students’ Union (OCSU) bursaries. Established in 2015, the award fund provides four $750 bursaries throughout the year for students.

“I was overwhelmed when I found out that the award was supported by other students,” says Smithson, a resident of Lumby who commutes to Vernon each day and then buses to and from the Kelowna campus.

“It’s wonderful that the Students’ Union has made these awards available. For a single mom like me, this will go a long way.”

Although her studies in the classroom are drawing to a close, Smithson herself is now faced with a long way to go. She learned in March that both of her practicum placements will be at a care facility in Kamloops. This will mean 10-weeks of driving to Kamloops, five days per week.

“Sometimes I feel very torn between the demands of school and making sure my kids get all the attention and energy from me they deserve. But I am committed to making it work.”

“I have always wanted a career that was more than just a job—something that was meaningful. I like the idea of a career where I could help people, and that’s what I have found through this program.”

Smithson credits her children (ages 7, 11, and 13) as a major source of inspiration. She also says the help of her fellow students is now yet another piece of inspiration that will keep her on the road to completing her training. After her practicum wraps, she is hopeful a permanent position will become available in Kamloops or somewhere else in the valley.

“This award will help with the daily commute, as well as providing a nest egg for moving, if a job opportunity opens up. It’s a wonderful load off my mind to know that I have that support at hand.”

Although the awards are still new, the OCSU is pleased with the impact they have already made in easing the burden of financial stress for students.

“It’s great to see this award fund doing just what we set out to do with it—really helping students when it comes to breaking down those barriers and helping when it comes to cost of life as a student,” says OCSU Executive Director Brianne Berchowitz.

“There are so many students like Heidi who are going the extra mile, taking care of their families while also continuing their education. We want students to know there are resources like this in place, and we’re absolutely thrilled whenever we can help.”

More information about the OCSU Bursaries and other awards and financial aid available at Okanagan College can be found at