Upgrading the future

Awards help student progress towards dream career

At age 32, Skyler Coulson is eagerly anticipating his high school diploma after completing upgrading at Okanagan College. His physical diploma is still in the mail, but when it arrives he knows what to do, send it to his mother with a note saying “Sorry I didn’t do this sooner.”

“I actually graduated. It took forever but I’m very glad I did it,” says Coulson.

It wasn’t long ago that Coulson thought he would never return to school.

Coulson is a member of Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation and grew up in Fort St. John, where there was plenty of opportunity to find well-paid work in the oil field. As a teenager, Coulson wasn’t interested in school and his grades reflected this.

At age 15, he decided to drop out, move out of his parent’s house and get a job. Coulson worked in the oil field for seven years before moving into construction. By age 30, he was starting to wonder if he could continue physical work for the long term.

It was his fiancé, Christina Schultz, who encouraged him to return to school and pursue an education that would lead to a long-term career.

Coulson was apprehensive at first; he’d been out of school for nearly 15 years and he would need to complete two full years of upgrading before he could start any of the programs.

Coulson credits the admissions officer at the Salmon Arm campus for being encouraging and making the enrolment process easy. In 2015, he and Schultz moved to Salmon Arm to start school.

“The first semester was the hardest as I had to get into the rhythm of doing homework, studying and staying on top of things,” recalls Coulson.

“When you’re actually doing the work assigned, and you want to get a high mark, it takes a lot of time. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

Coulson’s dedication enabled him to graduate with a 90 per cent average. For his efforts Coulson received an Academic Recognition Scholarship, the Tomas Idazan Memorial from the Shuswap Community Foundation and the Salmon Arm College Scholarship (AACP) from the Okanagan College Foundation.

"I spent a lot of time studying so it’s nice to receive awards recognizing this and it takes a burden off me financially," says Coulson.

Coulson is excited about his next step. In September, he started attending Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus to pursue his
passion, entering the Mechanical Engineering program.

“It feels really good to see my dream materializing,” he says.