For most students, balancing life’s commitments with academic responsibilities can be one of the biggest challenges of pursuing a university degree. For ACMAPS Peer Mentor and Environmental Studies student Michael Collens, the balancing act has involved maintaining a stellar academic record while managing health issues, family responsibilities, and a busy extracurricular schedule. Oh, and did I mention he and his fiancé are expecting their first child any day now?
Michael is accomplishing a lot in his time at York. He is one of the first recipients of the Faculty of Environmental Studies’ HSBC Award. In addition, he is consistently on the Dean’s Standing List, and has served as the President and Treasurer of the York University Mature Student Association (YUMSO). I spoke with Michael to get his take on being a mature student at York.
As a mature student, what made York University the right school for your post-secondary education?
I knew that York University was the best place for me when I sent my application. My degree afforded a wide range of concurrent certificates, minors, double majors and electives that would allow me to build a degree that met my needs for the future, sparked my enthusiasm by keeping material fresh, and broaden my experiences. York has so many opportunities. I am working towards certificates in Italian, Geographic Information Systems, and Urban Studies with my degree.
But more than the opportunities, it’s the commitment to mature students through ACMAPS, and student success in general, made me feel that when I needed support and guidance – and we all do – it would be there. I have found it to be even more welcoming and supportive than I even imagined.
What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of from your time at York?
I am very proud of maintaining my Dean’s List standing in each term I have been enrolled full time. My education has been my priority returning to York, but like all of us I had demands from work, family and health that make it difficult to balance time between them all.
The HSBC Award is a tremendous honour. It recognizes both academic achievement and community leadership, and goes to senior-year students in Environmental Studies. I have met so many smart, talented and dedicated students at York that it’s hard to believe I was chosen as one of the inaugural recipients.
In addition to your academic responsibilities, you are also involved with different co-curricular activities on campus. How has getting involved in student life influenced your time at York?
It can be a challenge juggling yet another demand on your time, but getting involved is a very rewarding experience that helps you build relationships to see you through the tough times. The key is to find a co-curricular activity that excites you and you’ll want to do it. I couldn’t swim so when I came to York I took up swimming classes. It pushed me in a different way out of my comfort zone, but I came out of it stronger for it. I’m not the best at it, but I swam laps in the pool just this morning!
YUMSO has been a wonderful way to meet a group of wonderful people, get connected to other students and educators across the campus and best of all, make friends.
What are some of the ways mature students can be successful during their time at York?
You need to get involved, both in class and out. In class, talk with your TAs and professors; introduce yourself and explain you’re a mature student, and mention anything that could impact on your academic performance – health, work commitments, family obligations, etc. You don’t need to go into all the details but if you reach out to them, they might be able help smooth over any bumps you might have when they arise. And, when life gets in the way, talk to them and keep them in the loop. In tutorials, lectures, and labs, put in your two cents. You’re bringing a different perspective that enriches the learning experience for everyone involved.
Out of class there are more things you can do. Take as many of the student success workshops that you can fit in your schedule. Even if you don’t learn something new (and I highly doubt it!) you will at least find relief in knowing you’re already doing what you can to help you succeed. Use the Writing Centre and research librarians to help you craft the best assignments. Join student associations. Remember, your peers might be out of high school, but you’re in the same program – you already have common ground. Don’t forget pan-university groups, like YUMSO, SASP, that help you build a support network and friendships. Get connected with ACMAPS by getting on their email list, checking their website and stopping by to speak with a peer mentor. It is a vital resource on campus dedicated to the success of mature students, and keeping you connected to the York community.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a mature student?
I have Crohn’s Disease and Asthma and I’m hospitalized or kept away by illness or appointments regularly. I never knew when a flare-up would occur, but I put together a plan that would help me when it did. I made sure my professors and TAs knew, and that I may need flexibility when the need arose. They have always been very accommodating to me, and I think part of that comes from being proactive with a plan. I also connected to classmates to develop a buddy system for notes.
The key is to having a plan in place, sharing it with the ones who will help you see it through, and ask for help as soon as you need it. But, be flexible enough knowing that not every plan works perfectly.
What advice would you give to other mature students at York, especially new mature students who may be nervous about their return to school?
It’s easy to say it now, but relax and take it in stride. York is a big institution, and it can be daunting to find your place, but you will find you’re stride. Remind yourself you have what it takes. The best way for me to relax is to develop a plan for my class time. I map out all my classes, assignments, readings, exams and other special deadlines on a calendar to keep me focused. I have all my readings sorted at the beginning of the term, especially important if your class uses online resources, so that I have them when I need them. Collect contact info for all my classes. Knowing what to expect goes a long way to keeping the stress down. Don’t forget to budget some time for fun!