Mature Student Success: An Interview with S.A.S.P Founder Mary El’Bably

One of the best things about working for ACMAPS is that you get to meet some of the amazing mature students who are making an impact on student life at York University. One such student is Mary El’Bably, the founder and former president of the Student Association for Single Parents (SASP) at York University. A model of student success, Mary is graduating from York University magna cum laude with an Honors Bachelors in Arts degree, specializing in Sociology. During her time at York, she served as an executive and counsel member for the Sociology Undergraduate Student Association and she was a peer mentor for the Fundamental of Learning Program. In addition to her extracurricular accomplishments, Mary is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Murray G. Ross Award.

Mary El'Bably: Recent mature student graduate, Founder and President of the Student Parents In Networks Inc.

I asked Mary a few questions about her journey through York in order to get her insight on ways mature students can be successful during their time at York University.

As a mature student and parent, what made York University the right school for your post-secondary education?

York University offered me full-time admission, to a variety of programs with a mature student status. My education career at York fit my family life schedule. Also, after being away from academia for many years, I knew it was a big adjustment to be made, York offered many resources and services that guided me along the way. More importantly, York offered a program, Sociology, which really interested me.

What inspired you to start the Student Association for Single Parents (SASP)?

As a single parent returning to school, I recognized that single parents were an invisible group at York. I witnessed a gap between single parents and the community and I was eager to do something about it. As a result of this invisibility of single parents, their needs, including a supportive community, access to childcare, change tables in washroom facilities and scholarship opportunities, were not met. This led me to think “I am not the first single parent at York and I know that I won’t be the last, how great it would be to create an organization that makes all this available to student parent upon admission”. Complemented with the support of the Sociology department and faculty, I was inspired to start the Student Association for Single Parents.   

What advice would you give to other mature students at York, especially new mature students who may be nervous to return to school?

I know that returning to academia is a big decision, especially when trying to balance student-family life. Do your best to develop relationships with other mature students and student-parents; this will motivate you and give you the sense of community. I can promise times will get hard and you will questions yourself, at those moments I suggest taking time out for yourself and reward yourself for your accomplishments. I can promise you that returning to academia is a decision that you will never regret. Think of the bigger picture and stay focused on your long term goals. This is the best thing you will do for yourself and your child(ren). Not only are you being a great role model for your children, you are giving yourself something that no one can ever give or take away from you, an education.

What are some of the challenges that student parents face when pursuing a post-secondary education, and how does SASP support student parents who may be facing some of these challenges?

Two of the biggest challenges that student-parents face when pursuing a post-secondary education are financial hardship and childcare availability. In 2011, SASP raised over $8000 for scholarship opportunities for student-parents at York. Currently, SASP’s goal is to raise $25,000 for a life time scholarship that will be available to both graduate and undergraduate student parents.

In terms of childcare, the Study Fest Events at SASP provides student-parents an opportunity to study uninterruptedly, while their child(ren) under the care of the Lee Wiggins Childcare Centre. Breakfast and snacks are provided.

What are some of the ways mature students can be successful during their time at York?

York has lots of great resources, which you pay for through your tuition. I strongly suggest using them. As a mature student aim to achieve a strong academic record. I suggest taking a light course load (at most, I took 27 credits at once, I made up the others during summer school). At the beginning of every semester go meet with your professors and TA’s, and let them know your circumstances, balancing family and student life. Also, visit your TA during office hours for extra help; this is a good way to stay on track and network. Build long term relationships with faculty member, specifically if you are consider graduate studies. Talk to faculty members and TA’s about your long term goals, you never know that opportunities come out of a conversation. Find time to get involved and/or attend a workshop, even if it’s once per a week for a couple of hours. Furthermore, make friends, speak with your class mates and surround yourself with other students, specifically student- parents who will often remind you that you are not alone and who share similar goals to you. Most importantly TIME MANAGEMENT, as student-parents we have lots on our plate. Get use to writing everything down, I use a calendar and sticky notes as reminders for everything.


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