Ira Timothy, BA’10, had dreams of producing First Nations films to “try and help my people show we have the strength to stand on our own.” But his plans were derailed when he applied to pursue a master’s degree in film from Western, only to discover it was no longer offered.
“It was like running a marathon, and two inches before the finish line, finding out the race is cancelled,” Timothy said. “It really took a lot of wind out of my sails.”
But he soon adjusted those sails when, on the advice of Arts & Humanities academic counsellor Ben Hakala, Timothy enrolled in Western’s Continuing Studies post-degree diploma program in Public Relations.
Having earned his radio broadcasting diploma from Fanshawe before completing his undergraduate degree in film at Western – and then working for Blackburn Radio, hosting an award-winning show on CHRW – the public relations program proved to be “the next logical career step that tied it all together,” he said.
It also allowed Timothy, recipient of the 2016 London Council for Adult Education Award, to land his new role as communications co-ordinator for the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians.
“Not only did I get a job in the field I wanted in London, but I also realized my goal of doing something for my people,” Timothy said. He uses the skills he learned “to bring forth issues including water safety, child welfare or cannabis legalization and its effects on First Nations communities.
“We recently finished a federal lobby where I was able to score time to talk with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and other ministers. It was a great chance to meet face-to-face, make our voices heard and say, ‘This is what we need to work with you on.’”
He added, “Some friends are calling me the millennial unicorn because I actually got a job for something I went to school for.”
But, according to Carolyn Young, Director of Continuing Studies, “the Public Relations Diploma program job placement rate has actually been close to 100 per cent for several years.”
“Ira’s trajectory has been very exciting,” Young continued, “and his experience demonstrates the tangible outcomes for all the students in our program, including gainful employment in their field of study and a phenomenal professional network through the instructors and the other students.”
Timothy said the program offers demonstrable results.
“You get not only theory, but practical information from people actively working in the field, dealing with real-life situations we can learn from.”
One course, and one instructor in particular, stood out.
“It was Mandi Fields, (CTV London’s Community Relations Manager), who taught Events Management. She gave me the confidence to do the things I always dreamed about, but never knew how to take that ‘shaky first step.’ Her class taught me how to focus, plan, take on problems one-by-one and not let them become overwhelming. She gave me confidence to go out and do something.”
Timothy was soon organizing his own events, including charity fundraisers for Habitat for Humanity and the Children’s Health Foundation. He also found the courage to ask Fields to mentor him as part of the program’s required four-month practicum. Fields agreed, and soon Timothy was putting theory into practice as an intern with Bell Media.
In 2017, more than 2,700 students were enrolled in 277 courses through Western Continuing Studies. Some offer professional growth, leading to certificates and diplomas, while others are for personal enjoyment alone.
“There’s the knowledge, there’s the skills, there’s the network, but there’s this confidence aspect of our diploma programs that is extraordinary,” Young said. “It’s a game-changer.”
“Enrolment in online learning has grown by 29 per cent in the last five years. The other growth area we’re seeing is enrolment in two- to three-day workshops, and three-hour ‘spark’ sessions.”
Young, who with her staff, works with faculties across Western to develop a wide range of adult learning programs and courses, added, “Sometimes it’s just a single course, but it might be a full certificate, a diploma program or just a single conversation a student has with the instructor or another student in the class that can actually change their future.
“I recall someone back in the early 2000s understanding having a website for their business was going to be really important and through that certificate in Communications had the confidence to go back to her leader and say, ‘I need to be, as the Communications Manager, the one in charge of this.’ Until that point, it was residing with the company’s IT team.”
As technology continues to advance at an accelerated pace, lifelong learning “is more important than ever before,” Young continued.
“We will need to develop curriculum that can be modular and meet that need for fast learning,” she said. “The future for professional and continuing educating is very exciting.”
For those considering adult learning, Timothy has some wisdom to offer: “The more you learn, the better it gets, and the easier the path is.”
And while he’s not ruling out making films in the future, a recent tweet speaks to his passion for his current role and the Continuing Studies experience that brought him there.
“I said it before, I will say it again: Courses @westernuCS take you to great places and people. I love my job.”