Embracing the Opportunities of her Education Journey Olivia Franks ‘15

When I was at RLC, I believe my largest class size was 18 students. Coming to Queen’s, I believe the undergraduate population was approximately 20,000 students.

I first contacted you back in November 2018 about being a Peer Pal at Queen’s for a member of the graduating class. Why do you think it is important to support fellow alumni?

When I was at RLC, I believe my largest class size was 18 students. Coming to Queen’s, I believe the undergraduate population was approximately 20,000 students. This change can be overwhelming and scary for many but knowing that there were familiar faces and people at my new school helped me a lot. It is such a huge change to go from such a tight-knit community where you know everyone, to such a large university. Ultimately, I believe it is important to support fellow alumni to know that small community that you used to be a part of everyday still exists.

At the time, you were on a Bilateral International Exchange at University College Dublin for the winter semester of the 2017/18 academic year.  What did you gain personally and professionally from this experience?

My exchange during the winter semester of 2018 was one the best experiences of my life. I was initially hesitant to go because I was unsure how my credits would transfer back to Queen’s, I was not going with any of my friends, and I was not sure if this would slow down or complicate the process of getting into graduate school. Putting aside my logistical worries, I attended the University College Dublin in Ireland. During my 5 months there, I experienced a new university and learning settings, made friends from across the globe, and travelled to 11 countries. From this experience, I learned that it is really important to try new experiences even if they appear different from the norm or scary. In a professional sense, I learned that education and career pathways are not linear. Everyone has a different pathway through university, and I learned how important it is to not compare your journey to others.

While obtaining your Bachelor of Science Degree with a Specialization in Kinesiology at Queen’s University, you volunteered with the Queen’s Chapter of Right To Play.  How did you find time to keep up with classes and volunteer?

I volunteered with Right To Play from my second to fourth year of university. Right To Play Queen’s was a student-led group of approximately 15 students who met weekly, planned events on campus, attended outreach events with local high schools, and raised money for the Right To Play headquarters in Toronto. Throughout those years, I was balancing my part-time job, volunteering, and my course work. My classes were never interrupted since most student committees meet during the evenings of the weekdays. Sometimes, the meetings would be until 9pm at night to avoid interrupting everyone’s course schedules. Prioritizing course work and classes above all else is the most important thing to remember when getting involved in extra-curriculars at university. It is definitely challenging to balance work, volunteering, courses, and personal life. I believe one of the things that helped me the most was constantly reflecting to see if I was taking on too much. It is extremely rewarding to be volunteering and to be involved in your community, but it is really important to recognize that it is easy to feel burned out. Agendas and planners are the most important tools I used to help me realize if I was over-loading myself.  

Last time I spoke with you, you were in New Zealand for the International Indigenous Mentorship conference?  Can you tell us more about this program and experience?

I attended the International Indigenous Health Research Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand December 2019. A total of 56 indigenous health researchers took part in the workshop including 17 from New Zealand (Māori), 11 from Australia (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders), and 28 from Canada (First Nations, Inuit and Mètis peoples). The aim of the workshop was to strengthen the capacity and capability of Indigenous health and medical researchers, and to use international research initiatives and calls for research to encourage international collaboration on health and research issues of relevance to Indigenous populations. I was introduced to this opportunity through the Indigenous Mentorship Network of Ontario-’a network that connects Indigenous researchers and research trainees across 13 institutions in Ontario. This was an incredible workshop to attend as it really motivated and inspired me within my own work as an Indigenous woman engaging with Indigenous health research.

You are currently working towards a Masters of Science in Health Promotion at Queen’s.  What do you enjoy most about the course?

My research is ancillary to the research pursued by my graduate supervisor, Dr. Lucie Lévesque, the primary investigator of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)- funded Community Mobilization Training (CMT) Project. The CMT is in partnership with the Kahnawá:ke Schools Diabetes Prevention Project (KSDPP), which utilizes community-based participatory research (CBPR) to mobilize Indigenous communities across Canada for Type 2 Diabetes prevention and healthy living. I have really enjoyed meeting and engaging with community members from the communities that we are in partnership with. I have been able to learn about the principles of community-based research and be able to help implement these principles into practice.

How do you plan to use your degree in relation to Indigenous Communities?

In the future, I hope to work as a researcher in partnership with Indigenous communities and organizations in Canada, either within an academic institution or as an in-house researcher at an Indigenous organization. My goal is to undertake Indigenous community-owned and participatory research that may inform public policy to support community needs and foster research sovereignty for Indigenous Nations. Historically, Indigenous communities have been exploited by research for the benefit of the (typically non-Indigenous) researcher, and often, never informed of the findings. Due to the low prevalence of Indigenous researchers on Turtle Island, I am motivated to pursue my goals of becoming an Indigenous health researcher in order to help improve the health and well-being of Indigenous Peoples across the country through community-based participatory research.

How did Rosseau Lake College help you choose your path in University?

A combination of the varsity sports, as well as my Exercise Science class at RLC, helped me develop my interest in health, physical activity, and the study of the human body. The Kinesiology degree at Queen’s University was the perfect program for me as I joined a cohort of like-minded students also interested in physical activity and health. I was able to take the pre-requisite courses in my final years at RLC to be eligible for my desired program.

What advice do you give to new RLC graduates as they begin their post-secondary education journey?

I think that the biggest advice that I have for recent RLC graduates beginning their post-secondary education journey is to not compare your education journey to any of your peers’ and to remember that it is completely normal to not have your career path planned out. You will have one of a kind experiences during your post-secondary education, so it is really important to remain present in the moment and embrace the opportunities that come to you. Good luck!

Interview by Kim Bissonette Morton ‘88

Director of Advancement & Communications