Learning clicks ambassador Alison

This Grande Prairie Regional college open studies student has a dream of creating costumes for the BBC in England.


Learning clicks ambassador Alison

I born and raised in Grande Prairie, always reading, making up stories and using my creative imagination. School was fun, I met friends and enjoyed learning, but I was terrified of life after high school. All my friends knew what they wanted to do but I had no idea.

I had math skills, so I tried studying commerce in college, but that didn't pan out. Next, I tried English, but that wasn't right for me either. My friends at the time were going to character conventions where the presenters and audience would dress up. I was in my element: I love dressing up and I jumped on the opportunity to make costumes for myself and my friends. After 4 years making costumes, I realized costume design was my passion. My mom and grandma were both born in Ireland, so we often watched shows created by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), designing costumes for them is my dream job. With that goal, I had to plan my learning path. Schools close to me offered classes, but after doing some research I discovered that many schools in England offered programs where I could meet contacts and alumni already working for the BBC. It was obvious, my best bet would be to go abroad, study my full bachelor's degree in England, and make connections to continue my career. I applied to a few schools in England, receiving a rejection and an unconditional acceptance. In the meantime, I'm enrolled at Grande Prairie Regional College, to stay in a post-secondary mindset.

My mental health is one of the main challenges I face in going to school abroad. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder, and while my diagnoses do not define me, they are certainly a part of my life. Mental health issues effect a lot of students, but I strive to insure it's just a hurdle, not a stumbling block. In a few years, movie credits will include my name, I know it!

Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.


I struggled with mental health and to find my best fit

In grade 10 I had great friends, good grades, and a positive outlook on my future. But in grade 11, I was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and my world turned upside down. While I was undergoing treatment, my mental health degraded quickly and unpredictably. I was angry all the time, screaming and yelling at those closest to me, pushing them away. I cried often and I had trouble getting out of bed. My grades started to slip because I didn’t care. I didn’t think I had depression because I thought it revolved around thoughts of self-harm, which I didn’t have. I figured I could deal with my anger myself, without help but I was wrong.

When I was 18, I decided I needed help, my doctor diagnosed me with severe depression. Treatment was not easy I went through a tornado of medications, therapy, and hard work for a full year then I started to develop anxiety. My full-time job at a grocery store distracted me but one night during my regular shift I had my first panic attack. I was printing out reports for the end of the day when my breath caught in my chest. My heart was racing, I felt hot, and I was barely able to call my boss before I fainted. I can only remember pieces of what happened next, I was terrified, shaking and crying. I couldn’t calm my breathing or heart rate. I had to quit my job because I was having about 3 panic attacks a week.

I decided to go back to school and since I did payroll and invoicing at the store, I thought commerce might be a good fit. I applied to the Bachelor of Commerce program at Grande Prairie Regional College, but since I hadn’t paid much attention in my high school science classes I didn’t meet the requirements. An academic advisor explained my options and encouraged me to enroll in open studies instead to allow me to upgrade while taking courses towards my degree.

At first, going back to school it was difficult, fear of another panic attack meant I had trouble concentrating in class. I failed when I had an attack on the day of my finals. After failing that class, I knew I needed to take control. I couldn’t allow my illnesses to dictate my life anymore. I threw myself into my classes, started to rebuild my estranged relationships, and decided to not let anything get in the way of my dreams. I’m still fighting depression and anxiety, I still have bad days where I can’t get out of bed, but that’s okay. If I can learn to fight my mental illnesses, anyone can. They’re a part of me but they no longer control me. I’m in charge, I can chase my dreams, and I’ll keep fighting.

After a few weeks, I came to realize that I wasn’t interested in commerce, economics was a struggle, and I had trouble staying awake in my Introduction to Management class. I decided to finish the semester and earn my credits, but I needed to pick a new direction. Looking back now, I realize that failing taught me almost as much as passing my other classes. I learned a lot about myself, I can’t focus if I don’t enjoy it, so I had to find something I loved to do.

I went back to working full-time for a few years to figure out my next step, but I missed the thrill of learning and testing myself. I loved reading and writing, so I pursued a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English. I jumped quickly into that, the classes were great, and I flew through them easily, but I wasn’t motivated. My mom asked what my future plans were, and I realized I had no idea what do to with my degree. That sent me back to the drawing board, with time, I realized my costume design hobby was my career goal. Unfortunately, none of the courses were transferable to my new degree. Every course I’ve taken has taught me something. The time I spent at college figuring out my path was totally worth it.

My commerce classes taught me to pursue what really interests me, not just what seems easy. My failed sociology class taught me to respect stress levels. My English classes gave me confidence in my writing and creativity, plus introduced me to a professor who became a mentor for the pursuit of my dreams. Even though I chose not to pursue a degree in English, she’s been an immense guiding force helping me to prepare for my new venture, if that doesn’t work out, it’s okay I will still learn something new.


How to create a portfolio for your art school application

If you’re thinking about art school after you graduate, a portfolio (samples of your best work) will likely be required for your application. I had to put together two different portfolios when I was applying to art school for costume design. Each school wanted 20 pieces of creativity and design and a writing sample. I was careful to follow all the requirements to avoid any delays. I demonstrated my creativity and versatility, by offering a variety of genres. The exact portfolio requirements are outlined on each school’s website, it will show how many pieces they want, how to deliver it, any extra items to include, and how to organize it. If you have the option to deliver it in person you might get the option to discuss your art resume.


Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:

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Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.