Learning clicks ambassador Dana

This University of Calgary social work student volunteered to learn her passions then pursued her Master’s degree.


Learning clicks ambassador Dana

I was born and raised in Alberta, where I was home-schooled until grade 6. As a kid I loved music, making things with my hands, and playing soccer. From a young age I always wanted to become a doctor. For a while I considered being a Forensic Investigator (think CSI), but I came to realize that I didn’t want to be on the “discovering” side of things, but rather on the “fixing” side of things. After high school I set my sights on university for medical school.

I planned to attend an Ontario university, but the distance was too much for me. Fortunately, I’d also applied to the University of Calgary and since I didn’t officially decline my acceptance, I was able to enroll 2 weeks late, it was a rough start, but ApplyAlberta does simplify the process.

Transitioning into post-secondary was also tough because I no longer spent every day with my special needs brother Kyle. He uses sign language to communicate, so in addition to being his little sister I took on the role of advocate, protector, communicator and interpreter throughout our childhood. Kyle remains my biggest hero – I had a hard time leaving him.

Despite the challenges I’ve faced in university, I’ve also had great successes. At the end of my second year, I was diagnosed with generalized trauma induced anxiety. I was provided the support and services I needed to perform better academically. I’ve been able to boost my grades significantly and I’ve received over 10 scholarships to help pay for my education.

When my parents moved to South America, I found a new sense of family by getting involved in student associations and volunteering in my community. The experiences have led me to discover a new passion: children’s mental health. I’m working on my master’s in social work, but I’m still not sure I’ll pursue medicine. The great thing about post-secondary though, is that I know I’ve got options.

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.


5 ways to explore options after high school

My parents expected me to go to university, so I was going, the path was paved. I wanted to be a doctor at the time, and science seemed like the typical “pre-med” path (the path leading to medical school), so I figured that’s what I’d do. But after my first year of university, I began to question the program I was in. What if I changed my mind and didn’t want to become a doctor?

By that time, I’d taken a bunch of courses, and found that I really enjoyed disability studies and psychology. I wanted to study the things that interested me, but still stay on the pre-med track. I was determined to find the right fit for me.

Spend some time thinking about you, don’t follow what others expect or want for you. Instead, think about your hopes, dreams, what you like, don’t like, are okay with, or would never do and write it down! Then, as you explore your options, you can go back to this list to keep yourself on track.

I knew:

  • I hated Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 office jobs.
  • I wanted to work with people. In fact, I had to work with people.
  • I liked children.
  • I needed to be challenged.
  • I didn’t enjoy physics, heavy math, or science in a lab.

Even after narrowing things down a bit (something I didn’t do in high school), there were still thousands of choices. In high school I should have checked out post-secondary info sessions, open houses and talked to an advisor. Asking questions is a great way to find your path. Find someone that has your dream job and learn how they did it, if possible, learn from their mistakes.

I did a lot of research online to learn about career paths and post-secondary options. I discovered so many different paths that interested me: Genetic Counselling, Occupational Therapy, Medicine, Psychology, Nursing and Social Work. Knowing myself and my research pointed me towards social work.

I tried a research project that I didn’t think I would enjoy. I found it exciting, now I’m in a research-focused degree, and I now do some part-time work in research.

I enrolled myself in a course that allowed me to gain hands on experience through a practicum where I discovered my passion for mental health.

Volunteering was also part of my explorationI started volunteering when I was 16. At the end of grade 10 one of my teachers encouraged me to join our school’s leadership team. Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills, meet new people and discover your interests for your future education or career. I also think volunteering the best way to figure out what you’re passionate about. After all, you’re not getting paid to volunteer, so you won’t stick with it if you don’t care. My 9 years of volunteerism has brought me life lessons and pride that I’ve helped people and made a difference.

While I may share my time with those considered “less fortunate” than myself, the life narratives, resilience and stories of strength from the people I’ve met have provided me with more than I could have ever offered them in the first place: through them I’ve learned compassion and perseverance; I’ve learned to ask “how can I help” rather than “what is the problem?”; I’ve learned to appreciate the privilege I have; and most profoundly, I’ve learned humility.

Through volunteerism I’ve been able to connect with and support all sorts of people, in return I get opportunities for learning, personal growth and development. There’s a lot to gain by volunteering.

Some of my experiences were:

  • Children’s Cottage Society
    I played with and cuddled 0 to 8-year-old kids who didn’t have a safe place to stay.
  • Alberta Children’s Hospital
    There are so many options to volunteer here, clinics helping weigh/measure kids and prep them for their appointments, on the hospital units cuddling babies or playing with kids who are having to stay in hospital, or as a special event helper (Halloween, Christmas, when the Flames visit).
  • Pet Access League Society (PALS)
    Here you volunteer with your animal if they pass a screening. PALS places you at a facility in Calgary looking to have therapy animals. My pup Lily and I volunteered at a forensic jail for individuals who have committed a crime due to mental illness.
  • Progressive Alternative Society of Calgary
    This society supports people with developmental disabilities. I served as an administrative board member for one year, where I learned their business processes.
  • Campus Alberta Student Conference on Health
    I was on the committee member to plan a health conference for students by students. This was a lot of work, but such great learning if you’re interested in academia, research, or event planning.

How to start


Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:

Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:

Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.