With hard work, passion and perseverance, Kimberly Shirley has proven that encouragement and accessible classes can go a long way toward getting an education at Lakehead University.
Kimberly graduated with the highest average in Lakehead University’s History program, receiving her Honours Bachelor of Arts in June of 2013. She will now do her Master’s with help from an Ontario Graduate Scholarship for $15,000.
Kimberly credits her success to determination, encouragement from Lakehead’s professors and support from the Office of Student Accessibility Services to make sure her needs are met.
Kimberly, 27, has a rare neuromuscular disorder that requires her to use a wheelchair and rely on the help of a Special Skills Dog, a golden retriever named Arthur. She said she wouldn’t be doing her Master’s without the encouragement of her professors.
“The professors here have been amazing. Because it’s a small university, they show that they care. One professor told me that having a disability should not get in the way of going forward with my Master’s. They all planted that little seed and doused it in a kind of miracle grow to boost my self-confidence,” she said.
Discipline has also played a key role in her success. Her effort and positive attitude have clearly paid off.
“There is no shortcut to learning. I hate to disappoint you – it’s about reading. I love to learn from a book and from the environment,” she said.
Lakehead University’s professors create an environment that is extremely beneficial to learning, Kimberly said, because they make the material interesting and encourage students to reach their full potential.
Dr. Michel Beaulieu is one of the professors who continues to inspire Kimberly. He also provided guidance and assistance when she applied for the Ontario Graduate Scholarship.
“Professor Beaulieu is a great teacher. He’s colourful and he brings life to the topics that he’s teaching. He’s very visual with his explanations and that appeals to me – I’m more of a visual learner.
“The profs are all quirky in their own way and it makes for better learning,” she said.
Her passion for history and the way she has triumphed over adversity have been an inspiration to her professors and classmates, Professor Beaulieu said.
“Her classmates can learn how to be better students from Kim,” Professor Beaulieu said. “I’m amazed by her. She works so hard and I learn things from her all the time. Kim is one of the best students I’ve ever had.
“History is about the past and human experience – Kim is interested in all human experience. She goes beyond the assigned readings to learn more and test everything she’s learning,” he said.
Professor Beaulieu said Kimberly’s success reinforces the need for accessible and flexible classes, as well as professors who are inspiring.
“This speaks to something Lakehead has excelled at – catering to all individuals who are seeking an education. Our smaller class sizes are good for accessibility and for learning, especially learning history,” Professor Beaulieu said.
Sheila Noyes, who recently retired from Lakehead, worked in what is now called Student Accessibility Services to make sure Kim had everything she needed.
“Kim exemplifies being triumphant over adversity. She demonstrates the power of courage, determination and hope. She is relentless in her desire to reach her goals,” Sheila said.
Prior to the start of classes, Kim and Sheila met with each of Kim’s professors to make sure her needs were understood. She required a note taker, some accommodation for exams and the company of her Special Skills Dog.
“Lakehead University has wonderful professors who readily and respectfully met with Kim. We also ensured that her classrooms were fully accessible and this meant occasionally changing the class location,” Sheila said.
“There are two kinds of accessibility: attitudinal and physical. In my experience, Lakehead University excels in both,” Sheila said.
“All of the departments in Student Services worked together to meet Kim's needs. The professors were respectful, caring and accommodating. When a need was noted, without fail each department responded quickly to ensure Kim had what was required.
“I have always felt that Kim exudes peace and joy. Perhaps that comes from knowing she is where she belongs, in academia,” Sheila said.
Kimberly was 10 when her interest in history was piqued thanks to a genealogy program that her mother used on the computer. Now, history – ancient Greek history in particular – is her passion.
Kimberly has spent her life proving she is intelligent.
“In high school it felt as if I had to prove myself,” she said. “Being in a wheelchair, you have a cloud hanging over you – people think that the marks I earn are sympathy marks. I worked and studied hard to prove that my marks were completely based on merit and I earned them on my own.
“At the start of the year you’re just a face in the crowd and you have to prove yourself to stand out.”
Kimberly challenges students to excel in their studies and not be afraid to stand out by showing they are intelligent.
“From all those times of having to prove myself, I graduated with the Governor General’s Award for the highest average in high school,” she said.
That work ethic helped Kimberly succeed in university too.
“I found that the university setting gave me the mental challenge that I craved and I fed on that knowledge,” Kimberly said.
She has some encouragement for students who are intimidated by the thought of getting a university education.
“Don’t cut yourself short – you may be smarter than you think,” she said.
“And, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The staff and faculty are more than willing to show you how and where to find what you need for success.”
Source: President's Office. Url: https://www.lakeheadu.ca/presidents-office/nurturing-passion/stories/nod...