Adult Learner Finds His Passion for Learning

Gary Forward, graduate of the bachelor of integrated studies program at the University of New Brunswick, took advantage of the support services provided by the UNB College of Extended Learning (CEL) and encourages adult learners considering going back to university to do their research and suggests that they reach out to CEL for help in getting started.When you hear of a police officer going into a classroom, you might picture a uniformed officer walking into a K-12 school for a community awareness campaign. This is not the case for 24-year veteran of the Fredericton Police Force (FPF), Inspector Gary Forward. When he goes into a classroom at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), he is there just like any other student–to learn.

Inspector Forward is one of a growing number of adult learners, or mature students, returning to university in order to advance their careers, fulfill a lifelong dream, or simply for the love of learning.

A self-professed lifelong learner, Forward returned to university in 2009 to earn his undergraduate degree. Prior to his return to university, he had taken several professional development courses to build his law enforcement career, and he believed obtaining a degree would give him the competitive piece that he needed to progress through the ranks of the FPF.

With some guidance from the UNB College of Extended Learning (UNB CEL), he laid out a learning plan to help him reach his goals. He enrolled in the Bachelor of Integrated Studies (BIS) program, UNB’s degree completion program designed for adult learners.

In order to receive a BIS, candidates must complete 120 credit hours, which includes a series of leadership courses offered through UNB’s Renaissance College, and a university minor on a topic of their choice. The balance of the credit requirements is made up of upper-level elective courses.

Forward saw value in the mandatory leadership courses because they were community oriented; he knew the knowledge he would gain would benefit him in a management position, but also valued the opportunity to build a program tailored around not only his professional, but also his personal interests.

“I was able to start looking at courses on a topic that I’d held as a long-standing interest, history. You might say ‘I got the history bug’. I remember being very happy taking courses that were for me–from there I just gathered steam,” said Forward.

The next thing he knew, he was taking honours classes in history and started to think about what he would do once he completed his undergraduate degree.

“I didn’t want to stop taking classes. It didn’t matter that I had reached that undergraduate objective, for me it became all about the journey.”

Forward also appreciated the ability to take advantage of the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), a process where knowledge gained through work, life, or informal learning experiences are evaluated for university credit. He was able to transfer credits from his previous post secondary courses to the degree. Between his PLA and transfer credits, he only needed to earn 30 more credit hours (equivalent to approximately 10 courses) to obtain his BIS. Like many adult learners, he was closer to obtaining an undergraduate degree than he realized.

Forward graduated with his BIS in 2010, and started a graduate program in history at UNB last winter. Even after he completes his masters, he sees himself continuing on with his education.

Forward admits that going back to university as an adult learner is not a walk in the park.  He attributes much of his success to the support he received from his employer, UNB’s CEL, and last but not least, his family.

“Without their support I wouldn’t have been able to get there,” he said.

FPF is an organization that values the core competency of continued learning and
supports the professional growth of its employees.

“They [FPF staff] are interested in people that show a willingness to continuously learn and grow. I have been fortunate to have their encouragement throughout my educational endeavours.”

Forward says he also received tremendous support from the College of Extended Learning.

“There was constant contact, they [CEL staff] provided information about next steps-–I never felt that I was out there by myself. Any questions I had were always met with an immediate return phone call. It was as if they had as much interest in seeing me reach my objectives as I did–it was as if they owned a piece of it.”

He admits that there has been some sacrifice.

“Sometimes my family would go off to do something and I’d have to stay behind to finish a paper or study for an exam, but for the most part, I feel that I’ve been able to maintain a healthy work/life/school balance.”

Like many adult learners returning to university, he had some fear about embarking on such a commitment.

“I had concerns and fears about starting something like this, it was mixed with excitement, but it was the encouragement I received from CEL that allowed me to continue on. If it wasn’t for that support and open communication with CEL, I may have sought other avenues to reach my goals. Thanks to their help I knew within a couple of weeks that this was the right thing for me.”

When asked what he would say to an adult considering going to university after being out of school for several years, he replied, “This isn’t a cakewalk, it is a lot of work, it is a labour of love, and you need to be dedicated. For those people that are committed, they are going to find it is a challenge, but it is the best kind of challenge.”

A degree like the BIS allows you to build on certain traits and competencies.

“My ability to write administratively has improved significantly. I have built skills in my job that I just wouldn’t have if it were not for my participation in the BIS.”

Forward encourages prospective adult learners to seek out the research to formulate their own answers and would recommend that they reach out to the College of Extended Learning for help in getting started.

“Never shy away from the fact that this is a great amount of work, there’s nothing easy about this, but it is rewarding on many levels in the end.”

For more information on services and support available for adult learners as well as the BIS, contact Lorna Campbell, adult learner services coordinator at the College of Extended Learning at 506 458-7976 or lorna@unb.ca