Practical experience gives Andrusiak leg up

The path to achieving a University degree may appear to be a linear progression of attending classes, writing exams and eventually walking across a stage to receive a parchment. For students like Jessica Andrusiak (BHSc '10), the journey is anything but direct – rather it is a voyage of self-discovery that branches into unfamiliar territory. The end result, while represented by a piece of paper, is so much more.

"I did not know the specific area I wanted to study when I first attended the U of L," says Andrusiak, who earned a bachelor of health sciences degree in addictions counselling, graduating with great distinction at the Spring Convocation ceremonies. "I was seeking a University that allowed me to explore options without being set back by a change of heart later on, and the U of L provided me with the freedom to explore a number of career paths. I ended up changing my major three times before finding the perfect fit."

Andrusiak found her passion in the Faculty of Health Sciences and specifically, in the Addictions Counselling program. With the opportunity to gain practical experience through a pair of 13-week internship programs, she not only learned about real work in the counselling field, she also gained an understanding of herself.

"I was able to acquire experience in counselling families, couples, teenagers and adults on various life struggles. I also assisted in implementing various childcare programs," says Andrusiak of her internship with Barons-Eureka-Warner Family and Community Support Services. "It really ignited my passion for family counselling and prevention work in addictions. I also learned that I love early childhood education, especially teaching children the knowledge and skills to cope with adverse life events, how to build resiliency and gain emotional intelligence."

Her studies also included research opportunities. After being granted a 2008 Chinook Summer Research Award (CSRA), she worked under the tutelage of Dr. Bonnie Lee.

"I was able to assist with two main research projects, one on persons with pathological gambling behaviours within the context of marriage therapy, and another on health promotion behaviours in a university population," she says. "This experience led me to develop a greater understanding of the inner workings of a research project, as well as an interest in behavioural addictions."

Hailing from a small town just outside of Calgary, Andrusiak found the community atmosphere of the U of L to her liking and excelled within the framework of small classes and attentive instructors.

"I found it really allowed me to develop a close network of friends within my cohort," she says. "Within my program, the labs were usually between 10 and 20 people, and it gave me a chance to get to know almost everyone in my program, as well as the professors."

Her most memorable connection however was established on her first day on campus.

"I met my fiancé at the barbecue lunch on orientation day," she recalls. "We kept running into each other throughout frosh week, and I think our friendship grew because of the small size of our campus, we just kept seeing each other. Our entire courtship took place during our time at the University."

Now clearly focused on the future, Andrusiak is working in the not-for-profit sector, and plans to pursue an addictions counselling job when she moves to Kingston, Ont. in the fall.

"This degree program is the only one of its kind in Canada, and with the hands-on experience I gained during my studies, I'm confident I'll acquire employment in the future," she says, adding that she also plans to pursue a master's degree.
"The University of Lethbridge is a place to explore, and throughout my time there I grew so much personally and was really able to expand my sense of discovery."