2012 J.D. Leslie Prize winner

Michèle Morin-Guy

Dedication to lifelong learning leads to success

In October 2012, Michèle Morin-Guy, was one of the many students who convocated from the University of Waterloo. Unlike most of them, her journey took more than 20 years.

Her dedication and determination helped her overcome a number of challenges and hardships along the way, and earned her the J.D. Leslie Prize, which honours a student with a first-class standing who has earned at least half of the credits through online courses.

Michèle doesn’t speak easily of herself, or her journey, but when we connected to prepare this article, she sent the letter below, which helps fill in the blanks in her inspiring story. 

Before heading out to walk her beautiful dog, Casey, she told me “I am very grateful for this award because I know a lot of people work so very hard at what they do and never get the recognition.”

Congratulations Michèle!

Janice Cooke
Centre for Extended Learning

October 17th, 2012

Centre for Extended Learning
University of Waterloo

My experience with the University of Waterloo

I developed an interest for the sciences while I was completing my business degree at the University of Ottawa in the early 80`s. I had chosen my third year electives from the science faculty and had quickly become fascinated with this new subject, so much so, I then decided to pursue a science degree. If only the business/science program at Waterloo had been around 30 years ago!

After my first year, I soon realized that my passion for the sciences was in the lab. I therefore left university to pursue a career in Medical Laboratory Technology. After three more years at the St. Lawrence College in Kingston, I finally had a trade. I worked several years in a hospital lab and began paying off all my student loans. None the less, I still wanted to finish my science degree in the hopes that one day I could further my career in a research facility.

Employed full time and working three different shifts, the distance education program at the University of Waterloo was the perfect solution to complete my Bachelor of Science degree. Back then, we studied with audio cassettes. The lack of visual input demanded a great deal of self-motivation and organizational skills.

Unfortunately, halfway through the program, serious health issues changed my life. Forced to leave my job and withdraw from the university, I focused all my energy on regaining my health. Had it not been for my strong Catholic faith, I do not know how I would have been able to cope with these personal challenges

Ten years later and ten years older, but determined to keep my mind sharp and active, I finally decided to finish my degree. It was much more intimidating this time around. There was something new out there: they called it the internet, and I was completely computer illiterate. The University of Waterloo had also come a long way since those “audiocassette” days. Always keeping up with current technologies, the distance education department had developed an online program geared to facilitate learning.

To increase our knowledge of computers, first year courses had internet research exercises incorporated into their curriculum. Although very beneficial, I have to admit, that these exercises certainly tried my patience and my husband had to restrain me several times from destroying the computer! Overcoming my personal insecurities towards my lack of computer skills was obviously a challenge during my first term. Yet, to my surprise, I found the courses easy to navigate and the technical advisors quite eager to help in every way possible. I also found the course formats and outlines increasingly well organized with every term, which once again rendered the online educational experience less stressful. It was very important to follow the reading and assignment schedules set up by the teacher and to spend the necessary amount of time each week on my studies in order to keep up with the pace.

None the less, everyone knows that sometimes life itself can get in the way of our best-laid plans. Apart from having to deal with my own health issues, I also had to cope with my mother’s diagnosis of cancer. I learned to accept these emotional crises and slowly resumed my study routine. It was also important to stay motivated by keeping my long-term goal in mind, which was finishing my science degree, one course at a time.

Above all else, I credit my success to the tutors assigned to each course. What an amazing group of dedicated people. Always so pleasant and patient, they are truly at the heart of this distance education program. Professors, instructors and faculty advisors, all make the University of Waterloo a learning institution sincerely dedicated to the success of their students. 

While I was working on my Bachelor of Science degree, several people asked me why I decided, at my age, to go back to school. I simply told them I enjoy learning. The online education program at the University of Waterloo was a wonderful learning experience.

Today, I tutor a young boy with learning disabilities. I am quite concerned at the rising number of children with attention deficiencies and anxiety problems, along with the lack of tutors in the classrooms. They are very intelligent children and actually become quite engaged in their studies when we can implement a few organizational strategies in their curriculum. His mother is quite delighted that he can now perform within the normal provincial academic levels. I believe that if we can instill in our students a desire to learn and good organizational skills, then good grades will inevitably follow. I tell my young student, no matter what career path he chooses in the future, he will succeed if he remains motivated through lifelong learning

What does it mean to me to receive this prestigious award?

Ironically enough it was never about grades, especially when taking organic chemistry after being out of loop for 20 years! For me, success is about setting long-term goals and persevering to the very end. It is also about adapting to new circumstances and confronting unforeseen challenges.

Finally, it is about recognizing not only your strengths but also your weaknesses and asking for help when you need it because one rarely succeeds on their own and I could not have succeeded without the support of the teaching staff at the University of Waterloo and most importantly, the reassurance of my husband, Brian.

Michèle Morin-Guy, B.Sc. 2012