January Alumni Profile: Erin Riley

Friday, January 19, 2018

Erin RileyErin Riley’s passion for learning and desire to have a positive impact on those around her led her on many adventures both during her time as a PACS student and in the years afterwards.

Starting her undergraduate education in 1995 and subsequently graduating in 2000, it took some time for Erin to find the perfect fit for her education, settling into a double major of PACS and Religious Studies. In between her 2nd and 3rd year Erin participated in an internship which she still credits as an instrumental time for her development, both academically and personally.

“The experiential learning components of education are really important. PACS has those opportunities to learn through experience within the program.”

Erin spent a year with the organization One World where she first was travelling with a group, living in communities in Guatemala. As a part of this portion of the internship the group focused on learning about group dynamics including effective communication, intercultural communication, and problem solving – much of what Erin was learning in her PACS courses. For the next part of her internship Erin was living in El Salvador in a small community at the base of a mountain with a woman who had lost most of her family to war. Erin was integrated strongly into the community in this portion, participating primarily in the everyday life of the members of the community she was now living in. The final section of the trip Erin spent in Nicaragua continuing to live in the community and doing work with a women’s collective focusing on health care and education. The focus of Erin’s experience was learning from the people around her and learning from the community she found herself in.

“The internship gave me the opportunity to experience and see firsthand the things that I was reading about in my courses. Everything I was learning in regards to Catholic theology and the peace process, I got to see it all lived out there.”

After returning from her internship and graduating from UWaterloo, Erin was then faced with the decision all graduating students are faced with: what next? For Erin that next step was teacher’s college. Unsure of exactly what she wanted Erin decided that the practical component of Bachelor of Education would give her more hands on skills and more direction for her future.

Almost 18 years later, it would seem that Erin made the right choice. In 2001 she started teaching Religion full-time for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board at St. David Catholic Secondary School where she remained for 16 years, first as a Religion teacher and then a guidance counsellor.  The past two years Erin has spent as Vice-Principal at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge.

“I would never in a million years have thought I would become a teacher much less a Vice-Principal.  It is curious to me that you end up in places you never thought you would be, but in the end, it is exactly where you are meant to be.”

Erin puts her PACS education into action daily, constantly in communication with people and building relationships with students, families and staff.  Her career and vocation as a Catholic educator allows her to keep faith, peace and justice in the forefront.  Recently her school has begun a partnership with Community Justice Initiatives (CJI) to establish a culture of restorative practices within the school community.  Additionally, she is excited to be in the early planning stages of a service/learning program for students focusing on social justice that will include a global experience. 

“Everything I learned in PACS that I use now I can remember learning in the classroom and through my internship experience. I learned about understanding people’s wants and needs, what it means to diffuse situations while validating people’s feelings and the power of restorative justice. PACS shaped who and what I advocate for, and the lens through which I view the world”

 When asked about advice for future PACS students or soon to be PACS graduates Erin said,

“I didn’t enter PACS with any clear direction of where I was headed but emerged with the knowledge and skills that have transformed the person I am and the transferable skills I use every day.  While you’re in school focus on finding and exploring your passions. The biggest rewards I got out of my education came from following my instincts, taking risks, and working hard.”